Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)


          In culinary parlance appropriate to the subject, Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? is a tasty trifle. The witty comedy offers neither great insights into the human condition nor even any real challenge to the audience (except the usual fun of a clever whodunit), but it’s thoroughly rewarding nonetheless. Featuring charming dialogue, an offbeat storyline, and playfully satirical characterizations, the film is the sort of cultured piffle that Audrey Hepburn made in her prime—which is not entirely coincidental, since the film’s screenwriter, Peter Stone, penned one of Hepburn’s most effervescent classics, Charade (1963).
          The plot is, appropriately, as light as a soufflé. Overbearing gourmand Maximillian Vanderveer (Robert Morley) writes an article for his influential culinary magazine, identifying the best chefs in Europe. One by one, the chefs are murdered, their bodies gruesomely cooked in the manner of their signature dishes. The only woman on the hit list, confectioner Natasha O’Brien (Jacqueline Bisset), understandably worries for her life, so she leans on her ex-husband, American fast-food entrepreneur Robby Ross (George Segal). He’s traveled to Europe to recruit a top chef as the spokesperson for his planned chain of omelet restaurants. Robby is also eager to rekindle things with Natasha, so investigating the murders becomes a grand romantic adventure. Based on a novel by Ivan and Nan Lyons, and directed by reliable journeyman Ted Kotcheff, the movie makes tremendous use of picturesque European locations (London, Paris, Venice), all photographed in a luminous classical style by John Alcott.
          Segal is at the height of his rascally charm, projecting harmless bravado and sly innuendoes; given the highbrow epicurean milieu, it’s effective and funny that his character is a vulgarian who made his fortune feeding slop to the masses. Bisset, for once, gets to offer more to a role than just her considerable physical beauty, and what she lacks in crisp comic timing she makes up for in enthusiasm; she also has a great facility for withering put-downs, usually directed toward the incorrigible Robby. It’s Morley, however, who steals the show, spewing droll barrages of pompous windbaggery. So, while it’s true that the movie gets a bit fleshy in the middle as it churns through necessary plot machinations, the main course is a delight: The film’s elaborate climax, set in and around the taping of a food show, is simultaneously silly and sophisticated. (Available at WarnerArchive.com)

Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? GROOVY

1 comment:

K Doherty said...

I loved this movie - It is a trifle and yet every time it is on, I watch it- That Robert Morley was snubbed by Oscar is one of it's most egregious.