As regular readers will know I’ve recently become a bit obsessed by the work of Oldrich Lipský, the Czechoslovakian director of Lemonade Joe, Dinner For Adele, Happy End and The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians, declaring in a recent review that he’s one of the greatest writer and director’s comedy cinema has ever had. Most of those films were fairly high concept material but this 1971 effort from the director is a simpler farce where a man called George Camel (Lubomír Lipský, who is the brother of the director but also an actor in his own right so for once this isn’t a case of nepotism) is surrounded by people dying wherever he goes.
Starting off on a train journey where Doctor Porter (Viktor Maurer) is in possession of a cheque for one million US dollars, and has a guard to protect him, the latter is quickly murdered and two criminals fight over the money before Porter makes his escape. We then cut to a school lesson where George is trying to get his students interested in Macbeth (though they only think Lady Macbeth cried “Out, damn spot” as she needed to do her laundry), and shortly after he returns home he opens his front door and Doctor Porter’s dead body falls in to his apartment. Not wanting the incident to screw up a date he hides the body and only calls the police after his paramour has left, leading the police to think he’s the murderer, but oddly his life only gets better as dead bodies start piling up around him.
What’s actually going on is that two rival gangs of gangsters are desperately trying to obtain the cheque, but George and the police are completely unaware of this for a long old time. Meanwhile the notoriety of being a possible murderer improves George’s life as the previously uninterested newspaper columnist Sabrina (Jirina Bohdalová) starts to think he’s killing just so she has something to write about and bizarrely finds this attractive, others begin respecting him for the first time, and his students find his lessons fascinating as they think they’re being taught by a real life killer.
The other films that I’ve reviewed by Lipský have been quite unique and impressively inventive but unfortunately that doesn’t really apply here. It’s not a bad film by any means and Lipský plays around with gangster film staples in a nicely silly way, but it sags badly in the middle when it becomes annoyingly repetitious and doesn’t really offer up anything new. During the rest of the film all of the ingredients are there for a rip-roaring comedy but it doesn’t quite come together so it’s the kind of movie you’ll find amiable enough but which will rarely make you laugh out loud.
Perhaps I’m being harsh as there are elements which work, Sabrina has a fine line in insults, commenting to George early on that being “Next to you is like a one on a ten dollar note – always having a zero around”, there’s some likeable slapstick including a scene where two thugs take turns punching George which feels like a violent game of table tennis, and in one scene Batman-esque sound effects appear on screen. Also enjoyable is that at one point a bunch of the gangsters have to pretend to be jazz musicians and the song is delightfully strange, the police are mostly ridiculously inept throughout, and amusingly the Maitre’D of a restaurant tells George “Whenever you need to commit the next murder, please visit us, we’ll always find a victim for you” as it seems like no one is that scared by the fact that he appears to be a cold blooded killer.
These highlights only come along every so often though and by Lipský’s standards the film’s a little bland, while the ending doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the film as it includes an incredibly violent denouement involving the deaths of many of the film’s characters, before a coda that suggests the whole thing was fictional which doesn’t really make any sense. It’s a shame as with a slightly sharper script and a shorter running time this could have been as good as the rest of his work, but for the first time I’m not enchanted by one of Lipský’s films. No one has a hundred percent hit rate though and hopefully this isn’t representative of the rest of his work that I’ve yet to see, and either way this certainly isn’t weak enough to put me off from finding out.