Volpone, a play from the 1600s from playwright Ben Jonson. How about an introduction with 1967's The Honey Pot?
Even with all his millions, his whiskey, his cigars and his huge Venetian mansion, quirky millionaire Cecil Fox (Rex Harrison) is bored to tears. He's always taken pride in living life to the fullest, but in his middle years he's looking for some entertainment. Fox comes up with an idea while watching Jonson's Volpone, bringing the play to life, his life. He hires an on-and-off actor, William McFly (Cliff Robertson), as his assistant in his own personal play, the millionaire putting his diabolically "fun" plan into effect. Fox is going to pretend he's dying following a heart attack and he intends to settle up his vast fortunes, assembling three former loves in his Venetian mansion and letting the hijinks begin. McFly takes the job somewhat suspiciously but he goes along with it. What exactly is Cecil Fox up to? What is his ultimate goal in pulling off this ultra-involved prank?
I had never heard of this 1967 quasi-comedy from director Joseph Mankiewicz until it recently popped up on Turner Classic Movie's schedule. The plot sounded interesting enough, but mostly it was the cast that caught my attention. On top of Harrison and Robertson, we get Susan Hayward as Lone Star Crockett, a quirky American businesswoman with her hand in the oil business, Maggie Smith as Lone Star's nurse, Sarah, Capucine as Princess Dominique, and Edie Adams as a sex kitten American movie star. Oh, and there's also Adolfo Celi as a Venetian police officer who gets pulled into Fox's elaborate practical joke. Not too bad in the casting department, huh? That's what I thought, and I was right. Above all else, if you're going to give this one a try, go in because of the casting.
I especially liked the dynamic between Harrison and Robertson. Neither man knows exactly what the other one is up to, but they both know the other is up to something at least mildly sinister. Who will figure it out first? They have an appealing, easy-going chemistry that gives an energy to each of their scenes together, whether it be putting all the details of their plan together or just sitting across from each other at a poker game. Harrison's Cecil gets a chance to go one-on-one with Hayward's bajillionaire, Capucine's royalty and Adams' actress, each bringing a different dynamic to their scenes and background. I especially liked Hayward as Lone Star with all her quirks and idiosyncrasies. Robertson too gets a possible romance with Smith's Sarah, Lone Star's nurse who begins to smell a rat somewhere in this Venetian mansion.
So where exactly does this one hit a rough spot? Well, to be fair, it's not just one specific scene. It's an entire script from Mankiewicz, based off Thomas Serling's novel which is based off the original Volpone. The movie is a rather leisurely 132 minutes, and that's just the version released in the United States. In the United Kingdom, a 150-minute long version was released in theaters. I'm all for well-written dialogue. I don't know if this is as well-written as it thinks it is. It's smart and clever, witty and quick, but it's not the end all, be all dialogue that it believes it is. 'Pot' is too smarmy for its own good. The dialogue goes on and on seemingly without end. There are no memorably choreographed set pieces, nothing at all really to break up the monotony. It runs over two hours, but this is a story that goes on and on. It feels long. It is long.
'Pot' is listed as a comedy crime thriller which is fine and dandy. When one of the above characters is murdered nearing the hour-mark, things are definitely thrown for a loop. It's dark, but it ceases to be funny from there on in. One character begins to piece things together, but can the mystery be unraveled in time? It's not especially funny, especially the ending with all its forced attempts at humor, and the drama isn't dramatic enough. Pick a tone and stick with it! Funny or drama! It can work in the right situation, but this wasn't it. A very disappointing negative review.
The Honey Pot (1967): **/****