What can an epicure do after the dessert and coffee are cleared, the dishwasher loaded, and the Cognac poured? A creative mind can think of myriad things. But woe betide the gracious host whose guests are conversationally challenged. Well, should one's bored company include mystery fans or foodies or both, why not fire up the old VCR and treat them to a "delicious mystery:" Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

This 1978 film provides a campy slice of '70s pop culture by way of costume and soundtrack. It is timeless, however, in it's witty tongue-in-cheek satire of the gourmet scene in general, more specifically the intense rivalry between the cream of the culinary creative. You know, kind of chefs who've perhaps written a book or two, but (beside Jacques Pepin) would never suffer the indignity of having their precious secrets revealed on the small screen. This is Guide Michelin meets murder mystery. It's set on a delightful backdrop of some breathtaking on-location cinematography of popular European locations in England, France and Italy.

Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?

Director: Ted Kotcheff
Producers: Merv Adelson, William Aldrich, Lynn Guthrie, Lee Rich

Screenplay: Peter Stone (Based on the novel "Someone is Killing The Great Chefs of Europe" by Ivan and Nan Lyons)

Starring: George Segal (Robby), Jacqueline Bisset (Natasha O'Brien), Robert Morley (Max), Jean-Pierre Cassel (Kohner), Philippe Noiret (Moulineau), Jean Rochefort (Auguste Grandvilliers), Gigi Proietti (Ravello), Stefano Satta Flores (Fausto Zoppi), Madge Ryan (Beecham), Frank Windsor (Blodgett), Peter Sallis (St. Claire), Tim Barlow (Doyle), John Le Mesurier (Dr. Deere), Joss Ackland (Cantrell), Jean Gaven (Salpetre), more.

Music: Henry Mancini

112 Minutes - Color

No Spoilers.

Although this film received mixed reviews by critics when it was released, it's stood the test of time and can be found at nearly any movie rental facility. It bears repeating that it's a must-watch for anyone who has the least bit of interest in Haute Cuisine. For novices, part of the interest is that it's a peek into the gravity of the rivalry between chefs; and their disgust with food critics, who with a few words can dash a career to bits. For professionals, the food photography and stylization alone are worth a look. For all, the delightful subplots keep the movie going at a fast pace.

The movie is basically about a dinner being planned for the Queen of England. This repast to feature the finest chefs, who will ostensibly offer up their signature dishes, their greatest secrets. The culinary world is abuzz with rumor about who will make the cut and who will not. The man responsible for the selection is Max, a morbidly obese food critic and food magazine editor who's played by Robert Morley in one of his finest roles. Poor Max is warned by his physician that he must stop eating or his heart will give out. However, everywhere the celebrated food critic goes, well, there's food. He's essentially eating himself to death. He's also not a very nice guy. Morley's acting outshines all the others in the film; by just being himself. His character is strikingly similar to the film critic he played in 1973's "Theater of Blood," right down to the yapping little lap-dogs.

Well, the chefs for the dinner are chosen. Shortly thereafter, one by one, they are killed (each in a horrible fashion intended to bear similarity to his signature dish). Murder's murder but some of the means by which these poor fellows meet their end will have viewers in stitches - more so for vegetarian viewers).

The sub-plot involves George Segal (whose character is the archetypal "horrible American" - he's made his fortune in fast-food) and his estranged wife, master dessert-maker Jacqueline Bisset, whose signature dish "Le Bombe Richelieu" has been chosen for the Queen's dinner. Segal desperately wants the Bisset to leave her role as chef to the wealthy and privileged behind and re-unite with him, at least on a business level, by becoming spokesperson for his new chain of Omelette restaurants in America. She'll have no part of it.

After the first three chefs on the list are killed, Segal becomes concerned for Bisset's safety. She's the last one on the list, and given that the other chefs have been dispatched in ways ingeniously connected with their signature dishes, there's cause for worry (Bisset's "Bombe Richelieu" suggests an awful explosion; a Bombe is actually a frozen confection made of many layers).

The audience is left clueless until the end; witty hints point toward various potential culprits, but there's always doubt. In this case, everyone who's still alive is a suspect. So as a mystery goes, it'll keep lovers of that genre at attention. The ending (but for those who've gone to the great kitchen in the sky) is happy after all, however. The culprit is discovered too, and will surprise even the most jaded mystery fan.

Henry Mancini's lush, upbeat score for the film adds interest, and is a fine example of his better work. It's catchy and while dated it only adds to the pop culture value of the film. The entire score was released on vinyl LP by Epic (se-35692) but has not been re-released on CD. The album is relatively easy to find, however.

The late-'70s costuming is a bit of a riot, and fine food for thought about what one will wear to the next retro costume party one's invited to. The outfits worn by Bisset and Segal are nearly painted-on, and reek of the Euro-chic of the moment in 1978. For U.S. viewers, it'll certainly be over the top; we never wore clothes like that except when going out to disco the night away.

See the film and you'll be as addicted to it as Morley's character is addicted to Foie Gras and fine Champagne. By the way, the Lyons's original book is not only delightfully entertaining, it contains the recipes for each of the dead chef's specialties. They're a bitch to make, the Lobster's not that great, but the rest are innovative, if one's taste runs to high-calorie, classical European cuisine.
 

EU Releases:

Grande cuisine, La (France)
Kochtopf voller Leichen, Ein (Germany) (video title)
Qualcuno sta uccidendo i più grandi cuochi d'europa (Italy)
Too Many Chefs (UK)
 

More to Come

A 2008 release of a remake by Warner Brothers of the film under the title of "Who is Killing The Great Chefs?" starring Oliver Pratt, with Screenplay by David A. Goodman, is in the works. Scheduled release in '08 isn't yet finalized as of this writing.
 

SOURCES:

  • IMDB Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078488/fullcredits (Accessed June 16, 2007)
  • All Movie Guide: http://www.allmovie.com/cg/avg.dll?p=avg&sql=1:54406 (Accessed June 16, 2007)
  • Wikipedia's entry about the film contained more than one factual error, and plenty of spoilers.

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