The Farewell Party
High drama and lowbrow, morbid humor get stitched together in this successful tragicomedy about terminal patients and assisted suicide. Works better than expected.
CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA - "There's no use kidding ourselves," Lewis Gilbert said. "The appeal of this film will be based on sex and violence, of course. But the difference is, this will be the first sex and violence epic. Usually sex and violence are counted on to sell themselves, and so that sort of thing is made cheaply..."
For the film version of Harold Robbins' "The Adventurers," however, Paramount is laying something like $8,000,000 on the line, and so director Gilbert may have a point.
This will be the first film to be shot on location in three different countries; the cast includes actors of 22 different nationalities; and for those hung up on statistics, Barry Gordon of the London Daily Mail was looking through the script and came up with six rapes, an orgy, five seduction scenes, a revolution and a discreet bit of ear-chewing.
Gilbert is on location with a crew of 300 here in Cartagena, where he will film two of the rapes, one of the seductions and the revolution. For this, he has most of the Colombian Army on his payroll. "I reckon I could occupy the country in 24 hours," he mused the other day.
Gilbert is a quiet, humorous man who is not beyond seeing the absurdity of a film like this. Among his previous credits are the ultimate James Bond film, "You Only Live Twice," and the ultimate seduction film, "Alfie."
"Now I suppose you could say we're putting them together," he grinned. "A lot of people have said, Gilbert, how can you make slop like this? Well, perhaps the Robbins' novel didn't get good notices, perhaps it wasn't a literary masterpiece, but it did sell millions of copies and it is fundamentally a good story. So I see nothing wrong in taking a story of this sort and making a rip-roaring movie out of it." Paramount, one gathers, is happy that the Robbins novel did sell so well, because they are faced with the problem of selling Bekim Fehmiu as the star of the film version. Fehmiu is one of Yugoslavia's best-known film stars (He was in the Oscar nominee "I Even Met Happy Gypsies."), but he's hardly known outside Yugoslavia, and besides, whoever heard of a movie star named Bekim Fehmiu? It looks like it was taken off an eye chart.
"Well, we had to cast someone who was unknown," Gilbert said. "The role is sort of a combination of Fidel Castro and Porfirio Rubirosa - the South American playboy who comes home to lead a revolution - and you couldn't cast Kirk Douglas, could you? My wife saw Fehmiu in a film in Paris and said he was the perfect choice.
"She was right, but I had a hell of a time selling Paramount on it. Twenty years ago, this sort of role would have gone to Robert Young or Tyrone Power. But now you don't need a star; people want to see the story, not the star. So far, so good. But...an unknown Yugoslavian with no English and an unpronounceable name?"
Fehmiu did learn English in seven weeks, however, and his name (Beck-im Fiem-oo) is no more difficult than, say, Omar Sharif. Besides, Fehmiu has an interesting face, sort of a cross between Brando and Belmondo. Gilbert describes him as "handsome ugly. That is, he has a sort of animal quality, a sort of reckless masculinity, none of that pretty-boy hero stuff that used to be in fashion."
Gilbert was sitting poolside at the Hotel Caribe as he talked, sipping a Coke and taking the sun. But Cartagena, a lovely coastal resort city, is hardly typical of the rigors Gilbert led his crew through during the past two months of shooting. With Fehmiu and Ernest Borgnine playing Che-type guerrillas, Gilbert shot in tiny villages so far from cities that electricity was unknown.
"Here we were with 300 people and accommodations for 40," he said. "We had a lot of injuries and it was hot and we were miserable and the only phone would go out and we'd be out of touch for three days. At least we had no deaths. But the picture has cost more than most revolutions, and at least it will look authentic." The international cast also includes Candice Bergen as the richest girl in the world ("She damn near is anyway," Gilbert joked.); Leigh Taylor-Young as Fehmiu's South American lover; Thommy Berggren, who played Elvira Madigan's lover; John Ireland; Olivia De Havilland, in what will probably be her last movie seduction scene; Rossano Brazzi, and soprano Anna Moffo who took leave from the opera to play yet another of Fehmiu's conquests.
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