Per the norm for pictures adapted from the trashy novels of Harold Robbins, The Adventurers is a big, glossy melodrama filled with betrayal, sex, and violence, set against a backdrop of international strife and unimaginable wealth. From a technical standpoint, the movie is impressive, thanks to glossy cinematography by Claude Renoir and swank music by Antonio Carlos Jobim. The Adventurers also features a truly eclectic cast, comprising accomplished veterans (Ernest Borgnine, Olivia de Havilland), colorful international stars (Alan Badel, Charles Aznavour, Rosanno Brazzi, Fernando Rey), and dazzling starlets (Candice Bergen, Jaclyn Smith, Leigh Taylor-Young). Yet the film’s laughable flaws are myriad. The story, reputedly inspired by the exploits of real-life jet-setter Porfirio Rubirosa, is an overheated mixture of bedroom antics and political machinations. The pictorial style, marked by silly metaphors during sex scenes, lacks anything resembling good taste. And the leading performance, by Yugoslavian stud Bekim Fehmiu, is atrocious.
Nonetheless, it must be said that the film’s three hours breeze by fairly quickly, since director Lewis Gilbert and his collaborators ensure that the screen is almost constantly filled with vivid images of people fighting, scheming, and/or screwing, if not all at once.
The picture begins in the fictional South American country of Courteguay during a rebellion. After soldiers rape and murder his relatives, Dax Xenos (played as a boy by Loris Loddi) meets Rojo (Badel), leader of the rebellion. Rojo helps Dax kill the soldiers who slaughtered his family, beginning a lifelong relationship. Eventually, Dax is taken from South America by his guardian, Fat Cat (Borgnine), and integrated into a group of wealthy young Europeans. By the time Dax reaches adulthood (whereupon Fehmiu takes over the role), Dax is a playboy with a chip on his shoulder. Over the course of myriad back-and-forth trips from Europe to South America, Dax seduces a series of rich women (including Bergen and de Havilland), thus gathering his own personal fortune. Meanwhile, Courteguay descends into chaos, so Dax returns home and leads a military coup against his onetime benefactor, Rojo.
There’s enough plot in The Adventurers for three movies, the characterizations are beyond contrived, and the dramaturgy is as subtle as thunder. For instance, it’s never enough for a character in this movie to discover a dead body—the body must have a dagger impaled in the neck or a giant wound in the middle of the forehead. Similarly, the myriad overwrought sex scenes recall the work of skin-flick auteur Russ Meyer. During Dax’s first conquest, Gilbert intercuts lovemaking with close-ups of erotic statues (one of which has a giant erect phallus) and then literally zooms the camera in and out, matching the rhythm of Dax’s thrusts. When Dax beds Taylor-Young’s character, Gilbert uses a rifle and cymbal crashes to symbolize Dax’s potency. And Dax’s first encounter with Bergen’s character begins in a hothouse (get it?) and concludes with actual fireworks. This sort of stuff isn’t credible by a long shot, but neither is it boring.
Unsurprisingly, The Adventurers was savaged upon its initial release, and today it’s best to regard the movie as big-budget camp. FYI, at least one actor had serious misgivings about making The Adventurers. In his autobiography, Borgnine calls the picture “my worst experience in nearly 20 years of filmmaking.”
The Adventurers: FUNKY