The Comedians (1967)

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The Comedians (1967) Poster

A cynical Welsh hotel owner secretly romances a diplomat's wife in Haiti, under the violent reign of the despot "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

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6.5/10
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  • Lillian Gish and Raymond St. Jacques in The Comedians (1967)
  • Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in The Comedians (1967)
  • Elizabeth Taylor in "The Comedians" 1967 MGM
  • Richard Burton and Lillian Gish in The Comedians (1967)
  • Lillian Gish in The Comedians (1967)
  • Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in The Comedians (1967)

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1 October 2010 | dglink
7
| Burton and Guinness Head the Intrigue in Graham Greene's Haiti
A ship of fools docks in Port-au-Prince, and the disembarking passengers include a local businessman, an idealistic former U.S. presidential candidate and his wife, and a self-confident British major. The film's credentials are incredible; the cast includes Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Alec Guiness, Peter Ustinov, Lillian Gish, and James Earl Jones; Graham Greene wrote the script from his own novel; and Peter Glenville provided the taut direction. Given the talent involved, perhaps expectations raised the bar for "The Comedians" too high for any film to reach. Although the results do not represent a pinnacle for any of these artists, "The Comedians" is an engrossing tale set against the nightmarish backdrop of Papa "Doc" Duvalier's repressive regime in Haiti. A thick tense atmosphere envelops the film from the outset. Arrests, beatings, corpses, intimidation, bribes, murders, and threats paint Duvalier's Haiti in shades of blood and terror. In 1967, the Taylor-Burton romance was still in the tabloids, and the film's illicit romance depicted by the world-famous pair was still titillating. However, time has dimmed the scandal, and the film has benefited. Greene's story and the acting talent are no longer over-shadowed.

The still ravishing Taylor, who affects a German-accent as the wife of Ustinov, a cuckolded foreign ambassador, is involved with Burton, a local hotel owner. While arguably the least-interesting aspect of the film, their liaison is integral to the story. Meanwhile, Paul Ford and his wife, Gish, seek to establish a vegetarian center in Duvalierville, a never-will-be Utopian community, and a shady braggart with the wrong connections, Guinness, attempts an arms sale to Duvalier's henchmen. The visitors, the diplomats, and their local connections are embroiled in Haitian political conflicts and dangerous encounters with Duvalier's thugs, the dreaded Tonton Macoute.

Greene's script is literate, and the performances are effective. The bevy of international stars is enhanced and ably supported by such pros as Paul Ford, Cicely Tyson, Raymond St. Jacques, Roscoe Lee Browne, and George Stanford Brown. Although short on action, "The Comedians" is long on suspense and tension. While the film certainly remains a staple for fans of Taylor and Burton, Glenville's fine production deserves to be seen and appreciated, not only for its lustrous stars, but also for throwing a spotlight on Haiti's nightmarish past.

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