The Burnt Orange Heresy

Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

5/5 (1)

It sounds like a novel by John D. MacDonald, but this heist film is actually based on a 1971 book by MacDonald’s contemporary, Charles Willeford.

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” is an elegant and erotic noir-ish caper in which a suave art critic and a cool blonde set out to steal the paintings of a reclusive artist.

Danish actor Claes Bang masters a vague British accent and clothes himself in a “Cary-Grant-on-vacation” wardrobe as he teams up with an enigmatic drifter (played by French-born Elizabeth Debicki). Shortly after meeting at a lecture in Milan where the critic convinces his audience that a mediocre painting is a masterpiece, they hop into bed. The chemistry is great between these two con artists.

Bang and Debicki engage in lots of clever banter before the plot turns dark.

They travel to a posh estate on Lake Como to meet with a noted art collector (played by British rocker Mick Jagger) in hopes of securing an interview with a legendary-but-elusive artist (played by Canadian Donald Sutherland). The goal is to rob the painter.

Willeford’s novel has been relocated from Miami to Italy, not surprising since this Italian-American thriller was directed by Italian-born Giuseppe Capotondi. He was trying to channel Hitchcock, it seems. Think: “To Catch a Thief.”

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” will be playing its cat-and-mouse games at Tropic Cinema. Make a reservation today!

Charles Willeford’s writing career began with eight pulp paperbacks in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. In them, he fashioned his own brand of hard-boiled prose.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1956, Willeford held jobs as a professional boxer, actor, horse trainer, and radio announcer. He studied painting in France and Peru, returning to the US to get a Master’s Degree in Literature at the University of Miami. His writings focused on noir fiction about hardboiled detectives and down-and-out losers.

In all, Willeford wrote more than two dozen books, not counting collections, novella, and the like.

“The Burnt Orange Heresy” is considered his best noir novel, something of a satire on the art world. As a caper film, I’d put it right up there with “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

Charles Willeford was a master storyteller. But his knowledge of painting comes across in this plot. And in the title.

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