THE OLD MAN AND MR. SMITH by Peter Ustinov


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 God and Satan return to Earth on a fact-finding mission, meeting after several millennia on a Washington street corner, in this shaggy, overextended fantasy. The conceit of two addled old geezersthe Creator of the Universe played, let's say, by Bert Lahr, with Don Rickles as his sidekickwho don't have a clue about the 20th century (why do they need luggage to check into a hotel? how are they going to pay? what on earth is the appeal of television?) carries the book along, relaxed as a soft-shoe routine, long enough for the plotno, better make that the running gagto take hold: first the police, then the FBI, then Interpol are out to nab the pair for forgery (the Old Man created the money he needed to pay for that hotel room). The resulting plot escalates without ever taking hold, and the scenes are disappointing in which the Old Man (whom Ustinov wisely makes more interesting than Mr. Smith) meets the American President and the Soviet First Secretary. But moments of wondrous wide-eyed comedy pop up in all sorts of placesthe Old Man tries to deal with a by-the-book concierge, Mr. Smith gets talked down by a TV evangelist, the two of them go on trial in an Israeli religious courtif you have the patience to wait. Hit-or-miss cosmic farce with a gently, insistently preachy undertone.

Pub Date: June 10th, 1991
ISBN: 1-55970-134-X
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1991


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