List of Adrian Messenger, The (1963)

“The fact remains that six deaths by accident, out of any ten names, is too high of a proportion for chance.”

Synopsis:
A retired British intelligence officer (George C. Scott) attempts to unravel the mystery of a man (Kirk Douglas) who has killed all eleven people on a list given to him by his murdered friend (John Merivale).

Genres:

Review:
Based on a novel by crime writer Philip MacDonald, this murder mystery (directed by John Huston) is primarily remembered today for its somewhat gimmicky use of A-list actors (Tony Curtis, Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster) in heavily made-up, nearly indistinguishable cameo roles. Audiences at the time were invited to guess who was who, and were rewarded when each actor unmasked himself during the closing credits. To that end, Bud Westmore’s make-up is truly impressive: while we can tell that the characters played by each of these actors are clearly in disguise, it’s remarkably difficult to discern their real faces underneath. Kirk Douglas — acknowledged almost immediately as the film’s psychopathic villain — plays the largest camouflaged role, hiding behind various effective personae as he commits a series of cold-blooded murders.

The fact that we know the killer’s identity from the beginning means that the story really belongs to George C. Scott, playing a retired British intelligence officer determined to follow through on the suspicions raised by his recently deceased friend, the oddly named Adrian Messenger (John Merivale) — who does indeed attempt to leave a final message for the man by his side (Jacques Roux) as he’s dying. As fate would have it, Scott knows Roux, and the two collaborate together on the mystery. Meanwhile, in the weakest element of the plot, Roux falls for and romances Messenger’s widowed cousin, Dana Wynter (beautiful but poorly used here). Huston’s firm directorial hand is evident throughout; unfortunately, however, the story he’s working with is merely serviceable entertainment — worthy viewing once, but not must-see for all film fanatics.

Note: Interestingly enough, character actor Jan Merlin was actually the man behind the make-up during several of the presumed “cameo” roles by the famous actors; apparently only Douglas and Mitchum actually did any real acting in disguise, while the others merely showed up for their “unmasking” scene at $75,000 each.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bud Westmore’s truly impressive make-up
    List Adrian Messenger Makeup

Must See?
No, but it’s worth seeking out for one-time viewing.

Links:

2 Responses to “List of Adrian Messenger, The (1963)”

  1. The List of Adrian Messenger is severely cropped in its DVD release currently selling on Amazon. It’s especially evident that the bottom of the image was cut off. The sides may have been cropped as well. The result is that the composition is terrible in about half of the shots, and in many shots you can’t see what the actors are doing with their hands.

    There are shots of actors on horses, except you can’t see the hands on the reins and you can barely see the horse. There are shots of horses jumping fences, except you can’t see the fence. There are a couple of shots where one actor is handing papers to another actor, but the passing of papers happens below frame. There’s a shot of an actor passing a glass of wine to another actor, but you can’t see the hand of the actor receiving the glass. There are two shots of actors reaching for doorknobs and opening doors, but you can’t see the hands or the doorknobs.

    The cropping of films released on DVD is widespread, and ought to be loudly decried by everyone who loves the cinema. Please add your voice to those who are denouncing this loathsome practice.

  2. Not a must.

    Huston is, of course, my favorite director – but, for me, this flick is one I find rather forgettable. (I know I saw it when I was a very young ff, but not once since, til now.) It’s somewhat watchable but I just don’t find it very compelling. The whole ‘disguise’ thing seems more distracting than anything else.

    One brief scene involving Gladys Cooper perked me up for a chuckle. That’s about it, really.

    Huston seems to have been enjoying himself during the foxhunting filming – it’s lively enough.

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