28 September 2012 | bkoganbing
Papa Is gone, but the dictatorship and poverty live on
The Comedians one of the many films that starred that legendary screen team of the 60s, husband and wife Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor is set in that troubled stepchild of the western hemisphere Haiti. At the time Haiti was mired in the worst poverty on this side of the globe with the overwhelmingly brutal dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier. Duvalier and his family are gone now, but the brutality and poverty remain.
The title from the original Graham Greene novel refers to the various white people here who are very different, but who handle what they see in Haiti by making a lot of bad jokes. Whatever else this is, The Comedians is not a comedy.
Burton and Taylor play the owner of a hotel in Port-Au-Prince and she is the wife of an ambassador from some foreign country unnamed. They're having an affair, she's married to Peter Ustinov. Paul Ford and Lillian Gish are a husband and wife and he once ran for president on the Vegetarian Party ticket. He wants to start a business, a vegetarian resort of sorts. These two are totally clueless, but so are the Haitians they deal with, they actually treat Ford like a big deal.
Alec Guinness plays a part similar to the part David Niven had in Separate Tables, he's an arms dealer who's been dealing with someone now out of favor with the regime. But while at first he's clapped in prison Guinness makes a deal with another faction who think he's a big deal with his heralded background of being a war hero in the Burmese campaign in World War II. If you've seen Separate Tables than you can equate Guinness with Niven.
These name players however take a back seat to some of the black performers in The Comedians. Roscoe Lee Browne, Cicely Tyson, Gloria Foster, Georg Stanford Brown all are different types of Haitians from different levels of society there. But the guy to really watch is Raymond St. Jacques. As a captain in Duvalier's police he is one truly malevolent being. St. Jacques steals all the scenes he's in.
Of course Papa Doc didn't allow The Comedians to be shot in Haiti, but the country of Dahomey one of the new African Republics served well as a place with a poverty level similar to Papa Doc's little satrapy. The Comedians which was not a big hit at the time is maybe more relevant today as we can see things there without the filter of the Cold War between two superpowers.
Liz and Dick did a good one here, one for the ages.