Dir: Ted Kotcheff, 1978. Starring: George Segal, Jacqueline Bisset, Robert Morley. Mystery/Comedy.
As if the spectacle of a top chef's attitude was not enough, this movie has excellent dialogue and absurd murders to please viewers even more. For that reason, and many others, it is my favorite screwball comedy and one which takes a step away from traditional screwball plots, yet still remains fresh and classic. Replacing the love-triangle between a feisty woman and two men is a dessert chef who is being fought over by two individuals, though one of those pursuits is not romantic. Natasha (Jacqueline Bisset) is a famous pastry chef who's been called upon by Maximillian Vandevver (Robert Morley), an obese food critic and good friend, to make a cake for the Queen of England.
Her fumbling ex-husband, Robby (George Segal), is an overnight millionaire who owns various catchy fast food chains. This, of course, allows for Natasha and her co-workers to see him as the antichrist of cuisine. While harassing her in order to pitch an idea for a chain of omelets called H. Dumpty's, he discovers that she is being wooed by a famous Swiss chef. This particular chef is the one that orchestrated the dinner for the Queen, and the two met on silly terms in a kitchen. After spending the night with him, she wakes to find that he has been murdered in his own kitchen while attempting to make her breakfast. She finds him in an oven, which she and the authorities notice is a play on his specialty dish. Since she was the last one seen with him and her ex-husband was the last one to call his home, the two become suspects for the murder.
The business deals that they have in other countries don’t leave them with much time to feel threatened, and Natasha finds herself shipped off to Venice by Max in order to meet a famous Italian chef and exchange ideas. Robby ends up following her there and becomes an even bigger nuisance. Soon after, his silly and semi-romantic cat-and-mouse game is overshadowed by another murder. The Italian chef, like the Swiss one, is killed in the fashion of his specialty. With another chef killed in such a bizarre fashion that relates to food and fame, Natasha begins to notice a pattern that could eventually lead to her own death. Together Natasha and Robby try to figure out who's killing all of Europe's most renowned chefs.
I must say that my only complaint was Jacqueline Bisset's performance, which was good, but nowhere near as witty and sharp as her male co-stars. Robert Morley really steals the show as the pompous food critic turned food addict. An excellent twist in the movie is that Vandevver's doctor has given him six months, tops, to live; his risk of dying comes from his overwhelmingly rich diet. Still, with this news, he behaves as if expiring on account of the world's best cuisine is an honor in itself. Playing on that same sense of honor is the hilarious plot development that surrounds all the potential next victims in the gourmet food world. There is a scene where a bunch of French chefs are rallied by Robby and Natasha to meet and discuss who they believe the killer is, and who is most at risk among the bunch. The idea that the killer only murders the greatest becomes a sort of badge of honor among them, except for those who have really complicated specialties and fear a death that's just as nuanced.
To top the excellence of the dialogue, I should mention that the movie was filmed on many locations, including London, Paris, and Venice. It shocks me to see such production value with a comedy, and yet that sets it apart from the rest and turns it into an even more delightful film. I also enjoyed how the mystery stays alive until the end of the movie, as does the razor sharp dialogue. On a final note, the movie seemed to be ahead of its time with some of its references to the evils of fast food and food addiction. If you like screwball comedies, British comedy (but a bit more upbeat), or food, you'll appreciate, if not love, this movie. There is a rumored, and no doubt crummy, re-make happening next year; see it soon before it gets turned into a wretched mistake.