When Messenger dies in a plane bombing, his friend, former MI6 agent Colonel Anthony Gethryn (George C. Scott ), decides to investigate the list of contacts that was left in his care. Aiding him in his endeavor is Raoul ( Jacques Roux ), the sole survivor of the plane crash and the only man who overheard Messenger's cryptic last words. Together they discover that seven of the eleven men on the list have already perished in "accidental" deaths.
The List of Adrian Messenger was released in late May of 1963 and was heavily promoted for its mystery gimmick - five leading actors were selected to be buried under cakes of makeup and the audience had the fun of trying to spot who is who and who is not whom they seem to be. Tony Curtis, Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum were the actors who provided cameos, but so thick is their makeup that it is difficult to distinguish them, save for Robert Mitchum.
John Huston had just completed filming Hud and wanted to delve into a project that he could relax with. The List of Adrian Messenger provided him with an excuse to return to his ancestral home of Ireland and indulge in one of his favorite pastimes : fox-hunting. Some of the most impressive scenes in this fun thriller revolve around the hunt sequences.
This unique endeavor also allowed Huston to work alongside screenwriter Anthony Veiller whom he collaborated with on Beat the Devil ( 1953 ) and, later, on The Night of the Iguana ( 1964 ). Veiller crafted his script from the first book in the Anthony Gethryn series created by novelist Philip MacDonald ( "The Lost Patrol", "X v. Rex" ).
George C. Scott is excellent as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, trying to put himself into the shoes of the killer and anticipate his next move before he strikes, but he finds it is a fiend more cunning than Moriarty that he is up against. Jacques Roux is also very good as his Dr. Watson, acting as a sounding board for the brainstorms of the retired agent. Playing his love-interest is the stately Dana Wynter, and rounding out the cast are some of Hollywood's veteran Brits : Herbert Marshall, Gladys Cooper and Clive Brook.
Even with such an impressive cast it is Kirk Douglas, who is credited on the original posters only as a "cameo" actor, that steals the film with his portrayal of the devious George Brougham. He is an egotistical killer who, in his warped mind, derives immense satisfaction in his own cleverness.
Jerry Goldsmith penned a wicked tango theme that plays in a leisurely fashion during each of Brougham's scenes, emphasizing the gentle patience in which Brougham goes about executing his crimes. Unlike some villains who are so evil they're good, George Brougham is just plain evil. He is a villain beyond hope of redemption and, ultimately, he receives his just punishment.