Monte Carlo (1986)

For those who like their war stories dripping in glamour, or at least the illusion of glamour, there is “Monte Carlo” an utterly ridiculous piece about shenanigans in that pleasure capital during World War II.  Believe it or not, “Monte Carlo” has just about everything the serious war miniseries have (Nazis, heroes, diamonds and spies), but this one is all for laughs.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone in it takes it VERY seriously, especially the leads, but the camp factor is insanely high.  Unfortunately, “Monte Carlo” goes on way too long as it glides to a soapy conclusion, but there is a great deal of fun to be had.

Joan Collins, at Katrina Petrovna, steps off the train in Monte Carlo looking every bit the way Joan Collins should look: statuesque, dripping fur, pulling in her cheeks, a complete movie star, or performer as she is here. 

Then there is George Hamilton as a washed-up writer, a drunk who manages to sport a tuxedo and look smashing whether in a sports car or in a hotel bar. 

Oh, if you care about world events between costume changes, it’s World War II and Germany has just swept through Holland on his way to France.  Joan does not care.  She’s renting a house and which blocks of ivy are cut is her biggest worry. 

The only person who seems to notice the war is Lauren Hutton, George’s lover, who wants to go home to New York City as all her friends have done.  He rebuffs her offer to go with her, with no desire to be a “pet writer” she can show off to her high-fallutin’ friends.  You see, he thinks, as war is bursting out all over, that he will suddenly crash through is writer’s block.

At dinner that night, George trades barbs with Peter Vaughn, a German businessman.  George manages some snaps at “the little man with the mustache,” but Peter matches him with two-snap comments about his lack of writing.  We also meet Malcolm McDowell, a friend of George’s.

When Joan flounces into the dining room in sleeveless marabou with an Italian officer, most of our leads are present, everyone eyeing everyone.  One would expect a body with a knife stuck out of it and Hercule Poirot, but this is a miniseries, not a mystery. 

The British command in Monte Carlo decide they need someone to do some easy spying and discuss “a woman” who is there already who can handle the “social contacts.”  She has apparently done some previously, and as long as she can work a camera, she’ll do just fine.

Malcolm is trying to get petrol across the sea when Lisa Eilbacher sees him and decides she wants to know him.  Her grandfather has just left her tons of money and she wants to “see Europe while it’s still here.”  Good thing the rich have no worries! 

You guessed it!  Joan is the woman the Brits were discussing.  Indeed she knows how to work a camera, but more surprising to me is the fact that she knows how to wear flats.  Yes, our Joan Collins can dress simply and even ride a bike.  She’s caught taking pictures and pretends not to speak French to avoid giving up her camera, when George shows up to save this damsel by pretending they are tourists from Ohio.  Yes, they look like Ohioans.  Especially with Joan’s British accent.  Ah, and FYI, George asks her why she’s Russian with an English accent and she has an answer ready.  Phew, that solves that issue! 

Joan, back in a killer outfit, with heels, a hat and polka dots, goes to drop off the film, but the operation in Monte Carlo has hit some snags and thus ensues a ridiculous conversation in code between Joan and the film developing lady, when it would have been so much easier to just say what they meant, as no one was anywhere near them (okay, Peter is lurking outside, but he wouldn’t have heard). 

“Believe you me, I’m not a friend to the Nazis…I’m a great admirer of the Jewish people,” Malcolm tells a Jewish diamond dealer looking to arrange “transportation.”  It’s all happening so quickly and I don’t want you to lose any of the plot threads. 

Here comes the hilarity, get ready.  In the world’s smallest can-can club, the emcee introduces Joan in the audience and begs a song.  She demures, not having anything prepared and with a “touch of laryngitis,” though it might have been easier to tell the truth: she can’t sing!  So, she goes into a version of “The Last Time I Saw Paris” that is more breathed than warbled, with her eyes closed half the time.  It’s supposed to be sexy (not that the song asks for sex), but it’s anything but. 

The next day, Joan has some spying to do.  Remember that ivy she didn’t want the caretaker to cut?  Well, that’s where she hides the microphone!  Over and over she orders the servants to do things that will get them conveniently out of the way of her operation, but they just think she’s a bitch.  One more thing: Joan is a wizard when it comes to Morse Code. 

After another evening at the can-can (in all of Monte Carlo, is this the only place to go?) Joan takes her Italian home for spiked brandy.  He is all hands on our Joan, wearing a complex gown with very long gloves, but she manages to stop him by complaining of all his metals, as “they are squashing me.” 

