Archive for October, 2009


A Dandy in Aspic

Laurence Harvey and Mia Farrow clowning around on the set of A Dandy in Aspic

Laurence Harvey and Mia Farrow clowning around on the set of A Dandy in Aspic

I’ve always wanted to see A Dandy in Aspic (1968). So much so that I had located a used VHS for $100 on, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy a movie I had never seen! And good thing I didn’t because Turner Classic Movies played it this past week as part of a Mia Farrow marathon. Dandy was Farrow’s movie debut; she had previously appeared on TV’s Peyton Place and would go on to star in Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 (its director Roman Polanski has been in the news lately). However, I wanted to see Dandy because of Laurence Harvey, one of my favorite actors. (Read my post on him).

Harvey plays Alex Eberlin, a Russian spy (don’t worry – he’s still BBC-perfect!) passing himself off as an English spy passing himself off as an English gentleman, a dandy. (You can also make loose connections between this passing off and Harvey’s rumored bisexuality, in which he supposedly passed himself off as a completely straight matinee idol.) He meets the childlike Caroline (Farrow). As both a model and photographer, she is active and passive at the same time, two sides of the same coin. Like Eberlin, her identity is fluid once you look past the gamine surface. As one character says, “He has no future, she has no past.” Caroline wants to break though Eberlin’s façade, but he won’t let her, although she might be hiding something herself.

Some interesting facts about the movie:

  • Harvey took over directing the movie when director Anthony Mann died in mid-production. However, Harvey is not credited in the opening credits.
  • Quincy Jones composed the jazz-inspired score.
  • The movie going over schedule contributed to the breakdown of Farrow’s marriage to Frank Sinatra. Rosemary’s Baby also going over schedule would seal the deal.

Harvey’s onscreen person is in full force here (see also Manchurian Candidate and Darling): cold, detached, and bristly. However, Farrow’s character is attracted to him at first glance, reminiscent of Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Although Eberlin lacks Grant’s character’s charm, they are both inaccessible men with a dark side that attracts a woman who has hidden desires under a deceptive surface. Like Grant, the focus is always on Harvey’s appearance and surface manners; the Dandy script is always referring to or playing up how impeccable his manners are and how great he looks.  However, compared to his earlier movies, Harvey is starting to show his age (he would be dead from stomach cancer is five short years).

In Dandy’s world of spies and changing identities, appearances are deceiving much like in a great deal of Hitchcock’s work. Eberlin wants to return to his roots in Moscow, to his authentic self, but he never can. At one point in the movie, Eberlin says, “I haven’t found one [a mirror] that has interpreted my image correctly.” Known as an entertaining man, who was easily accessible to both fans and friends alike (if not to critics), Harvey could be talking about himself.