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Made between the unsuccessful romantic comedy Promise Her Anything (1965) with Leslie Caron and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), the movie that transformed Warren Beatty into a major player in Hollywood as a star and producer, Kaleidoscope (1966) marks a turning point in the actor's career. Always calculated in his choice of film offers, Beatty chose to do this jet-set caper romance because he felt it had the potential to be a commercial hit. Beatty was still romantically involved with Leslie Caron at the time and the filming of Kaleidoscope in England would allow Caron to remain near her children and still see Warren. Another equally important reason why Beatty possibly chose to do Kaleidoscope was because it was not a particularly challenging role or time-consuming production and would allow him to concentrate in his off-hours on the project that was really important to him - Bonnie and Clyde.
Written by the screenwriting team of Robert and Jane-Howard Carrington, who would adapt the play Wait Until Dark (1967) as their next project, Kaleidoscope follows the hip adventures of Barney Lincoln (Beatty), a professional gambler and ladies man who has figured out a way to beat the European gambling casinos at their own game. After breaking into the Kaleidoscope card factory which supplies all the casinos in Europe, he etches telltale marks on the printing plates that appear as codes to him alone on the backs of the cards. At first, he makes a fortune but his consistent good luck arouses the suspicions of his girlfriend Angel (Susannah York) who alerts her father (Clive Revill), a Scotland Yard detective, to investigate. When confronted with his crimes, Barney agrees to help the police capture Harry Dominion (Eric Porter), a notorious criminal and drug smuggler, in exchange for his freedom. Luring Dominion, a compulsive gambler, into a high stakes poker game proves easy but when Barney trumps him with every hand, he places himself and Angel in a dangerous situation.
Jack Smight, who had just directed the well-received Paul Newman vehicle Harper (1966), was approached by Beatty to direct Kaleidoscope. In fact, he later said Beatty came to his home and "knelt down in front of my ottoman. Literally knelt down in front of it, and pounded on it, and begged me to do the movie." Smight agreed but wasn't very happy about the selection of the film's female lead, Sandra Dee. He thought she was all wrong for the part of a sharp witted, independent British girl. Smight eventually learned that Beatty had pushed for Dee in the lead because he had always wanted to "score" with her. Just prior to the start of filming, however, Dee bowed out of the movie due to a schedule conflict but was paid her full salary anyway. "I had a considerable amount to do with it," confessed Smight in Suzanne Finstad's biography of Warren Beatty. "Because I thought it was a classier movie than to have Sandra Dee in it. It took a great deal of shumushing, as we say in the Yiddish language. I had to push very hard to get Sandra Dee out of Warren's mind, because he really was determined to have a go at her." In the end, Smight was able to replace Dee with his top choice of Susannah York, who had received much unanimous acclaim for her performance in Tom Jones (1963) a few years earlier.
The shooting of Kaleidoscope proceeded without further incident and both Smight and Beatty enjoyed working together. The only potential problem Smight encountered was Beatty's occasional tendency to take a Method acting approach to his character which really wasn't required for the sort of lighthearted, sophisticated fluff Smight had in mind. "Warren tried to put on that New York attitude," the director said. "In fact, I cut so many scenes halfway through, because he was trying to put on that 'Methody' act, and we didn't do it that way. We'd get to a certain scene, and he would ad lib something in the middle of a scene, and I'd cut. And he'd say, 'Well, I thought that was kind of funny, didn't you?' I said, 'Sort of.' But he was a good performer. And that's about what I got out of him."
As for Beatty's co-star, Susannah York, she found making Kaleidoscope a pleasant but not particularly memorable experience. In the biography, Warren Beatty: The Last Great Lover of Hollywood by John Parker, she said, "My agent sent me the script, and I thought it was funny and said yes...I haven't met Warren then, but as he was playing a charming card-sharp I thought it seemed rather good casting. It was a very frivolous, frothy script...I played Angel Maguire, a dress designer who was what was known as "kooky"...The dialogue was bright and fun but the film didn't really work because it fell between the two stools of the comedy and the thriller elements."
Beatty would later dismiss Kaleidoscope as a "terrible" movie but the film never pretended to be anything other than what Smight and his star set out to make - a commercial entertainment. Even though it was not a box office hit, it was well received by many critics. Variety deemed it "an entertaining comedy suspenser" and added that it "has some eyecatching mod clothing styles, inventive direction and other values which sustain the simple story line." Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was less enthusiastic but identified the movie's appeal in his opening paragraph: "A Kaleidoscope? That's a plaything you look into, as you look into a telescope, and see bits of colored glass or other objects within its range of observation fall into assorted symmetrical patterns as you rotate it. The optical effects are fascinating and amusing for a while - for as long as you care to be diverted by the pretty designs - nothing more. That might also serve as a description of the film called "Kaleidoscope," which rotated into position on the screen of the Music Hall yesterday."
Seen today, Kaleidoscope is an entertaining time capsule of the swinging sixties at its height. In addition to the flashy cinematography of Christopher Challis (a four time Oscar® nominee who won an Academy Award for his work on Arabesque, 1966), the movie features posh locales spotlighting the most famous casinos of the French Riviera and London and a lively supporting cast that includes a memorable turn by Eric Porter as a particularly vicious criminal and Jane Birkin, former companion of French songwriter/singer Serge Gainsbourg and mother of Charlotte Gainsbourg, turns up in a brief bit; she's billed in the credits as "Exquisite Thing."
Producer: Elliott Kastner; Jerry Gershwin (uncredited)
Director: Jack Smight
Screenplay: Robert Carrington, Jane-Howard Carrington
Cinematography: Christopher Challis
Art Direction: Maurice Carter
Music: Stanley Myers
Film Editing: John Jympson
Cast: Warren Beatty (Barney Lincoln), Susannah York (Angel McGinnis), Clive Revill (Inspector 'Manny' McGinnis), Eric Porter (Harry Dominion), Murray Melvin (Aimes), George Sewell (Billy), Stanley Meadows (Dominion Captain), John Junkin (Dominion Porter), Larry Taylor (Dominion Chauffeur), Yootha Joyce (Museum Receptionist), Jane Birkin (Exquisite Thing), George Murcell (Johnny), Anthony Newlands (Leeds).
by Jeff Stafford
Warren Beatty: A Private Man by Suzanne Finstad (Harmony Books)
Warren Beatty: The Last Great Lover of Hollywood by John Parker (Carroll & Graf)