The Honey Pot Review
Venice. Millionaire Cecil Fox (Rex Harrison) hires William McFly (Cliff Robertson), an out of work actor, to act as his secretary and to help him carry out an elaborate trick on three of his former mistresses. Hearing that Fox is dying, they come to Venice: Merle McGill (Edie Adams), a Hollywood star on the wane, Princess Dominique (Capucine), and Mrs Sheridan aka Lone Star Crockett (Susan Hayward), a Texan hypochondriac who travels with a mysterious nurse-cum-companion, Susan Watkins (Maggie Smith). Then, one of the three is murdered...
Joseph L. Mankiewicz gets a proprietary credit at the beginning of The Honey Pot and it’s not difficult to see, or rather hear, why. Mankiewicz was a writer-director for much of his career, but to reuse a phrase from other reviews on this site, for the most part he was a writer-who-directed rather than a true writer-director. It’s not true that his direction was purely functional, but it was clearly in support of his script and the performances he got from his actors. That’s the case with All About Eve: great film though it is, you come away with lines of dialogue and performances, less individual shots and camera movements.
Simply put, Mankiewicz’s characters talk, and discursive films often run long. The Honey Pot, a variation on Ben Jonson’s Volpone (spot some significant character names) via two other variations, even in the shortened version on this DVD is a very long, very talky film. Much of the dialogue displays a high level of sophistication and wit, but you can’t help wanting it to cut to the chase. About three quarters of the way through the film shifts gears and becomes a murder mystery, and character comedy gives way to twist-in-tail plot machinations, but your patience may have been eroded by then.
A high-powered cast do their best, but compared to All About Eve, say, a film of similar length, it seems longer. The cast do their considerable best, but the characters are far less engaging. The film is intriguing, in the working out of the complex plot, but it’s an experience for the head and not the heart. The film is a product of a more circumspect (not innocent) age: viewers might wish to ponder lesbian overtones in the relationship between Mrs Sheridan and Miss Watkins.
The Honey Pot is old Hollywood, one about to be changed forever the following year: it seems very old-fashioned now, dated in a different way to Easy Rider or Bonnie and Clyde say. Mankiewicz probably sensed the days of his kind of cinema were numbered: he made just two more films after this.
The Honey Pot is released on a dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only. The film ran 150 minutes on release, and that’s the length of the version passed for an A certificate in 1967. The IMDB gives 132 minutes as the length of the “TCM Print”, without further explanation, and that would appear to be the version on this disc (126:16 with PAL speed-up). I hadn’t seen The Honey Pot before, so I can’t comment on whether the eighteen additional minutes make any difference to the film’s pace or structure.
The DVD transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. Gianni de Venanzo's camerawork looks like many later-Sixties colour films: a little heightened by modern standards – skin tones verge on orange, though some of that may be due to heavy make-up, especially on the women. Grain is natural and filmlike. Shadow detail is a little lacking, but I suspect that's the way the film has always looked.
The soundtrack is the original mono, with music, sound effects and the all-important dialogue well balanced. As usual with an Optimum catalogue DVD, there are no subtitles and only eight chapter stops. Both policy decisions seem particularly misguided with a film like this. The film is so dialogue-driven that there’s barely any point in watching it if you can’t understand what people are saying, and this is a film likely to attract an older audience than most. As I said about Optimum's recent release of The Ruling Class, eight chapter stops are simply inadequate for a film that runs over two hours.
The only extra is the theatrical traile, which is 1.85:1 anamorphic and runs 2:33.
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