THE ADVENTURERS was the 15th most-seen movie “event” of 1970, but even with a US domestic gross of $23,500,000 it was still ranked as a loser against an estimated $17,000,000 cost. Not helping were critics who pilloried the Harold Robbins sex & violence saga like it carried a social disease. Screen rights to his eighth novel were optioned in 1963, before it was even written: Robbins reportedly paid over $1,000,000. The 712 pages arrived three years later and sales hit the outer atmosphere.
For the nearly three-hour film version, producer-director Lewis Gilbert, co-scripting with Michael Hastings, toned down the books more lurid S&V, but kept enough to titillate randy teens and rise gorge among the more taste-oriented. I and my 15-year-old pals who snuck in to see it during the second year of the Nixon administration (low on sex, high on violence) were sated by the plush jet-setting, copious nudity and ample action scenes. A few regrown brain cells later, subsequent, somewhat more worldly viewings—sex having actually been had and violence too-often witnessed—our dark side appreciates the gaudy excess, laughable dialogue and lame acting. Sure, it’s a big, dumb dog. But instead of kicking it you can still pet the mongrel, chuckle at its canine goofiness, then tell Barney to go sit while you concentrate on that volume of Chaucer the cat-lady gave you.
The sin-sprayed sprawl spans the life and times of ‘Dax Xenos’, a lad of revolution-torn ‘Corteguay’ (somewhere South America) who, sent to Europe, becomes a playboy man-of-the-world, loosely modeled on Porfirio Rubirosa. He returns to his ever-plagued homeland to settle scores and see that justice comes to the oppressed. Like it always does in South America. This takes 171 minutes (originally 205, caramba!) and bedhops (or staggers) from locations in Colombia (Bogota, Cartagena and some lovely countryside) to Italy (Rome and Venice), Puerto Rico and New York City. With Joseph E. Levine as executive producer, no expense, as they say, was spared, and—Levine likewise looming—no subtlety was left un-smudged. *
Director Gilbert had a respectable résumé—The Admirable Crichton, Carve Her Name With Pride, Sink The Bismarck!, Damn The Defiant!—and had just delivered two big hits in Alfie and You Only Live Twice. The energetic action scenes have impressive heft (tons of swarming extras, wild cavalry charges, full-blown plane and train wrecks, massacres and assassinations. With plenty of trendy gore. The trimmings bulge with sports cars, fashion shows, parties, orgies and an S&M dungeon that probably inspired budding wealthy degenerates and politicians. In between bloody wipeouts and body baring is miles of talk, all tripe and twaddle, woefully carbon-dated editing (some of the sex stuff is laughable), choppy subplots and loose ends—context is as lost as democracy—and acting that ranges from acceptable to awful.
Miscasting is a major culprit, starting off on the wrong sandal with boy-Dax grated over by 12-year-old Loris Loddi (an English-speaking Italian child actor: he later became a dubber) who for the rest of the movie becomes man-Dax in the expression-limited person of 33-year-old Yugoslavian “find” Bekim Fehmiu. Though Fehmiu was handsome-ugly in the manner of Jean-Paul Belmondo, whatever charm he may have had in person or in his native Albanian didn’t cross the English-enunciation threshold: he’s in perpetual gloom mode throughout. Dax would be a sympathetic character in conception—after what he experiences—but he’s steadfastly unlikable in reaction, attitude and behavior.
Further woodenness (and bad writing, lazy direction) nails Candice Bergen as “the world’s richest girl” (surviving this, Soldier Blue and The Hunting Party, she got better) and Leigh Taylor-Young (who never improved) as some of Dax’s many willing conquests. These include seducing rich lady ‘Deborah Hadley’, played by a slumming Olivia de Havilland. Fifty-three and off-screen for six years, she’d later cameo in Airport ’77 and The Swarm: a long fall from glory.
On the plus side, performance-wise, sincerely earnest Ernest Borgnine serves durable duty as ‘Fat Cat’, Dax’s loyal lifelong bodyguard. Cultured cruelty is provided by Alan Badel, going with the camp flow as main bad guy ‘President Rojo’, modeled on the Dominican Republic’s tyrant Rafael Trujillo.
Scored—beyond its mournful main theme to no particular distinction—by Antonio Carlos Jobim. In the swarm, jostling for a moment above the material or just collecting a check: Charles Aznavour, Rossano Brazzi, Thommy Berggren, Fernando Rey, Jorge Martinez de Hoyos, Delia Boccardo, Sydney Taffler, Christian Roberts, John Ireland, Yolande Donlan, Ferdy Mayne, Angela Scoular, Jaclyn Smith (her first credited role), Lois Maxwell (as a ‘Bond’ favor to director Gilbert).
* The Adventurers was given a special “airborne world premiere” as the in-flight movie for TWA’s Boeing 747 Superjet’s inaugural flight from New York to Los Angeles. Stars and press aboard. No one could jump out, so maybe the Mile-High Club drew multiple workouts.
There were plenty of under-performers (and outright catastrophes) in 1970—Catch-22, Darling Lili, Myra Breckenridge (now that one deserves its toilet rep), The Great White Hope, The Hawaiians, WUSA, The Only Game In Town, Waterloo, Too Late The Hero, The Molly McGuires. A couple of those are pretty good, others are not as much trashy fun as the woebegone but watchable The Adventurers: sometimes critics pile on for the sadistic hell of it. Dax ’em if they can’t take a yoke.