Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
United Kingdom, 1972. Keep Films. Screenplay by Peter Barnes, based on his play. Cinematography by Ken Hodges. Produced by Jules Buck, Jack Hawkins. Music by John Cameron. Production Design by Peter Murton. Costume Design by Ruth Myers. Film Editing by Ray Lovejoy.
Brilliantly perverse observation of the upper classes, and one of the most enjoyably blasphemous films you’ll ever see. When a member of the House of Lords and the 13th Earl of Gurney passes away in an unfortunate accident of an auto-erotic nature, his estate is left to his only surviving son (Peter O’Toole), a lunatic who believes that he is Jesus Christ. O’Toole’s uncle wants to disinherit him and get all the money and property for himself, but can only do so if he manages to have his nephew produce an heir, then have him consigned to an asylum and designate himself guardian. This will be difficult indeed, because between O’Toole’s sermons, musical numbers and raids upon the female sex, our batty hero is also clever, wary and just plain lucky. When his psychiatrist finally cures him of his Jesus complex, O’Toole decides that he is actually Jack The Ripper and begins a whole new manner of mayhem. This adaptation of the play by Peter Barnes (writing the impeccable screenplay himself) features O’Toole at the top of his game in his most charismatic performance, spewing out pages of brilliant dialogue without skipping a heartbeat. The joke here is that as Christ he is an embarrassment to his class, but as a serial killer he barely goes undetected; Barnes’ view of the aristocracy as a corrupt lot isn’t in the least bit subtle, but it is juicy and irresistible. It’s a comedy, it’s a drama, it’s a thriller, and it’s a musical: an economically efficient rental indeed!
Academy Award Nomination: Best Actor (Peter O’Toole)
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best English Language Foreign Film
Cannes Film Festival: In Competition
The Criterion Collection: #132