Who indeed? Or rather, who has killed this stylish caper movie, currently unavailable in any format in the UK, and viewable only with an imported German DVD or a download direct from Warners in the States? And yet Ted Kotcheff’s witty film should be a must for streaming; genial, free-spirited, original and ingenious, it’s a star-driven detective romp that’s packed with quality and good taste. Perhaps it lacked the sensational values that cinema thrives on, but Peter Stone’s eloquent screen-play makes this one for the connoisseur.
What’s that, you don’t fancy a musty old movie? Director Ted Kotcheff went straight from this to making the iconic First Blood vehicle for Stallone, while cinematographer John Alcott was poached for Kubrick’s The Shining. And the film itself is a second cousin to horror classic Theatre of Blood, in which a disgruntled actor murders the critics who savaged his works. In this case, as the title suggests, a mysterious killer is offing the great chefs of Europe, Britain, Italy, France. And next in line is rising star chef Natasha O’Brian (Jacqueline Bisset, with a hard t, a good Scottish name), whose bombe surprise turns out to conceal an actual bomb during a live tv broadcast in a tense finale. She’s got some protection in the form of ex husband Robby Ross (the late, great George Segal), who sets out to uncover the true culprit.
Kotcheff pulls together a star cast, with Jean Rochefort, Phillippe Noiret and Jean Pierre Cassell amongst the culinary community featured, and Peter Sallis, John Le Mesurier and Nigel Havers amongst the Brits., The honours go to Robert Morley, miles over the top and circling the world like a loosely tethered zeppelin as rotund gastronome Max; he dominates the film’s first half-hour before our feuding couple take over the narrative momentum.
Based on a novel by Nan and Ivan Lyons, Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? was renamed Too Many Chefs in some territories; either way, it’s a zesty, highly entertaining caper movie that been largely forgotten; I saw it on an early 80’s STV Sunday night outing. Well written, and shot on location in London, Paris and Venice, it’s a perfect pick-me up at a time when leaving the house feels like it requires a passport, and a great George Segal film missing from most obituaries.