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THE COMEDIANS

Director: PETER GLENVILLE

150 minutes| U.K.| 1967| Colour| Anamorphic| 35mm


An indictment of Haiti’s brutal regime under Papa Doc, Greene’s novel prompted a retaliatory government pamphlet, ‘Graham Greene Unmasked’, which accused him of being a spy, sadist, torturer and drug-addict. Greene was puzzled by ‘torturer’ but otherwise flattered: the novel had drawn blood. His screen adaptation has less sting, as representative samples of humanity rather ponderously play out the Human Comedy of desire and failure against a frightening background of political oppression. Elizabeth Taylor is miscast as an erring wife, though Peter Ustinov gives the cuckolded Ambassador a moving, wounded dignity. The film is redeemed by a magnificent scene near the end when, on the run and in a dimly lit cemetery, Richard Burton and Alec Guinness sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of their illusions. The acting is wondrous to behold: as Pauline Kael once observed, performers with faces written on by skill and expertise can sometimes give you something that cold print cannot provide.

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