Film » Film Stories

Blind Phyllis

The List of Adrian Messenger (1963)


"Classics" like Citizen Kane and The Hustler might have been gems in their time, but watch them today and you'll come to one clear conclusion: Old movies suck.

But Blind Phyllis grades old movies based on how marvelously peculiar the language, mannerisms and activities of the principal characters stack against the norms of today. And on those merits, Adrian Messenger, directed by John Huston, succeeds. Consider this line from the patriarch of the Brougham clan, a regal British lot that's being systematically killed off by master-of-disguise Kirk Douglas: "I like to see a thruster in the field -- gingers up the whole hunt." The hunt here is a fox hunt; formal dinner at the Brougham estate is book-ended by sherry, port, discussion of the daily headlines and dueling grand pianos.

Huston's characters lead supremely rich, dynamic, politically incorrect lives -- overshadowing the fact that his film is fraught with corny gimmickry. Generous portions of prosthetic makeup are employed to disguise the roster of stars, which includes Burt Lancaster as a sign-toting animal-rights activist in drag. Bizarre as this cameo may be, it doesn't hold a candle to Frank Sinatra's turn as a shabby-looking gypsy with double hoop earrings who leads a white horse named Ravatar into the stable of the Brougham family's youngest male heir. The sexual tension in this scene is as thick as the fog from whence Sinatra and his pale stallion came, proving that Old Blue Eyes was a man's man indeed.

Each week Mike Seely treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.

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