Clement Harari, the Jewish man with the diamonds, brings one to Malcolm, who wants one diamond per person he helps smuggle out of France, but Clement wants one per family.  “Some of these families are very large,” Malcolm quips, because it’s always good to make jokes about those fleeing torture. 

Joan’s Italian, complete, by the way, with the most phony of Italian accents, wants Joan badly, but she’s waiting for her potion to kick in, with every ruse in the female spy handbook, but finally he passes out.  This gives Joan the chance to play high comedy, because every time she approaches his pockets, he stirs and she has to stop.  She’s so versatile, our Joan!  She manages to find his papers, steam open the envelope, take pictures and return it to his coat before having his driver take him away. 

Our heroine is breaking hearts all over  A drunken George wants her, complaining to the bartender.  “When I heard that woman sing, it was the first time I’d been to the movies,” George says, though I didn’t realize why that made any sense until George said her eyes were like Heddy Lamarr’s, forcing the bartender to say it like “Eddy” and George corrects him in a goony back and forth that is no preparation for what is about to happen:  France surrenders.  They made it longer than I did, as I had to get up and take a break after George’s drunk scene. 

Once again, Lauren is the practical one.  She’s leaving, but gives George the car and the hotel suite.  He swears he’ll pay it all back and she cries over their ending affair of six months (yeah, six months). 

Peter takes over the fortress in Monaco, despite the fact that they are neutral, though said politely by the police.  “You people are behaving like gangsters,” the head of police says, but a threatening outburst from Peter reminds him how powerless he is.  Neutrality hasn’t exactly been a barrier for the Nazis.

The Brits discuss the information Joan has been able to get them, which is pretty important.  It seems that Monte Carlo is THE place for Axis meetings and since the Beach Club is actually in French territory, this might be the launch place for an invasion of England.  This is a chapter of World War II history I don’t remember.  They think it’s best if “their woman” stays clear of the Beach Club, at the very moment she’s making a date with her Italian to be there.  I see a climax approaching! 

In a drunken attempt to woo Joan, George somehow manages to insult her by insinuating that she hangs out with Fascists (“the little spaghetti with all the medals”).  That tactic does not work, alas.  Having considerably more luck are Malcolm and Lisa, who stretch a double entrendre about an elevator operation into a big dipping kissing scene.  That takes us to the next morning, where George shows up at Joan’s to apologize, though he does in a kiss as they discuss where each stands on the war issue.  Joan, as a spy, obviously has to play it closed to the shoulder pads and tells him “not to become intrigued by me.”  Intrigued?  Talk about your strong emotions!

Joan has a nigthmare memory about why she got into the whole racket, and it has to do with the murder of a man she loved.  It was not, alas, her singing voice. 

Malcolm, in the middle of making love to Lisa, is summoned to the fortress by Peter, who actually has one good quality: he doesn’t allow smoking.  Go figure, a Nazi with health restrictions.  Anyway, Peter warns Malcolm not to get involved with the Jews escaping racial quotas.  Peter offers more money if Malcolm turns sides and then invites him to, what else, the party at the Beach Club.

All six members of the RAF then plan the raid on the Beach Club.  The American on their team (why?) says it will be so easy they may even get to stop and enjoy some women and gambling.  We know he’s a goner from that speech alone! 

Malcolm is chased through the streets of Monte Carlo by the Nazis, but gives them the slip and makes it to Clement where they exchange the jewels for the shipping information.  But things are very serious for Joan.  She has to make it home by midnight in order to get the latest message from HQ.  George tries to stop her again, but she refuses to get involved because he doesn’t believe in anything.  He’s just after a good time.  Um, is she trying to tip him off that she’s a spy, because she’s supposed to be a good time gal herself.

Anyway, Joan races to get home by midnight, but everything gets in her way.  She makes it through a road block by pretending she has to get home to a sick child, and for a few autographs, the police let her through.  Unfortunately, she’s late.  The message from HQ was to stay clear of the Beach Club, but she’s too late and doesn’t get it.  The very next scene (lest we forget) shows the RAF planes leaving for Monte Carlo as Joan is reminded of her date at the Beach Club. 

And it’s a swank affair, naturally.  Peter and his Nazi cohorts have spared no expenses.  Lisa thinks it’s “swell” (if she doesn’t have a cover story and is simply this stupid, I’m going to be mighty upset), though Malcolm cautions her that “the place is crawling with Gestapo.”  George is there, though why he would be invited is any one’s guess.  Naturally, Joan arrives after everyone is already there, looking fetching in white with an enormous hat.  She apologizes to George, because she did bite his head off as she was rushing to get home.  He forgives her if she’ll dance with him (the planes are getting closer, FYI).  The angry Italian sees Joan with George and decides to dance with a woman wearing a similar gown.

