Peter Lorre stars in this mystery. As in some of his other roles, he goes by a nickname, Smiley. The plot concerns the death threat to an American woman, ‘Sally’ Kennedy (Beverly Bentley, who plays an imposter of Sally) in Spain. An Englishman, Oliver (Denholm Elliot), tries to help Sally. In doing so, he also becomes a target. It seems that Sally is an heiress, about to become a millionaire.
The supporting cast includes Paul Lukas as Baron Saradin, Leo McKern as Tommy, Sally’s brother; there’s Tommy’s wife, Margharita (Mary Laura Wood), Johnny (Liam Redmond), Diane Dors as Winifrid, and the Kennedy’s attorney, Robert Fleming (Peter Arne). Elizabeth Taylor has a bitsy, but important part.
For theatrical release, actual scent-generating devices we’re used to simulate fragrances at key points. The fragrance motif is not the only oddity here; there’s a sort of narrative travelog aspect as well.
Sure enough, we start with a butterfly view of Spanish countryside–is that critter the narrator? No, it’s Oliver, doing a tourist amble. Stuck in a crowd of schoolkids, the cabbie Smiley more or less rescues him. In the city, a man asks a policeman if he’s seen a woman with a huge hat. The cab is sideswiped by a speeding truck.
Oliver sees the woman with the big hat. Another English-speaking guy, Johnny, tries to tell Oliver and Smiley that the truck’s real target was Sally. Meanwhile, the Baron, who had been eating at a nearby sidewalk cafe, sees the accident too. Apparently a cashed check is a clue. Oliver goes to the curio shop where the transaction occured. Rather incredibly, the shopkeeper gives Oliver the girl’s name and hotel address (It’s our Sally).
Now Oliver pretty much trolls around the beach looking for Sally. He thinks it’s Winifred, but she’s oblivious, though coy. By this point Oliver figures that Sally is in grave danger; so, in effect he’s offering his services as a ‘protector.’ He then finds Sally, in her own room. She is quite beguiling; he drops the ‘protection’ concept on her. He recounts the events of the day, which point to her being targeted.
She thinks it’s pretty much a delusion of Johnny’s, who’s a less than credible character. She mentions that her brother is in town. Anyway, Smiley takes Oliver though a remote mountain village. There’s a gypsy dance going on. Back in the city, The Baron is accosted by Johnny at a cafe table; Johnny too is looking for Sally. Why?
At the village, Oliver and Smiley talk about the single life and its freedoms. Back to the Baron and Johnny: on a signal from the Baron, a wagonload of wine barrels goes tumbling down a steep, narrow street and crushes Johnny. Oliver and Smiley show up at the scene (this looks to be in the city’s outskirts). Their conclusion is that this incident confirms the danger to Sally.
Johnny ‘knew to much,’ it seems. Sally gets into a Mercedes roadster with a guy; Smiley and Oliver follow. At least two other cars follow them. A slow but picturesque drive through the arid countryside. By taking shortcuts, the taxi is able to keep up with the sports car. They go through a town in festival mode: running of the bulls.
More quaint this and that…hey, there’s a movie plot to catch up with! We see the red Mercedes finally, the all-too-long chase resumes. Time for a blow-out on the taxi. Oliver, using binoculars, and scrambling up a hill, nonetheless espys Sally in the next town. Someone is shooting at him, though. A bunch of tourists laugh at him skulking about.
Eventually, they get up to the same hotel where he saw Sally’s car parked. Apparently, she’s using Constance Walker as a psuedonym. She’s more or less announced by a guy who buys a round for the hotel bar patrons. The guy, Mr. Walker, is there with his wife, not his sister Sally. Oliver tries to chat up the hotel desk clerk, Margharita. She, however, hasn’t seen a bit of the suddenly elusive Sally.
Now Tommy (Mr. Walker) intrudes on the scene, trying to dispose of Oliver. He insists that his sister isn’t at the hotel; she’s on a yacht. Nonetheless, the ‘good guys’ see Sally’s car nearby. There’s the silhouette of a pipe-smoking guy against a wall. Mysterious? Not so much. Well, he finds Sally, in bed, no less. But in doing so, he has to fight off another guy climbing into her balcony from the opposite direction.
An actual intermission is next. That’s good–I need a break. The plot is so slowly-paced that the prospect of another hour of this fills me with dread. And I’m certain that things won’t get much better, if at all. If this were strictly a romantic comedy, it would work pretty well.
Elliot and Bentley make a decent couple, meeting nice in an exotic location. That’s the beginning and end of the good stuff. Nothing else makes sense. Why would Oliver get mixed up in Sally’s life for other than romantic reasons?
