Had I been reviewing Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? when it came out in 1978, I’d have probably given it at best three-and-a-half stars. But time has been kind to this fairly inconsequential comedy/mystery—kinder than time has been the movie theory of relativity. By the latter I mean that this turned out to be just about the last of its breed, and when you see such rancid goat custard as the currently playing The Bounty Hunter—with its not dissimilar story line—you realize what a sophisticated, witty, star-powered and enjoyably professional piece of work this is.
Make no mistake, this is not some unsung classic. It is, however, a pleasant diversion in which likable stars engage in clever banter, and it’s built around a solid enough little murder mystery—all enlivened by the presence of a marvelously sarcastic Robert Morley making rude comments on just about everyone and everything that crosses his path. The screenplay by Peter Stone (of Charade (1963) fame) is unfailingly successful in making the romantic leads (George Segal, Jacqueline Bisset) both funny and appealing. In this regard, it’s very much a movie movie, because you know from the onset that this divorced duo are going to end up back together, but you actually want them to. (In The Bounty Hunter, you’d be perfectly happy to see the divorced Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler die in a small nuclear explosion.)
Ted Kotcheff isn’t exactly an interesting filmmaker, but he is a thoroughly professional craftsman who keeps the proceedings moving at a brisk pace. He also plays the various murders with a straight face. The murders themselves—though sometimes of a pretty outre nature (one victim gets his head crushed in a duck press, and I’ve yet to figure out the logistics of that)—are surprisingly grim. This is a rare case where the comedy and the mystery elements are on pretty equal footing. Though, it’s ultimately a little hard to believe the killer physically capable of the deeds—at least if you think about it very long. But then the movie isn’t intended to be taken all that seriously.
The idea is simple, and the title spells it out for you—someone is unceremoniously murdering Europe’s greatest chefs, all of whom are connected in some way to über-gourmand Robert Morley, whose word is law in the realm of haute cuisine. That’s about it—apart from the battle between fast-food entrepreneur George Segal and his gourmet-dessert-creating ex, Jacqueline Bisset. (The idea that she might object to him wanting to open a chain of omelet shops called H. Dumpty seems not unreasonable.) It’s fun, it’s light, it’s charming—and that’s really all it needs to be. (Bonus points to anyone who can name the more seriously intended source movie for Morley’s death-by-food suicide bid.)