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
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
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.
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.
- 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,
- Wikipedia's entry about the film contained more than one factual error, and
plenty of spoilers.