Shave 20-30 minutes from this and you would have had a taut thriller. You could start with the number of clever dicks who happen to notice that what’s going on bears a close resemblance to a play Volpone by Shakespeare contemporary Ben Johnson, even down to the anglicizing of the names of those fictional characters. And prune the number of detectives, three is two too many especially when there’s an actual genuine detective in the mix. And the shock ending is just…well…mince.
Otherwise, quite fun in a way. Wealthy Cecil Fox (Rex Harrison) hires sometime actor, sometime factotum, law graduate Marty McFly – oops William McFly – to help him pull off an elaborate joke, “people-baiting”, a modern version of “bear-beating” apparently. Fox pretends to be dying in order to bring three former lovers, all he presumes desperate to be named in his will, to his bedside in a grand palazzo in Venice. Upfront reason, some kind of revenge. Hidden reason, something darker obviously.
The trio are Texan Mrs Sheridan (Susan Hayward), movie star Merle (Edie Adams) and Princess Dominique (Capucine). Sheridan is accompanied by a nurse Sarah (Maggie Smith), the “voice of morality.” They all certainly seem to have a sense of humor. Two presenting Fox with gifts of clocks, the princess with an hour-glass filled with gold dust instead of sand, presumably with the notion that he can watch his life ticking away. Needless to say, this is like an reality TV show, Fox not having named an heir in his will, so they are all battling to be the heir, and as he points out, even the rich will succumb because there is no such thing as “enough money.”
Things do not go according to plan when Sheridan unexpectedly dies. Enter Inspector Rizzo (Adolfo Celi). Sarah suspects McFly because he used her as an alibi but disappeared for a time when she (for unexplained reasons) fell asleep in a posh restaurant (and nobody tried to wake her). Turning detective herself, she comes up with “proof positive.” Turns out the two remaining suspects had conspired to also give themselves an alibi, easily demolished by the kindly inspector. McFly, too, has been doing some digging.
But then comes another twist and everything you thought you knew flies out the window. Cue more investigation, more alibis and finally an Agatha Christie pay-off when the two amateur detectives and the real one confront everyone in the drawing room. By which time the twists are coming thick and fast.
Best thing about this is the playing. Although decidedly stagey, very little in the way of visual audacity, that works to the movie’s benefit, and not a bad choice to rely so heavily on the acting given the cast. With the exception of Edie Adams, Capucine and Celi, all were Oscar anointed. Two winners – Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady (1964) and Susan Hayward for I Want to Live (1958) – and between them another five nominations – and two future winners in Cliff Robertson for Charly (1968) and Maggie Smith for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969). The others were not out of their depth, Edie Adams (Made in Paris, 1966) clocking up Emmy nominations. Adolfo Celi (In Search of Gregory, 1969) a deuce of nominations from the Cannes Film Festival while even Capucine (The 7th Dawn, 1964) had been nominated for a Golden Globe.
So director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Cleopatra, 1964) makes the right decision to let his actors get on with. Rex Harrison is at his suave best, but with a malevolent undercurrent, and has most of the best – and zestiest – lines. Robertson, usually the hero, is sly and duplicitous. Susan Hayward was in her comfort zone, forthright and taking no prisoners, Capucine at her cold and haughty best. Smith and Celi were the revelations, the former losing the trademark drawl and the nurse’s mousiness as to some extent she exerts control, and Celi departing from the bombast and delivering a lower-keyed performance.
Doing double duty, Mankiewicz worked up the script from three sources: the original Volpone, the play Mr Fox of Venice by Frederick Knott (Dial M for Murder) and a novel The Evil of the Day by Thomas Sterling. Next time the director went to the stage for inspiration he chose a better source for a mystery – Sleuth (1972).
2 thoughts on “The Honey Pot (1967) ***”
Quite a cast; I’ve heard rumours of Capucine being Epsteined, but they may just be idle gossip…
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Didn’t know that. It was rumoured though she got most of her parts by being a Hollywood mistress.