Movie-star Niven has shown his gift for farcical, ribald anecdotes in Bring on the Empty Horses and The Moon's a Balloon,...



Movie-star Niven has shown his gift for farcical, ribald anecdotes in Bring on the Empty Horses and The Moon's a Balloon, and this novel has its fair share of such wartime/Hollywood incidents. As a full-length story, however, it's slow and shapeless, with nothing holding it together except a rather uninteresting hero and a gooey, routine romance. That hero is Stanislaw (""Stani"") Skolimowski, blondly handsome son of a Polish diplomat father and a Continent-hopping American mother (divorced). Stani is raised in Europe, goes to high school in California, and just before WW II winds up in England--where mum has married a jaunty ex-Navy type. He boards in London with a popular, cheerfully aging courtesan, supposedly studying so that he can switch to British schools. But Stani's real interest soon centers on well-born musical-revue performer Pandora Bryce, who, though aloof at first, soon shows herself to be ""a four-star, fur-lined, oceangoing expert in the noblest art of all."" And Pandora remains reasonably devoted as Stani, whose parents and stepfather become war fatalities, does his patriotic bit: as an RAF pilot (he's shot down, nearly dies in a dinghy, is rescued, but needs his foot and face rebuilt); as a Bundles-for-Britain war-hero touring the US; as an officer with the liberating Allied forces (he pluckily refuses to turn over anti-Communist Cossack prisoners to the Russians). But once the war is over, the focus largely shifts to ambitious Pandora, who's off to grotesque, idiot-controlled Hollywood with lover Stani in tow. Pandora's name is promptly changed to ""Jan Ricardo."" The butler/cook couple in their hideous ""Moorish prison"" of a house turn out to be murderers on the lam. And Pandora's first big role is in a lousy pic produced by foul, loud Maxwell Spada: there are inane, constant rewrites; Montezuma's Revenge plagues the location shooting; a Dr. Feelgood ministers to all with pills and injections; Stani is recruited to do still photography and some dangerous stunt-work; there are a few gross doings with on-screen wildlife (""Okay, Props, you heard him. Stand by to stick your finger up the peacock's ass""); and Stani is thoroughly turned off by the Hollywood scene . . . especially when he catches Pandora (who's been popping pills) in bed with a studio exec. So the lovers are estranged for a while: Stani--something of a fugitive after committing a slapstick assault on the studio seducer--goes to N.Y. and Canada to pursue photography. But finally there's a reconciliation (""the floodtide of their love had removed forever any ugliness from the background of their happiness"") and a limp fadeout as Pandora barely survives a hurricane injury in the Caribbean. Some very funny moments--in the satire of movies and also early live-TV--but very little momentum or involvement in the long, ambling storyline; in any case, Niven's fans probably won't be too terribly disappointed.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 1981


Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1981