Saturday, May 15, 2021

#2,568. The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) - The Films of Kirk Douglas


Adrian Messenger (John Merivale) is dead. He was one of over a hundred people who perished when his plane, bound for Canada, exploded in mid-air and crashed into the sea.

A few days before he died, Messenger handed a list of names over to his good friend, former Intelligence Officer Anthony Gethryn (George C. Scott), asking him to track down each person's whereabouts, and if they are still alive.

Messenger never told Gethryn why he wanted this information, and the reasons behind his inquiry would have died with him if it wasn’t for Raoul Le Borg (Jacques Roux), the only survivor of the plane crash and the man who heard Adrian Messenger’s seemingly incoherent last words.

Gethryn is convinced Adrian’s final utterances were, in fact, an attempt to get a message to him, and sure enough, when the pieces fall into place, Gethryn concludes that the plane carrying Adrian Messenger was sabotaged. What’s more, the men whose names are on his list have also died, under mysterious circumstances.

How these men connect to Adrian Messenger, and why anyone would want them all dead, forms the basis of John Huston’s 1963 film The List of Adrian Messenger, a movie that will grab your attention in the very first scene and not let go until the mystery has been solved.

And even then, the filmmakers have one more, very big surprise in store for you!

We know from the first scene that someone is killing the people on Adrian’s list, and before long we even know who the killer is: Kirk Douglas, always in disguise when carrying out his various killings (using make-up to pose as an elderly man, a vicar, and several others, we watch him finish off a handful of victims). Still, we have no idea why his character is committing these murders, and it’s here that the movie distinguishes itself as an exceptionally entertaining mystery.

Scott is remarkable as the ever-inquisitive Gethryn, whose deductive reasoning skills are beyond impressive (though he has very few clues to go on, Gethryn manages to stay one step behind the killer at all times). As for the supporting players, Douglas disappears behind layers of make-up to portray what amounts to a number of different characters, and Roux is strong in the sidekick role (he’s the Dr. Watson to Gethryn’s Sherlock Holmes). Also along for the ride are Dana Wynter as Lady Joselyn Burttenhold, Adrian Messenger’s cousin and a member of a very prestigious family; as well as Herbert Marshall as Sir Wilfred Lucas, Gethryn’s superior.

But it’s the rest of the cast you won’t soon forget, even if you can’t recognize a single one of them. Appearing in cameos throughout The List of Adrian Messenger are Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, and Frank Sinatra, all sporting disguises so amazing you'll have no idea which character they played until the very end.

A brilliant mystery that is an incredible amount of fun, I can’t recommend The List of Adrian Messenger enough!
Rating: 9.5 out of 10

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