By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Michael Caine and director Mike Hodges teamed up again one year after doing the gritty classic Get Carter with this breezy oddity dealing with a pulp fiction writer Mickey King (Caine) who is hired to pen the autobiography of ex-Hollywood star Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney) who is now living in exile in Malta. The problem is that Gilbert has ties to the underworld and Mickey soon finds himself running for his life while meeting up with a barrage of oddball characters along the way.
The movie has a wonderfully quirky sense of humor with a few memorable laugh-out-loud sequences especially at the beginning. I got a real kick out of the man with a weak bladder who says a prayer to God to open up a locked bathroom door when he can’t get into it. The scene in the bus where we hear the different thoughts going on inside each of the passenger’s heads is great as well. The opening sequence featuring a row of lady typists writing up King’s latest manuscript is cute, but the one thing that holds it all together is Caine’s wry voice-over narration that remains consistently amusing.
Rooney though manages to steal the whole thing with his hilarious send-up of an aging actor. In fact this may be one of the funniest roles of his entire career. Even the scene showing him shadow boxing in his underwear is engaging although thankfully the camera doesn’t stay on it for too long. I was a bit disappointed that the character didn’t last through the film’s duration, but his death scene is so funny that it almost makes up for it.
It is nice to see Lizabeth Scott in her last film to date and first since 1957 when she was essentially blacklisted from Hollywood purportedly for her lesbian leanings. Although only 50 at the time her aging face looked like she was almost 70 and her deep, raspy voice sounded similar to the demon’s in The Exorcist. I thought she could’ve been given more to do and played a character that was more integral to the story as her screen time is much too brief.
The on-location shooting done on the island nation of Malta is another asset. The sunny weather has a nice exotic feel and the old architecture of the buildings helps give the film a visual distinction. The melodic piano soundtrack is pleasing and I wished it had been heard a little bit more.
The story is full of a lot of unexpected twists and turns that manages to be engaging for a while, but I felt it runs out of steam by the end. During the final 15 minutes I found myself a bit bored and no longer caught up in it. While I do like the scene where the gunmen gets run over by a pick-up and shown from the point-of-view of the driver I still felt that the ending lacked the finesse and quirkiness of the beginning. The offbeat ideas that writer/director Hodges showers into the film become dried up with a finish that lacks any payoff and unfortunately sullies what is otherwise an offbeat gem waiting to be discovered.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: August 4, 1972
Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes
Director: Mike Hodges
Studio: United Artists
Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video