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TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT (director: George Cukor; screenwriters: Jay Presson Allen/Hugh Wheeler/Katharine Hepburn (uncredited because she was not a member of the Screen Writers Guild)/from the Graham Greene novel; cinematographer: Douglas Slocombe; editor: John Bloom; music: Tony Hatch/Jackie Trent; cast: Maggie Smith (Aunt Augusta), Alec McCowen (Henry), Louis Gossett Jr. (Wordsworth), Robert Stephens (Mr. Visconti), Cindy Williams (Tooley), Robert Flemyng (Crowder), Jose Luis Lopez Vazquez (M. Dambreuse), Corinne Marchand (Louise), Raymond Gerome (Mario); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Fryer/James Cresson; MGM; 1972-UK)
“Dampened by a hammy over-theatrical performance by Maggie Smith, too much useless gab and too many contrived plot turns.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A supposed charming and whimsical lightweight nonsense comedy dampened by a hammy over-theatrical performance by Maggie Smith, too much useless gab and too many contrived plot turns. It’s directed by the 73-year-old George Cukor (“Dinner at Eight”/”Sylvia Scarlett”/”The Philadelphia Story”/”My Fair Lady”) and is based on a Graham Greene novel. It was written by Katharine Hepburn who was to play the lead but hated the script and rewrote it to her satisfaction, but still thought it stunk and bowed out. This paved the way for Maggie to get the part of the crazy aunt.

It opens at the funeral cremation of the mother of staid bank clerk Henry (Alec McCowen). At the funeral is an elderly woman of an indeterminate age, Augusta (Maggie Smith), who is outrageously over-costumed, wears too much cosmetics and has hair that is dyed a bright carrot-red. The eccentric introduces herself as the drab banker’s Aunt Augusta–someone he never met and thought was deceased. Auntie says “I haven’t seen you since your baptism—to which I wasn’t invited. But I showed up anyway.” She learns Henry leads a dull life, whose only excitement is to cultivate his dahlias. And, the free-spirited aunt immediately has plans to expand Henry’s worldly experience by using him and his respectable image to get herself out of a pickle. Augusta’s lover from the past, the one she loved the most, Mr. Visconti (Robert Stephens, real-life husband of Maggie Smith), has been kidnapped and held for ransom of $100,000 in the East. To make sure that she pays, the kidnappers keep sending her packages with his body parts (a finger here and an ear there).

Henry is taken to auntie’s flashy apartment and meets her current lover and companion, a much younger black male fortune teller, Wordsworth (Louis Gossett Jr.), and through a series of flashbacks we become acquainted with her glamorous past and other lovers in her fast life-style. Augusta leads a shady life that among other things involves smuggling huge sums of money through international borders. To avoid rival gangsters and the police, she uses Henry as a front. They cross Europe after starting in Paris and take the Orient Express to Istanbul. On the journey, Henry becomes the perfect foil as he unwittingly smokes pot for the first time with American hippie coed Tooley (Cindy Williams) and fully engages in Augusta’s madcap bohemian existence, which leads to recharging his batteries to live a fuller life and getting to know secrets about Augusta that are startling.

The film wears out its welcome the further it travels on.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”