“We’re going to have an air show!” Lisa chirps, but everyone else realizes it’s the RAF and bolts.  The Italian is killed with a whole bunch of extras doing the worst death falls in TV history.  Joan is horrified when she realizes it was the RAF.  That’s the end of the movie’s first part. 

Lisa has been wounded, but Malcolm assures her all will be okay.  George drives Joan home.  “Why do we always say goodbye or apologize to each other?” George wonders, as if they haven’t just been shot at by planes!  Joan hustles inside to make contact with HQ, but gets no answer.  Make-up smeared, dress torn, Joan slumps in a chair.  “How could you do that?  How could you do that to all those people?” Joan cries.

Robert Carradine, the American on the RAF team, is shot down (we actually don’t see that and I’m not sure who has a gun), ending up in Peter’s hands, given some serious dunking in a bathtub.  Even the RAF command wonders why an American was flying in the mission.  It’s a valid question. The RAF decides Joan has to get Robert out of harm’s way before he can be shipped to Berlin.  This ought to be good!

Lisa can’t feel her legs, but the nurse refuses to tell her what the problem is.  Only the doctor can help and he’s at lunch (how very French of him), but Leslie gets so hysterical that the nurse relents. 

Joan goes to her French contacts and they don’t want to help because she doesn’t know the full code and because they feel they don’t have to help.  But, Joan, in all her Joan Collins splendor, somehow convinces them.  They remind her to know all the code next time or she will end up dead.  “Are you always this charming?” she snaps. 

Malcolm shows up at Lisa’s.  She’s overwhelmed by the roses he brings (okay, maybe she really is that dim).  He’s even brought champagne.  That will make her forget all about her paralysis.  Lisa breaks down into crying incoherence (with no tears), managing to wipe away the rest of the cast’s mistakes as she hits the worst acting moment of the miniseries.  That’s a major achievement. 

Joan, returning us to the acting level this piece deserves, goes to the POW camp under the guise of wanting to give a concert in her dead Italian’s memory.  She then insists on meeting Robert as the other prisoners swarm her for autographs.  They haven’t heard her sing or they wouldn’t be wasting their paper.  Joan berates Robert for the raid, but he doesn’t know her.  “I’m Katrina Petrovna!  I’m known throughout Europe,” she fumes before attacking him in order to drop a message into his shirt.  She’s good.  Forget Tokyo Rose, our Joan could single-handedly win this war for the Allies. 

When Malcolm finds Clement dead, he realizes he needs to get out of neutral Monte Carlo, but he needs a fake passport, which will only cost him $50K. 

In the who-the-hell-cares part of the plot, George is still romancing Joan.  He’s complaining about his time in Hollywood, where he wrote screenplays and bought suits, but he never wrote.  Joan talks about her time in boarding school learning to speak British English, but she does miss her dacha in Russia, not to mention her parents, executed by the Reds.  The two are lit splendidly, which at least gives us something to watch since nothing we hear is of any consequence at all.  The big kiss and bed scene are next, though as George is nibbling away, Joan yet again remembers her lover being mowed down by bullets.  She tells George a bogus story and he’s gallant enough to listen. Then, realizing he’s not getting any, he goes to leave.  “There  hasn’t been anyone since him,” she tells George.  Really?

Malcolm’s room is ransacked, but luckily he’s put the incriminating evidence in Lisa’s room.  She’s not using it, after all.  He then asks George to take the diamonds to Lisbon for $10K.  George is beginning to care about the world around him and asks Malcolm what it’s all about.  Malcolm then fetches Lisa from the hospital and takes her to her to an expensive lunch.  Sure, she’s in a wheelchair, but otherwise, she seems just ducky, at least in every other sentence.  Sometimes she does blubber and get incoherent again. 

Robert escapes from the POW camp in a garbage truck using Joan’s intel, and he decides a tuxedo is the best disguise because why would anyone suspect a man in a tuxedo?  It’s Monte Carlo, I guess he has a point.  But, he’s such an ugly American, he’s bound to screw it up somehow.  He goes to the casino, sticking out horribly as his contact’s house is raided by Peter and his goons.  Joan and George are at the casino and Peter shows up as well.  She hustles Robert out and then explains the whole thing to George, whom she asks to help.  He’s awfully slow on the uptake, but eventually he catches on and slips Robert out from Gestapo clutches. 

