The Comedians

1967, Movie, NR, 156 mins


Filmed in the former African republic of Dahomey (now Benin), this Graham Greene story of Haiti was adapted, perhaps unfortunately, by Greene himself. At 156 minutes, it seems interminable. Burton is having a hard time finding a buyer for his resort hotel. Ford and Gish are a pair of American guests who want to open a vegetarian center in Haiti. Another guest is Alec Guinness, who is jailed by the police almost upon arrival; Ford and Gish convince Burton to aid in freeing him. Haiti's corrpution and brutality, however, prove too much for the couple, and they depart, devastated. Ustinov is a South American ambassador married to Taylor, with whom Burton is having an affair. Guinness, who has been claiming a military background, turns out to be an arms dealer; he secures his release by promising weapons to the government. When that deal goes awry, the Haitians want him in jail again, so he seeks shelter in Ustinov's embassy, where he develops a close relationship with Taylor. Burton, threatened by this, provokes Guinness to boast that he could overthrow the country with a small group of rebels. When Burton slyly takes him at his word, raising a ragtag band of mercenaries, Guinness admits that he isn't an ex-soldier at all; still, he wouldn't dream of running away from such a challenge. Before he can mount the coup, however, he is murdered by Duvalier's Tonton Macoute, Haiti's dreaded Gestapo-like secret service. Burton, feeling contrite, takes over the ill-equipped and untrained band of rebels, presumably to go into the mountains and fight until Duvalier is overthrown. Turgid and slow-moving, the film is practically stolen by Ustinov; Liz and Dick generate no sparks, even in love scenes. A very strong cast of black actors--including James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, Raymond St. Jacques, and Roscoe Lee Browne--is given little to do while the white folks bicker, swoon, and smooch. leave a comment

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