If he thinks she’s in some danger, logic suggests that he go to the police. He doesn’t seem to have any local ties (even Smiley is simply a friendly stranger), so why not just remain a tourist? If she’d come to him, that would be different; up to this point they’ve only seen each other, but they haven’t even really met. Lorre isn’t given anything to do; the only interesting character, Johnny, has already been killed off.
The fight scene in Sally’s bedroom continues after intermission. Finally, Oliver prevails. The ‘assailant’ claims that he’s the attorney, Robert Fleming. He relates that he’s her protector, because if she dies before midnight of the following day, her part of the fortune will revert to her brother. This at least makes sense.
Meaning, of course, that any death plot against Sally would have to have originated with Tommy. Fleming tells her as much. Now on the same side, the two guys agree that they have to spirit Sally away from the hotel. Of course, Smiley provides the getaway car. The Baron and Margharita look on from a hidden spot.
Sally’s idea is to go to Seville, where a gigantic festival is in progress. Good plan, except, as they meander though the crowded streets, Oliver is grazed by a bullet. The Baron’s the shooter. Sally flees, but the dastardly guy chases her into a church. The Baron has a few tricks up his sleeve, but the three ‘good guys’ escape eventually in the taxi.
At long last, the old car breaks down. Gives Oliver and Sally time to get acquainted. They stop to admire the view. Aha! She pulls a gun on them, but the clip’s empty. The next surprise is that Sally’s, after all, the imposter. She steals the car; the Baron, meanwhile, spying the taxi, has taken up a position with a rifle.
He shoots a tire, and the taxi wobbles off the road and down a cliff. Scratch the imposter–she does pop up at the end, but may as well be gone. Seeing the two guys hitchiking, he’s dumfounded (he thinks all three of them were in the crashed car). He tries to shoot them too. Conveniently, there’s a maze of trails edging the cliffs. Chase scene, naturally.
Well, the Baron wanders into a tunnel, and is wiped out by a train zipping through. Back at the hotel, Tommy tells the real Sally to leave the hotel and meet up with him. Meanwhile, Oliver, who of course can fly, happens to find an old RAF acquaintance who loans him a plane.
They find Tommy’s van on the road, figuring that he’s going to murder his sister. They land. Engaging a taxi, they locate the van, and give chase. Ok. But now more chasing, on foot…in the distance they see her; but the nearby bullfight drowns out their shouts. Fleming is pursuing Tommy. Now the denouement: Oliver does a Batman-like trick by hooking his umbrella to a power line and riding it all the way down to the action below. Fleming’s tackled.
So, it was Fleming, not Tommy, who planned to kill Sally. The imposter was Fleming’s girlfriend, who was in on the scheme, along with Margharita. Apparently, the smell of tobacco was the decisive clue. And here’s a nice surprise, Elizabeth Taylor is Sally. In fact, she was the woman he’d seen scooting around in the first scenes, avoiding the truck accident. The end.
I’ve got to admit that the second half was an improvement over the first. The plot thickened, but didn’t exactly come together. Other than the obvious problem of Oliver’s motivation, even the ‘bad guys’ strategy didn’t add up. Sure, there’s a lot of money at stake.
But isn’t it obvious that Margharita (assuming Fleming kills both Tommy and Sally) is going to be the primary suspect? Not to mention Fleming and his girlfriend, who, presumably knew about the inheritance, and therefore could work the angles to get a piece of it. Even if Sally’s death is rigged to look accidental, there would be immediate suspicion.
Given no more than a skin-deep look at the murder plot(s), it still doesn’t make sense that they would need an imposter for a decoy. Who is it supposed to fool? Yes, it fools the Baron, proving he can’t be in on the plot. It fools Oliver; but there’s no way the plotters could’ve known there would be such a person snooping about. Only someone actually protecting Sally would want to distract potential assassins with an imposter.
The last half of the movie does open up the possibility that this could’ve been an effective murder mystery. But, even leaving aside the odd plot hole, why the incessant travel narrative, the frankly silly tone, and the droning, numbing pacing? (Do we really need the flying scene?). As mentioned, Lorre can be excused because his role is nearly superfluous; but Elliot has precisely the wrong persona for this role.
He’s trying so hard to look suave that he’s boorish. The constant smirk betrays him; he’s not funny, and he’s not cool. The other supporting characters work well enough, although I still can’t figure out what the Baron has to do with anything. For that matter, why does Smiley drop everything and just decide to work privately for Oliver?
And, then, there’s the imposter Sally. She survives the crash. Oliver, however, has nothing more than a glimmer of shock when she turns the tables on him–as though she were a stranger. He’s basically had an affair with her, and doesn’t think twice after she betrays him. He automatically attaches himself into the real Sally, as though the name is the same as the person.
I wouldn’t stay up late to see this, or bother to record it either. Great tour of the Spanish countryside, though. 5.5/10