The Honey Pot
The Honey Pot (1967) is a film based on a play based on a novel based on a play, a provenance nearly as complicated as the deceptions and plot twists that figure in the picture’s final act. The story originates with Ben Jonson’s 1606 play Volpone, or the Fox, which concerns a Venetian nobleman (Volpone—Italian for “Fox”) who enlists the aid of his servant (Mosca, or “Fly”) to fake an illness and dupe three individuals seeking his fortune into thinking he has died and left them his inheritance. In 1953 mystery writer Thomas Sterling published The Evil of the Day, in which a modern-day Englishman (named Cecil Fox) summons three people to his Venetian estate, ostensibly from his deathbed; the novel roughly follows the plot of Jonson’s play until one of the participants is murdered and an Italian policeman investigates the resulting whodunit. Sterling’s tale was then adapted for the stage by Frederick M. Knott (famous as the author of Dial M for Murder, and later Wait Until Dark). Knott’s Mr. Fox in Venice opened in London on April 15, 1959 but never made it across the Atlantic to Broadway. Five years later the novel and play began a prolonged journey to the screen under the guidance of legendary writer-producer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
The film was Mankiewicz’s first after the notoriously troubled Cleopatra (1963) and, like that previous production, was shot on location in Italy. Rex Harrison (whose notable collaborations with Mankiewicz had included The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and Cleopatra) was cast as Cecil Fox. A (supposedly) wealthy—and eccentric—resident of Venice, Fox is inspired by his favorite play (Jonson’s Volpone) into hatching a scheme to fool three of his former mistresses. He writes to the women, leading each into thinking she stands to inherit an enormous fortune upon his imminent demise from an incurable illness. To aid in the charade, Fox hires a “stage manager” and administrative assistant, William McFly (Cliff Robertson), an itinerant American actor with a delightfully appropriate surname.
Mrs. Sheridan (Susan Hayward) is Fox’s common-law wife, a loud Texan (nicknamed “Lone Star”) and a hypochondriac—she arrives with a traveling nurse, Sarah Watkins (Maggie Smith), in tow. Fox’s other two ex-lovers are the secretly penniless Princess Dominique (Capucine) and a fading Hollywood starlet, Merle McGill (Edie Adams). When a murder interrupts the proceedings, a local detective, Inspector Rizzi (Adolfo Celi), is assigned to the case.
Sparing no expense, Mankiewicz insisted on using the 500-year-old Palazzo Von Axel (situated on the outskirts of Venice’s Grand Canal) as Fox’s estate, with interiors constructed on soundstages at Rome’s famed Cinecittá Studios. The sets were adorned with 53 rare, vintage clocks borrowed from an extensive collection of antique timepieces belonging to an Italian nobleman. Exterior photography in the fall of 1965 was complicated by the absence of gondoliers, who had disappeared along with tourists during the off season. This turned out to be the least of the problems that plagued the production.
After replacing his original cinematographer with Gianni Di Venanzo (8½, Juliet of Spirits) Mankiewicz suffered a blow when Di Venanzo died of hepatitis. The picture was completed under the watchful eye of camera operator Pasqualino Di Santis, who went on to great success with Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet. Meanwhile, after being turned down for the role of Sarah Watkins, Rachel Roberts—then Rex Harrison’s wife—attempted suicide, leaving Mankiewicz’s star inconsolable. Mankiewicz had originally planned to use a framing device in which the projectionist and theater manager of the movie house showing the film would supposedly engage in arguments with Fox about the storyline, but this was nixed by the studio during filming. And during post-production (according to Charles Champlin in the Los Angeles Times) 20 minutes were removed from the North American release print to tighten the running time, leaving an entire character (a Hollywood agent played by Herschel Bernardi) on the cutting room floor, along with dream sequences for the female leads. The film also underwent a number of title changes before settling on The Honey Pot, which was potentially confusing to audiences. (During much of the production the film was called Anyone for Venice?, a play on the phrase “Anyone for tennis?”)
