Tuesday, April 14, 2015

George Brougham in The List of Adrian Messenger ( 1963 )

The devil in disguise. That is the only phrase that can be used to describe George Brougham, portrayed with admirable ferociousness by Kirk Douglas in John Huston's overlooked dark thriller The List of Adrian Messenger ( 1963 ). He is the most vile of villains for he has no conscience to reprimand him and will equally do harm to man, woman, or child. Murder is only a means by which he can accomplish his objective. One by one he crosses off the names of his victims from the list he keeps in his little black book until only one remains; the name of the final person standing in the way of his diabolical plan. However, writer Adrian Messenger ( John Merivale ) discovers his ghastly scheme while doing research for his memoir and duplicates the list of intended victims, all of whom are bound by a common thread. 

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. 

So clever is Brougham that each one of his victims appears to have been a passenger in a mass transit accident or came to an abrupt demise on their own. No two of his crimes are alike. Drowning, stabbing, bombing, hit and run....he employs all methods. As a double insurance against being discovered, Brougham utilizes heavy disguises while in the preparation of annihilating his victims. These were not unpremeditated crimes he was committing, each one was strategically planned with no room for error. 

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.

This post is our contribution to The Great Villain Blogathon being hosted by Speakeasy, Shadows and Satin, and Silver Screenings running from April 13-17th. Be sure to head on over to their sites to check out all the dastardly villains being dished up. 


  1. One of my favorite movies! So glad you highlighted the wonderful music by Jerry Goldsmith. The disguises are fun, but it'd be a clever mystery without them. Remember, clean sweep...clean sweep....

  2. Gasp! I have NEVER heard of this movie! I can only imagine how good Kirk Douglas is in in this role.

    Thanks so much for joining the blogathon with this (new to me) gem!

  3. This is indeed a very good movie, but I paid more attention to the gimmicks than to the plot itsefl. Unfortunately, I could only locate Kirk Douglas in disguise. He is perfect in this role, as you said.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  4. Oh, I'm so glad you picked this film! It is such great fun. Those films of the early 60 really do hold up well. Great choice and a very entertaining post.

  5. Thanks for profiling one of my top favorite mystery films. Jerry Goldsmith's music is terrific and his fox hunt theme is among his best work. By the way, the audience was hoodwinked by the "actors in disguise" gimmick-- very few of the famous actors were actually in the film. Most only appeared in the unmasking finale. Mitchum was the exception-- he was given a nice character bit-- but the others were played by stand-ins. All but one of Kirk Douglas' disguised characters were played instead by character actor Jan Merlin. That's him in the photo at the very top ("The Killer"). See issue #105 of Video Watchdog magazine for a great behind-the-scenes article on this film.