Writing recently about some great chefs I’ve met reminded me of this movie. Who remembers watching this?
Watching Who’s Killing The Great Chefs Of Europe? all over again, since the first time I watched it 3 decades ago, is like rediscovering the unmitigated pleasures of my childhood food favorites. Like “dirty ice cream” (queso flavor) or my lola’s ube halaya cooked over a firewood stove which she stirred and stirred for hours to decadent sticky smoothness. It was such a joy to experience and relish all over again. Yes, even after all this time, even if some language sounds dated and hokey, it is still very much a joy but in a different way, because now I watch it with the eyes and sensibilities of a well-ripened film and food enthusiast.
In a nutshell, the film is a delicious comedy-mystery, spiced with wit and bon mots. George Segal plays the smooth-talking and slightly coarse American fastfood magnate Robby Ross. Jacqueline Bisset is his ex-wife Natasha O’Brien, a renowned and gorgeous patissière “who may become the last course in an enigmatic killer’s lavish platefuls of delicious deaths”. The mammoth (in physical size and thespianic talent) Robert Morley plays the role of Max Vandeveer, “an acerbic gourmet magazine publisher whose cascading series of chins and stomachs bear witness to his love of fine dining”. Unfortunately, all that gourmandizing has taken a toll on his health and his doctor has commanded him to lose 100 pounds by giving up his most favorite dishes in the world — like the Pressed Duck of La Tour d’Argent or Natasha’s supercalorific Bombe Richelieu. Soon, one by one, the great chefs of Europe who created the fantastic dishes Max craves — who, not coincidentally, are all French (at the time, it was the French who ruled the culinary universe) — are murdered in the manner of the their specialities’ preparations. Pressed Duck, hence… you get the picture.
I admit that the years of devouring movies and even of marinating in the critical and cynical world of advertising have jaded my palate just a soupçon. 30-plus years since this movie’s release is a pretty long time, after all, and taste and sensibilities were different then. Movie-goers were perhaps more naive and less demanding than we are today. And watching this film again, it is easier now to cast a jaundiced eye and see through the tricks of misdirection cooked up by director Ted Kotcheff (he also directed Stallone’s “First Blood”). Lovely and elegant Jacqueline Bisset may be, carrying off 70s fashion so stylishly, she was great eye-candy. Sadly, however, she couldn’t act if her life depended on it. I had to suspend my disbelief at several points about her character. For one, it was odd that she was cast as an American chef, what with her obviously very-British accent. What was even odder was her character not knowing what chicory is! But George Segal, oldish (or D.O.M.-ish) as he was even way back then, played the charming, slightly greasy rogue perfectly. He was definitely one funny jamón!
I would love, though, to see a remake of this movie. I can see the trenchant and wittily erudite food critic for Vogue Magazine, Jeffrey Steingarten, playing the role of Max. And the luscious and voluptuous Nigella Lawson would be ideal in the role of the gorgeous patisserie chef Natasha. And there are many among today’s stars who can play the part of the asinine but charming rascal Robby. Robert Downey, Jr. perhaps?
If you are food-and-film lover, as I am, this movie is definitely worth watching. Maybe not among the pantheon of Oscar greats, but consider it a delicious cinematically high-caloric romp.