Malcolm has to leave for Paris because he’s in trouble, but he confesses his love for Lisa before he goes.  He gets his phony passport, but of course he’s been followed the whole way by Peter and his goons in the loudest car in all of France.  Malcolm realizes when it’s already too late, meaning he has to run AGAIN through the twisting streets of Monte Carlo and ultimately shot.  Lisa and George are hauled to the police station and Lisa gets in a howler of a speech in lieu of answering questions.  She wonders why it would even help, because they won’t put the Gestapo on trial!  At his funeral, attended only by George and Lisa, the latter says, “nobody knew Quin.  Not even Quinn.”  But, he had clean shirts.  Ah, good to know. 

Over with that gloom, George spirits Joan off to the countryside, where he reveals he was wounded in World War I and she admits to speaking French (fair trade, I guess).  When a boy’s toy gets stuck on Joan’s roof, the caretaker goes up to fetch it and discovers her hook-up.  It hasn’t done her much good lately anyway, now has it.  “Who is Katrina Petrovna?” George asks Joan on a long walk after she tells him she doesn’t think about the future.  “Who are you REALLY?” he pushes, but she squirms out of each question with a kiss or a flirt.  Joan refuses to answer any questions, which is a shame, because her caretaker has called Peter to tell him about Joan’s apparatus.  She could use an ally right about now. 

But, she doesn’t know that and wants to get it on instead.  “Are you sure?” George asks before they maul each other in an appropriately geriatric fashion.  Peter and his goons go to the hotel where George and Joan are staying.  How in the WORLD did they find out where they were?  There literally were no clues.  Peter arrests Joan for espionage. 

Lest we think the Nazis are totally intelligent, they do let George see Joan before he is freed, and she confesses the true story.  Peter then interrogates Joan, starting with “How could you?  The Fuhrer is one of your greatest fans,” he says.  “The feeling is not mutual,” Joan replies, adopting her toughest tough girl stance before Peter threatens to disfigure her unless she tells him all. 

Seeing Peter enjoying himself in a restaurant, Lisa wheels herself over to him and stares him down before yelling and swinging at him, in a hissy fit even the most drunk of drag queens could better.  She goes up to George’s room to say goodbye and warns him to leave as well.  She also confesses she has Malcolm’s diamonds and she intends to take them to Lisbon.  “Something I gotta do,” she says.

The maid pulls a gun on George and takes him to Joan’s French friends.  He says he can help them, as they are about to kill him, because he thinks he knows the secret way in and out of the fortress.  Really, when did he figure that out?

Joan is also being interrogated, though she’s a guest of the Nazis, who are using acid.  Just a drop of it on her lovely arm leaves an awful blotch.  She’s lucky that George and company are scaling the walls of the fortress before Peter can get any further on Joan.  FYI, George is still in a suit and ascot doing this brave rescue.  Did you think he would dress down for the occasion?  He’s George Hamilton, after all.  The SLOWEST gunfight in all of WWII ensues and George breaks Joan out of her cell.  He kills a Nazi and they make a dash for it (okay, a shuffle).  Peter is lukewarm on their trail (hot is too much to expect of this crowd) and just as George and Joan are about to jump, Peter steps in, but is shot by Joan’s French friends and they escape. 

Joan confesses her love for George as they race to the airport for Lisbon and then to the United States. 
“I don’t need papers.  My face is my passport!” Joan says before listing all of her credits in hopes that they will let her through the barricade.  It’s just easier for George to drive through it and they make it to the plane as it’s ready to leave. 

“Monte Carlo” is actually played in full seriousness.  I don’t think the players really know they are in terrible crap.  Joan Collins could do this role without even getting out of bed, but she goes all out, as she always does.  She never actually disappoints, mainly because the bar is low.  However, we expect nothing out of George Hamilton and we get nothing.  But, let’s be honest: a script about the brave heroes and heroines of fancy Monte Carlo at the beginning of WWII isn’t exactly the kind of project that inspires a steely attitude.  It’s not Poland, it’s not Berlin.  Hell, it’s not even Paris.  It’s just “Monte Carlo.”

Categories: Adventure Miniseries, Romance Miniseries

2 Comments to “Monte Carlo (1986)”

  1. lifeisexcellent 2 July 2011 at 6:13 am #

    wow this sounds as great as the michael ironside retrospective i missed last week!

  2. Bj 3 July 2011 at 3:44 am #

    I’m so glad you liked it! It is truly great. I watched it from an old VHS copy, but it’s coming out on DVD this summer!

    And so is Sins, the seven-hour non-burlesque Joan Collins miniseries (more Nazis). I’ll have that review shortly.


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