Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hotel Paradiso (1966)

Writer's block is demoralizing for any artist. It can last days, months, years and sometimes stall a brilliant writing career forever. And there is nothing like the feeling when a bit of inspiration comes along and breaks through the barrier between you and your words.

In the film Hotel Paradiso (1966), playwright Georges Feydeau is suffering from a bought of writer's block. He finds inspiration for his next play by observing the shenanigans of his neighbors in turn of the 20th century Paris. First there are the Cots. Marcelle Cot (Gina Lollobrigida) is annoyed by her husband's neglect and starving for any kind of affection. Henri Cot (Robert Morley) is too busy in his architectural work to pay much attention to his beautiful young bride. They live next door to another disgruntled couple the Bonifaces. Angelique Bonafice (Peggy Mount) has 20 years on Marcelle and is driving her husband batty with her incessant nagging and her controlling nature. Benedict Boniface (Alec Guinness) seizes an opportunity while his wife Angelique is away to have an affair with his neighbor Marcelle. Everything that could possibly go wrong does go wrong in this hilarious comedy of errors.

Based on Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvallieres' L'Hôtel du libre échange, Hotel Paradiso changes the original play by putting the playwright into the story. The film was directed and produced by Peter Glenville who plays Feydeau in the film and also directed the successful Broadway and London theatre productions of Hotel Paradiso. Alec Guinness and Douglas Byng reprise their stage roles for the film.

Hotel Paradiso is chockfull of gags that will have you doubled over laughing. There are lots of fun characters each with their own quirks. Douglas Byng plays Monsieur Martin, a friend of the Bonifaces who brings his 4 daughters for a month long stay in Paris. M. Martin is a human barometer and develops a terrible stutter when the weather is bad. He's also a witness to the goings on that implicate the main characters. One of my favorite actors Akim Tamiroff plays Anniello, the proprietor of the Hotel Paradiso where most of the film's antics take place. It's the sort of seedy hotel where you pay by the hour for a secret rendezvous. Anniello's new hire George (David Battley) is a wrench in the works and fails at every task much to the audience's enjoyment.

Alec Guinness and Gina Lollobrigida in Hotel Paradiso (1966)

Gina Lollobrigida and Alec Guinness are the two reasons why you should watch this film. They're a mismatched pair which adds to the hilarity of their adulterous romance. Lollobrigida, known for playing prim and proper ladies on screen, excels at these kind of comedic roles. Her character is both horrified and intrigued by the idea of having an affair with her neighbor. Marcelle's husband's neglect drives her need for attention. Guinness' Benedict has years of pent up lust bursting out of him which he channels into this affair with Marcelle. The two escape to the Hotel Paradiso for a clandestine evening together only to be unwittingly followed by almost everyone they know, including playwright Feydeau who is writing down everything he observes.

The film is very British despite being based on a French play, taking place in Paris and having an Italian film star as the female lead. At different points in the film I had to remind myself that this was turn of the century Paris and not London.

Peggy Mount, Alec Guinness, Gina Lollobrigida and Robert Morley in Hotel Paradiso (1966)
I'm a sucker for a good comedy and it didn't hurt that two of my very favorite people, Gina Lollobrigida and Akim Tamiroff, were in the film. The motley cast of characters, hilariously enacted scenes and a two part ending that flips everything on its head makes the Hotel Paradiso (1966) a must see.


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