Year of Release: 1970
Country of Origin: United States
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Main Cast: Bekim Fehmiu, Olivia de Havilland, Leigh Taylor-Young, Thommy Berggren, Rosano Brazzi, Jaclyn Smith
What the Guide Says: “Three hour challenge to the kidneys based on Harold Robbins’ bestseller about fictional South American republic that has a new revolution every two minutes. Incredible mess wastes attractive cast.”
Get ready for adventure!
It is a warm sunny day in spring. A happy young child runs through a mountain meadow playfully chasing a puppy. He laughs and the dog playfully nips at his heels as the schmaltzy strings swell on the soundtrack. Suddenly a shot rings out. He looks down to see his puppy lying still, covered in blood. He cries out the dog’s name before turning to see the row of revolutionaries that have killed his friend before taking off for home without a backward glance.
This opening immediately brought to my movie soaked brain the 1952 WWII set French film Forbidden Games where a similar thing happens. The difference is that Forbidden Games is a masterpiece and one of the saddest movies I’ve ever seen. The Adventurers, by comparison, is so inept that even something as awful as a small child’s pet getting slaughtered in front of his eyes is rendered campy and kind of funny because there is no buildup. Just “Boom” dead dog let’s move onto the next thing. It’s a movie that wants you to be sad and, like, feeeel things maaaan but it’s too impatient to let anything breathe. Case in point, what happens next.
The small child runs home and is forced to watch as the rebels brutally rape and murder his entire family as he stares in horror, in a scene that was probably much shorter in the original PG cut but in the extended DVD version plays like a sleazy exploitation film as the camera lingers way too long on the bloodshed and sexual violence. Again, it’s kind of funny because it’s so just over the top and awkward. The film has only been running for about ten minutes at this point!
It turns out that this small boy is Dax, the son of a diplomat and he’s quickly rushed off to a mountain stronghold, chaperoned by good old Ernest Borgnine who, like mostly everyone in this goddamn thing is incredibly miscast, his kindly face and cheery smile completely wrong for a character who’s supposed to be a hardened veteran of several brutal revolutions. We also get a lovely scene where he has sex in a lake with a random woman (thankfully we’re spared seeing his little Borgnine) while Dax and his new girl friend Amparo watch from behind some reeds and we get his bit of jaw dropping dialogue:
Amparo: What are they doing now?
Dax: I believe he is raping her. He rapes her, and she rapes him.
Amparo: Let’s do it.
Dax: No! you are too young, and I think I have to kill you afterwards.
Well isn’t that lovely? I think as I sip the coffee I’m consuming to keep myself awake to get through all three hours of this thing. Someone wrote that and put it in the mouth of a small child. Just lovely.
“Nothing has been left out of The Adventurers” except for dignity and a sense of shame
At any rate, we are not at this compound very long because the rebels have regrouped and we get more gratuitous slaughter as they wipe out every single person they find on the mountain as Dax and Amparo sneak away. After a looooong montage of the two of them wandering around and digging for food, they rather randomly stumble into the town where Dax’s diplomat father is living and also meet our friend Ernest Borgnine again who takes them both to the embassy. It turns out that the rebels have been wiped out! Hooray! Father and son head back home to bury the dead and let Dax use a submachine gun to administer corporal punishment on several prisoners but it’s general Roho (a rather bored looking Alan Badel) who gives him the gun and not his dad. In any normal movie this would be important but here it’s just a thing that happens like everything else.
Whew! You got all that? Good! Because now it’s time to leave the fictional country of Cortoguay and head to Europe where Dax is sent by his father for safe keeping and schooling. And wouldn’t you know it, this is where we are now going to spend most of our time, only taking occasional trips back to the fictional South American country where you probably thought the movie was going to be set.
Did I mention that this film has a bad case of tonal whiplash? The rest of the running time mostly concerns the exploits of an adult Dax as he has sex with many many women and throws them all away like used tissue paper. What happened to the revolution and Dax’s plan for revenge when Roho rather hilariously kills his father by blowing up a sky tram? Who cares? We’ve got sleaze to be wallowing in. And wallow we shall, in large gratuitous luke warm pools.
