"Like the band playing on as the Titanic sank."
-director Lloyd Fellowes.
Like Sidney Lumet's adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express (1974), this film has a cast & director that's a dream roll call. The director is Peter Bogdanovich, who, like William Friedkin, achieved great fame from the films he made in the 1970s but whose clout minimized in the decades since.
Happily, Bogdanovich has kept working, from directing underrated flicks such as The Cat's Meow (2001) to writing and directing documentaries on fellow filmmakers such as John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock.
This film, based on the 1982 play of the same name by Michael Frayn, is a play within a play.
Lloyd Fellowes (Michael Caine) is prepping his second-rate theater troupe for the opening night of the sexual farce Nothing On. His cast-fading star Dotty Otley (Carol Burnett), her pompous lover Garry Lejeune (John Ritter), insecure Frederick Dallas (Christopher Reeve), alcoholic Selsdon Mowbray (Denholm Elliott), optimistic Belinda Blair (Marilu Henner), and ditzy Brooke Ashton (Nicollete Sheridan), whom Fellowes has had an affair with-keeps forgetting their lines and cues, as well as mishandling the props.
Behind the curtain, Fellowes has to deal with the equally incompetent production assistant/understudy Tim Allgood (Mark Linn-Baker). With opening night approaching, Fellowes certainly has his work cut out for him, which isn't lessened when his stage manager Poppy Taylor (Julie Hagerty) informs him that she's pregnant with his child.
By the time opening night arrives, the crew more or less perform adequately, but their relationships with each other have deteriorated to the point where they practically try to kill each other when not onstage (in some cases, even when they are onstage). This makes their performance in Cleveland particularly unforgettable. As their scheduled performance in New York City approaches, Fellowes ends up simply begging for it all to be over.
Having never seen the original play, I can't say whether I agree with the critics who have said that this film version isn't up to par. What can't be denied, though, are the laughs that are generated by this dream cast.
*Thanks to Sarah for recommending I review this film.