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The Comedians is a 1967 film directed and produced by Peter Glenville, based on the novel of the same name by Graham Greene, who also wrote the screenplay. Stars were Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor and Alec Guinness. Paul Ford and Lillian Gish had supporting roles as a Presidential candidate and wife.

The role played by Elizabeth Taylor was originally intended for Sophia Loren.

The film’s tag line was: They lie, they cheat, they destroy… they even try to love.

Plot summary

Set in the Haitimarker of "Papa Doc" Duvalier, the film tells the story of a sardonic white hotel owner and his encroaching fatalism as he watches Haiti sink into barbarism. The central character, a cynical, washed-up individual named Brown, portrayed by Richard Burton, watches as the Duvalier regime seeks to put down any dissent with an iron fist. He becomes friends with Dr. Magiot (James Earl Jones), the rebel leader. Brown also begins an affair with an ambassador’s wife, Martha Pineda (Elizabeth Taylor). Peter Ustinov played the husband, ambassador Manuel Pineda.

As Brown becomes a reluctant participant in the planned insurrection, the rebels recruit a British officer, Major H. O. Jones (Alec Guinness), to provide military leadership. Brown hosts a meeting of the group, including Magiot, Jones, and Pineda. But trouble ensues soon thereafter. Duvalier’s spies from the Tonton Macoute are watching Brown’s hotel and his every step.

The day after the meeting, three assassins confront Magiot while he’s performing surgery, and cut his throat with a scalpel knife.

Upon learning of the brutal murder, Brown reluctantly agrees to drive Jones into the countryside to the rebel base under the cover of night. When picking him up that evening, he realizes that Jones has apparently become involved with Martha Pineda. Brown leaves town with him in a jealous rage, and the inebriated Jones makes matters worse by bragging about his conquest. Driving carelessly up the treacherous, winding road, Brown hits an embankment and breaks the car’s front axle. The two continue their journey on foot, arriving at a remote cemetery, the designated meeting point, too late. They settle in for the night.

In the morning, two members of the Tonton Macoute accost Brown as he tries to find rebels in the area. They demand to know where Jones is, but Brown denies that the Major is there. As soon as Brown has finished speaking, a sleepy Jones approaches, unaware of the Macoute’s presence. The two command him to stop, but Jones turns around and runs uphill into the cemetery. They open fire, killing Jones. Then they order Brown to get into their jeep with them. As he does so, shots from rebels ring out, and the two drop dead.

Upon being asked about Major Jones, Brown tells the two rebels in dismay: “You arrived two minutes too late.” He then shows them the body of Jones. The taller of the two, after hearing that Magiot has been eliminated as well, comments: “They have killed the best of us.”

The two rebels then plead with Brown to assume the role of Jones, seeing this as the only hope they have left. Brown hesitates, commenting that he is no military man. But he finally relents after being asked whether he wants to continue living like this.

After a long walk, the three meet up with a small, rag tag group of poorly equipped rebels. The group buys the deception, believing that Brown is Jones, and he gives a cynical, taunting speech, apparently without being understood, since the rebels speak French and he English.

The camera then cuts to the Pinedas, as they are about to leave the island. Petit Pierre, a journalist friend of Brown, sees them off, telling them about a battle between government troops and rebels, and stating that two rebels have been killed and noting that one of the rebels was the bellhop at Brown's hotel and the other rebel was "unidentified". The Pinedas’ plane takes off, and Martha notices smoke on a hillside of the island.

The question whether Brown has survived the skirmish remains unanswered, although Petit Pierre's cryptic remarks on the two rebels killed in the recent battle between government forces and rebels seem to indicate that Brown was the unidentified rebel who was killed in the fighting.


The film was poorly received, despite the all-star cast.

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