‘The Adventurers’: when a trashy movie isn’t fun

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adventurers1On paper, the new Warner Archive release “The Adventurers” sounds like it should be a lot of good bad-movie fun.

After all, it’s a big budget 1970 Paramount production based on a novel by Harold Robbins, who ruled the best seller lists 50 years ago with lurid potboilers such as “The Carpetbaggers” and “Where Love Has Gone.”

It features an oddball, all-star cast that ranges from Candice Bergen to Olivia DeHavilland to Ernest Borgnine.

How could you go wrong?

Well, I’m sad to report that there is a good reason “The Adventurers” bombed in 1970 and then vanished — it’s a heavy-handed, three-hour film that spends more time on a revolution in a fictional South American country (Corteguay) than on the jet-setting European adventures of its playboy anti-hero Dax Xenos.

Harold Robbins was famous for cooking up novels from the gossip that surrounded celebrities. He would thinly disguise the facts of the lives of someone like Howard Hughes or Lana Turner Adventurersand come up with enjoyable junk like “The Carpetbaggers” and “Where Love Has Gone.” In both of those cases, the books inspired trash-classic movies, too.

“The Adventurers” was based on the life of Porfirio Rubirosa, the diplomat and playboy from the Dominican Republic, who became a mid-20th century legend for the sexual prowess which led him to high profile affairs with everyone from Zsa Zsa Gabor to Ava Gardner.

(In his wonderful Hollywood memoir, “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” producer Bob Evans reports that in the late 1950s, the peppermills in restaurants frequented by the jet set were called “rubirosas” in honor of the playboy’s most talked-about asset.)

The movie version of the novel goes wildly wrong right at the start, treating the material as if it’s a historical epic on the order of “Doctor Zhivago” with a long opening section showing us the massacre of Dax’s mother and other family members by a rival political faction.

Dax’s father (played by Luis Bunuel regular Fernando Rey) eventually becomes the ambassador to Italy, where his son grows up to become a polo-playing gigolo. That’s when the movie’s killing blow arrives in the form of the Yugoslavian film and theater star Bekim Fehmiu who plays the adult Dax without a trace of humor or passion.

Fehmiu was a distinguished actor in his homeland (where he died three years ago) but producer Joseph E. Levine’s decision to launch him as an international star proved to be terribly misguided. Fehmiu’s English was not good and he often looks uncomfortable acting opposite Hollywood veterans Borgnine and DeHavilland.

The middle hour of the movie — when Dax and his two best friends decide to raise money by selling their sexual services to middle-aged American tourists in Rome — could have been fun with a lively actor racing through patented Harold Robbins sexcapades. But Fehmiu plays these scenes so seriously that he still seems to be fighting the revolution back home in Corteguay.

“The Adventurers” cost a small fortune, and you can see most of it on the screen in scenes with thousands of extras, but the movie was a complete financial wipe-out. A few amusing scenes in Rome are not enough to make up for the grim hours we spend watching a foolish, fake political conflict.

Joe Meyers

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