Starring Jacqueline Bisset, George Segal, Robert Morley, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Philippe Noiret, and Jean Rochefort
My rating: ★★★ stars
Delightfully witty mystery-comedy.
A serial killer stalks the culinary elite, killing off Europe’s best chefs in the manner of their specialty, and American dessert chef Natasha O’Brien (Jacqueline Bisset) fears she will be next. Suspects include supercilious critic Max Vandaveer (Robert Morley), rival chef Auguste Grandvilliers (Jean Rochefort), and Natasha’s ex-husband, fast food mogul Robert Ross (George Segal).
Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? is a fast-paced delight of a film, mining its absurd premise for witty humor. The whodunit aspect of the story is unimportant. We viewers are less interested in the identity of the culprit, which is changed from the source novel Someone Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe, by Nan and Ivan Lyons, than by enjoying the unfolding of the mystery.
The highlight of the film is Morley as the arrogant and droll Max. He gets the best lines and delivers them with style and panache. Every intonation is perfect. Yet, the film is filled with a whole cast of great European character actors. One early scene involving a food fight between Granvilliers and Swiss chef Louis Kohner (Jean-Pierre Cassel) works because of the greatness of the performances. Both Rochefort and Cassel approach the scene with exaggerated gravity and dignity, and the incongruity of their demeanors with the situation—it’s hard to be dignified while fencing with baguettes—makes the scene funny.
In another great scene, a host of French chefs played by actors whose faces will be familiar to fans of French cinema—Jacques Marin, Jacques Balutin, Jean Parédès, Daniel Emilfork, and Philippe Noiret—debate which of them deserves to be killed next and ponders what would be the worse fate: to be murdered or to be overlooked.
Bisset holds the movie together. She has the difficult role of playing the straight man while the craziness happens around her but makes the most of the few sharp-witted lines given to her. Her understated performance contrasts nicely with the exaggerated supporting performances. Segal brings energy to the film. The bubbly score by Henry Mancini also helps whisk the narrative along.
Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? stands in contrast to comedies today, few of which employ wit as their primary agent of humor. Contemporary audiences might not appreciate the cleverness and dry humor of the film, yet it’s an enjoyable alternative for those viewers who want a break from modern comedies that derive most of their laughs from juvenile behavior and physical comedy.