Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB
USA,. . Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on the plays Mr. Fox Of Venice by and Volpone by and the novel The Evil Of the Day by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .
Joseph L. Mankiewicz was an aspiring Broadway playwright trapped in the body of a highly successful Oscar-winning filmmaker, and his films frequently brought the theatre to the screen sometimes in unabashedly open ways (All About Eve), sometimes in subtler forms (Cleopatra‘s emphasis on dialogue over action). His first major project after the noisy experience of the Liz Taylor spectacle is this combination of Thomas Sterling’s novel The Evil of the Day, Frederick Knott’s play Mr. Fox Of Venice and open callbacks to Ben Jonson’s early 17th-century play Volpone, bits of which are performed at the beginning and references to which are made throughout the entire film.
stars as Cecil Fox (subtle), a wealthy Englishman living in Venice who hires a personal secretary in the form of William McFly ( ) to perform a special task for him: Fox wants to pretend that he is about to expire and needs McFly to invite his three ex-lovers to the palazzo, hoping to see how highly he still ranks in their hearts by pretending that he plans to leave his estate to one of them. The invited guests appear, one of them a Marilyn-esque American movie star named Merle McGill ( ), another the frosty but elegant European princess Dominique ( ), and the third a hard-talking, pill-popping southern heiress named Mrs. Lone Star Crockett Sheridan ( ), who arrives with her good-natured nurse Sarah Watkins ( ) in tow.
Fox sets the game up against these players, but Sarah develops a romantic attachment to McFly that eventually has her discover their scheme. When one of the women turns up murdered, Sarah suspects that McFly has something to do with it and is intending to kill Fox as well, but her attempt to warn the man leads her into a deeper maze of secrets, lies and increasingly complicated motivations, made that much more complex by the arrival of a Venice inspector () who digs further into everyone’s back stories to see if everyone is who they say they are and everything is what it seems. Set against the gorgeous backdrop of a set built at Cinecitta, whose grandeur impresses in every shot, this film suffers a great deal from Mankiewicz’s insistence on labouring over every single point of a plot that is never particularly interesting.
Themes of time and our personal facades are exhausted through dialogue, props and visual motifs, characters double back on explanations of every step of the mystery and by the time you reach the long overdue conclusion the air has been let completely out of the vehicle’s tires, whatever surprises the story has left to offer just feel like someone who won’t finish a conversation because they don’t want you to leave.
The performances are all lively, Hayward the best of the bunch, but Adams and Capuine are given very little to do for all the effort they put into their presence. Smith, who was not yet famous in the film world for her scene-stealing capabilities as she would establish in later roles, does not disappoint as the unlikely star of the piece, even managing to create heat between herself and the always improbable leading lover Robertson, who as usual mumbles as if fatigued by the weight of that unsightly toupee.