Despite its troubles, The Honey Pot won praise from many reviewers. The Hollywood Reporter called it “a sophisticated and graceful satire on the joys and anguish of being very, very rich it is a film that reeks of old glamour, and the good funny lines and situations play extremely well, winding in a burst of infectious laughter.” Variety called Mankiewicz’s dialogue “often a delight in its hark-back to the days when the turn of a phrase and the tongue-in-cheek were a staple of the better Hollywood product.”
On March 25, 1966, The Hollywood Reporter had announced: “With two UA motion picture scoring assignments back-to-back, composer André Previn moves into offices on the Goldwyn lot next week. He will compose the music for Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Anyone for Venice? and Billy Wilder’s Fortune Cookie.” Previn did of course score The Fortune Cookie, recording the bulk of the music in mid-June 1966. It is likely Previn was unable to score The Honey Pot due to scheduling problems created by the film’s troubled (and lengthy) post-production; British composer John Addison stepped in to score the film in place of Previn.
Addison was especially adept at musical pastiche, and many of his scores—such as Sleuth (Mankiewicz’s final film) and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution—feature a main title that recalls the spirit of an overture to a 19th century comic opera. The Honey Pot is firmly in this vein, with a main theme for Fox’s shenanigans that is equally witty and mischievous whether played by solo clarinet or full orchestra. The composer also provides a lazy harmonica-led theme (in the mode of a trail song from the American West) for Mrs. “Lone Star” Sheridan and an expansive Italian-flavored melody for Fox’s Venetian palazzo.
Addison’s score is not well served by the extensive editing from Mankiewicz’s intended cut, and much of his music that is heard in the finished version is mixed in such a way as to be barely audible. Thankfully Addison was afforded the opportunity to re-record a soundtrack album for United Artists Records (UAS 5159) that casts his delightful music in its best possible light. The album tracks are discussed below in (approximate) film order.
- 17. The Honey Pot—Main Title
- In a prologue (largely unscored, save for a hint of the main theme on solo harpsichord), Cecil Fox (Rex Harrison) watches a private performance of his favorite play, Volpone; having seen enough, he cuts off the actors in mid-scene and departs. Addison’s boisterous main title music plays over the credits as Fox exits the grand Venetian theater and returns home via gondola. In the film this music segues to a subsequent cue (featuring the “Palazzo” theme—see track 29, below) but for the album Addison rounds out the opening track with a resounding coda.
- 29. Palazzo
- Addison’s operatic theme (with a nod to Puccini) for Fox’s estate is first heard in the film after the main title sequence when Fox arrives back home. This full statement was likely prepared expressly for the album.
- 21. Palm Springs Comes to Venice
- The opening of this cue moves from the main theme on solo clarinet to Vegas-style burlesque on a cut to actress Merle McGill (Edie Adams) sunning her sensuous legs as she relaxes poolside in Palm Springs. The remainder of the album track is heard later during McGill’s first encounter with William McFly (Cliff Robertson) in Venice, and as Fox prepares for his first meeting with Princess Dominique (Capucine).
- 18. Remembering the Old Days
- In the film a brief portion of this cue accompanies Princess Dominique as she sets down her letter from Fox and runs a bath, reminiscing about her time with Fox for which he, in his narration, “can find no regret.” This cue appears to have been a casualty of the film’s major re-editing during post-production.
- 25. Lone Star’s Secret Weapon
- Mrs. Sheridan (Susan Hayward), travelling with her nurse, Sarah Watkins (Maggie Smith), reminisces about the bygone days when she would take the Santa Fe train with Fox. Addison uses a lone harmonica and quiet strings to romanticize Sheridan’s memories of how romance blossomed in her youth, turning to a more comical mode once the women arrive at Fox’s estate and “Lone Star” shorts the gondolier when paying her fare.
- 22. The Love Game
- McGill flirts with Fox, who is still desperate for a fling between the sheets, in spite of his supposed illness. They are interrupted by the arrival of an ambulance crew, summoned by Sheridan, and the entire cast bursts into Fox’s room. Castanets accentuate the frivolity and Addison closes the cue with a finale heard only on the album.