This film has a lot of problems. The main one is that it tries for so many things, but fails at pretty much all of them. When it wants you to be sad or shocking it just turns into camp. When it’s trying to be erotic it comes off like a really bad Italian “art porn” film. Take the scene where Dax lays a random girl by a pool while we get constant cut-aways to leering statues that goes on for so long that it starts to feel like parody. Then Dax sees visions of his mother being raped as he stares into the water…which he just ignores and continues with the sex. Much like everything else in The Adventurers, rape is just a thing that happens that has no bearing on anything else.
Later on he will de-virginize Candice Bergen’s character in a greenhouse and we get almost constant cut-aways to various flowers because IT’S SYMBOLISM OKAY? GET IT???
The other problem is its main actor who plays the adult Dax: Hungarian born Bekim Fehmiu. Fehmiu was all set to be a big thing in Hollywood when this movie came out but its failure at the box office and his awful performance (and also probably his thick Hungarian accent) pretty much put the kibosh on that.
You’d better get used to this face because you’re going to be staring at it for over three hours
As far as acting goes, he really only has two modes: completely blank and devoid of any kind of emotion and Al Pacino style yelling. There’s not much in-between. It’s even sadder when he has scenes with the various veteran actors that are scattered throughout this thing who are obviously slumming for a paycheck but still act rings around him. Besides Borgnine, there’s also Olivia de Havilland, a fantastic actress who is completely wasted in a thankless almost cameo sized role as a lonely old woman that Dax acts as gigolo to so his gay best friend can a put on a fashion show which will allow Dax to get rich so he can afford to go back to Cortoguay and eventually kill El Presidente Roho (yes, this is the actual plot of like half the movie). There’s even smaller and more thankless roles for veteran character actors Peter Graves and John Ireland. I really hope they all got nice European vacations out of this.
The only one who is on Fehmiu’s level is Candace Bergen (daughter of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and future star of Murphy Brown) who gives an laughably awful performance as a rich baron’s daughter that Dax impregnates and then marries, sealing his fortune and giving him an excuse not to return to shit hole Cortoguay again until the movie is pretty much over. In one of the film’s funniest “this is supposed to be shocking and sad, so why are you laughing?” moments a pregnant Bergen sits on a swing and asks Dax to push her. The swing chain snaps and she slams into the ground, resulting in the loss of her baby. Much like the puppy at the start of the film, this should be achingly sad but it’s so sudden and handled with such indifference that it made me laugh so hard I almost woke my kids up.
When Bergen finds out that her unborn child is dead she over emotes like she’s in an early silent film and is trying to get emotion across without sound.
This is also the point where an already unlikable Dax becomes a total monster as he abandons his wife so he can fuck more women and get more money. I think the film somehow wants us to live through him vicariously and revel in his playboy exploits but anyone that does so can please stay the hell away from me and my family.
“Why won’t this film end????”
In any normal film this would be the point where the end credits would mercifully roll but because this is The Adventurers we only get an intermission, helpfully restored to the DVD version because why the fuck not? It was at this point that I really started to lust after my nice warm bed but at least the last chunk of the movie mostly showcases what the film does best: pretty impressive (IE expensive) war scenes with lots of the spilled red and stuff getting blowed up real good. The film knows when to start with the explosives, I’ll give it that. At least it kept me awake.
Translation: “Sorry, asshole. You’ve got almost an hour and a half of this trash heap left”
The Adventurers is a baffling film. So much that happens is just so incredibly random. There’s a business man, played by Charles Aznavour, who doesn’t really get his character built up much before he double crosses Dax and gets taken out. The only thing we really learn about him is that he has a bizarre sound proof sex dungeon that opens through a secret panel in the wall that his even wife doesn’t know about. What is the point of showing this to Dax (and us)? It makes no sense at all.
Seriously: What. The. Fuck?
Why is there a fashion show that looks like a disco nightmare and goes on for what feels like an eternity?
Why is the whole middle section (over two hours!) of the movie full of events and characters that don’t contribute anything to the plot and essentially mean nothing?
Why would you spend so much money and expend so much effort on something that at its base is nothing but sleazy trash?
Why is this movie over three hours long???
I think the answer to all of those questions is this: It was the beginning of the 1970s, and there was cocaine going around. Lots and lots and lots of cocaine.
At least it looks expensive. I guess that counts for something
My rating: Plus one * for the sweeping war scenes, tank battles, and that part where they blow up a whole friggin’ train
Plus one * for the high camp value
Minus one half * for being so goddamn long and pointless
= *½ stars
If I could sum this film up with a single image…