Patrick Macnee has done some fairly bizarre things in movies over the years, but having his ear slashed off and held up to view must surely rank as a first.
However, the ubiquitous actor, forever rooted in some people's minds as the urbane, bowler-hatted John Steed of TV's "The Avengers," insists that the new film in which he's de-eared--"Shady," opening here Oct. 31--is "highly entertaining.
"What it is," he said this week, "is very black comedy."
Black it is.
To give you some idea, Macnee's co-star, the much-lauded British actor Antony Sher (winner of the Olivier Award for "Torch Song Trilogy" in London) plays a man whose greatest wish is to be a female.
Macnee's wife in the movie, American actress Katherine Helmond, finally emasculates Sher with a carving knife.
So, yes, you could call it black comedy. But a little bit grim, surely?
" I don't think so," said Macnee. "I saw it again the other day and found it outrageously funny. I loved it."
The version we'll see here is not quite the same as the one that opened in London earlier this summer. Despite good reviews, the film failed to find favor with the public, so Skouras Pictures, which is releasing it here, has trimmed and reedited it.
"Marc Halperin (Skouras vice president) did it, and I think he did a wonderful job," Macnee said. "I think it could do well over here."
Macnee, a longtime Palm Springs resident, will not be around for the opening as he flies to London in two weeks to star in a new play in the West End, "Killing Jessica." Written by Richard Levinson and William Link, it's based on their TV movie, "Rehearsal for Murder"; Bryan Forbes directs.
"It's 34 years since I did a play in London," said Macnee, "so who knows? Maybe they'll throw things at me. I hope not. It's a good thriller. But it's crossed-fingers time."
Although he's been away from the West End stage for a long time, Macnee's theatrical credentials are in order. For 16 months he starred with great success on Broadway in "Sleuth" and he has toured plays both here and in Australia.
"The first time I did a play in Australia I told reporters that I hadn't been on a stage for 10 years because I'd been tied up in London making 'The Avengers.' Of course some critics jumped on that and wrote, 'We can see that Mr. Macnee hasn't been on a stage in 10 years,' but I did enjoy myself there."
Macnee, 64, who works constantly, says he has found a whole new audience among 30-year-olds.
"I couldn't understand that at first," he said. "Then I realized they were the ones who were thrust in front of TV by their parents back in the '60s and told to stay there and be good. Of course, that's when 'The Avengers' first went on the air."
MORE TO COME: So Phyllis Gates, who for three years in the '50s was married to Rock Hudson, is to write about her life with the late star in a book "My Husband, Rock Hudson."
Two books about the star, who died of AIDS, have already been published.
It seems ironic that Hudson, the most reclusive of actors, who was fanatic about his privacy--no pictures were ever allowed to be taken inside his home--will now have no secrets left at all.
QUOTE: from Anthony Quinn's Italian-born wife, Yolanda, in a coming interview on ABC-TV's "Fame, Fortune and Romance":
"He (Quinn) is an unfaithful man. If I was an American woman, I would have left him at least 20 times. But my mother says, 'You chose him, you keep him.' "