- 20. Fox at Bay
- The ambulance attendants attempt to remove Fox from his bed at the behest of Sheridan, but are stopped by the resourceful McFly, who is intent on keeping his employer’s charade alive. A lazy trombone signals McGill’s discovery of whisky in Fox’s medicine bottle. This album version differs slightly from the film recording during its final few bars.
- 27. Lost Romance
- McFly and Sarah share a romantic evening at a fine restaurant—until McFly disappears to make a mysterious phone call and Sarah dozes off (into what would have been one of the film’s dream sequences). They return to Fox’s palazzo in a gondola, their ambiguous conversation doing little to hide their mutual attraction. Sarah confesses her mistrust of McFly, her suspicions deepening when he pays the gondolier with the same American quarters Sheridan has been carrying in her purse.
- 24. The Honey Pot Reprise
- Addison reprises his main title music as an entr’acte midway through the film; although there is an obvious fadeout, it is unclear from available video versions whether or not the film as released in 1967 featured an intermission.
- 28. Strange Encounter
- After Inspector Rizzi (Adolfo Celi) questions Sarah about a murder at the palazzo, she catches sight of McFly exiting a secret door at the end of the corridor. Deciding to investigate, she finds herself in Fox’s rooftop garden and her suspicions deepen further still when the supposedly ill Fox comes prancing around the corner (he fancies himself an amateur ballet dancer).
- 26. Time Remembered
- Later, Sarah uses a dumbwaiter to reach Fox’s room and tell him of her belief that McFly plans to murder him. A chiming clock triggers in Fox a lament for the passing of time. Addison’s simple yet moving cue dominated by strings accompanies Fox’s eloquent speech.
- 30. Play’s End
- The film concludes with Sarah tricking McFly into naming her as the sole heiress in Fox’s will. She then proposes marriage to McFly—on the condition he returns to law school—and Addison reprises his main theme, bringing the curtain down with a final bit of narration from Fox: “Just once it would be nice if the bloody script turned out the way we wrote it.”
- 19. Lone Star
- This album-only recording of Mrs. Sheridan’s theme captures the Texan in all her aging beauty.
- 23. Sarah
- Another album-only track, at first subtle and then gloriously romantic, features Addison’s theme for the palazzo, which also comes to serve as something of a love theme for William McFly and Sarah Watkins. —
From the original United Artists LP
John Addison was born in Surrey, England, and educated at Wellington College and at London’s Royal College of Music, where, as a student, he won his first major award for composition. His musical career was interrupted by World War II. After six years in a Cavalry regiment, he returned to civilian life and his music in 1946.
One of his first successes was a chamber work (a sextet for woodwinds) performed in 1950 at the Festival of the International Society for Contemporary Music at Frankfurt, Germany. Later, various commissions followed, including works for the BBC, London, for the Promenade Concerts and Cheltenham Festivals, and other events.
His ballet Carte Blanche was commissioned by Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet. Other credits include a musical revue, Cranks, over fifty film scores, including Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey, Girl With Green Eyes, and Tom Jones (which won an Academy Award “Oscar” in 1964 for Addison).
His most recent scores include A Fine Madness, Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, and Desmond Davis’s The Uncle. His work for theatre includes Lawrence Olivier’s production of Hamlet, which opened the National Theatre in London, and a number of plays being performed on Broadway and elsewhere, which were originally written for London’s Royal Court Theatre; among them Osborne’s The Entertainer and Luther, Ionesco’s The Chairs, and Brecht’s St. Joan of the Stockyards. Addison has also written scores for TV specials, last year’s entry being CBS’s highly acclaimed The Search for Ulysses.
Addison believes in working very closely with his director, and The Honey Pot was no exception. During the composition of the score there were numerous meetings between Joseph L. Mankiewicz and Addison at their respective summer homes in Connecticut and England, at which the music was played over, discussed and altered. For presentation on the record, it has been edited by the composer.
John Addison lives with his wife and four children in a Georgian house surrounded by cherry orchards near Canterbury, England.