Travels with My Aunt

George Cukor (1972)

: Travels with My AuntSeeing is believing when it comes to this movie. This adaptation of a Graham Greene story about an extremely eccentric aunt (Maggie Smith) who drags her mild-mannered nephew on a wild and crazy cross country journey is so bizarre, that I can’t begin to do it justice.

Here are some interesting and telling facts about the film:

  • Director George Cukor, the same man who directed Dinner at Eight (1933), Holiday (1938 with Kate Hepburn and Cary Grant), Gaslight (1944 with Ingrid Bergman), Born Yesterday (1950 with Judy Holliday), and My Fair Lady, was 73 when he directed this film.
  • Co-starring with Maggie Smith are Louis Gossett, Jr. (as her fortune-telling lover!!) and Cindy Williams (!!!) (one year pre-American Graffiti.) Her line readings in this movie are cringe-inducingly bad.
  • Maggie Smith portrays a woman who’s seventy-ish, around her current age now, but when she made this film, she was only 38! So, while you watch this movie, she’s acting her age now, which is kinda weird, but in addition to that, the costumes, wig and makeup give her the appearance of a drag queen. So through the entire movie, you’re giving her one big, long double-take.
  • The costumes for Travels won an Academy Award and when you see them, you’ll know why. Judging from the outlandish flowing dresses and feathery hats that Maggie Smith dons in her role as flamboyant Aunt Augusta, it’s impossible to tell in which time period this film is set.
  • Aunt Augusta and her bank manager nephew (translation, he’s stuffy and set in his ways, and needs his unconventional aunt to snap him back to life) spend the film racing through Europe to rescue Mr. Visconti, the first and greatest of her many lovers who’s being held for ransom. At various points, the film flashes back to reveal Augusta’s wild and crazy life as a high-paid courtesan to wealthy men. In the scene in which she meets Visconti for the first time, she’s supposed to be a school girl and he already looks like a middle-aged man. Looking as if she stole a costume from one of the Brody Girls (three years earlier, Maggie Smith earned an Oscar for her role in The Prime of Miss Jean Brody) Augusta rushes into this stranger’s arms for a whirlwind dance around a ballroom floor … and it’s just plain creepy. I don’t know what’s creepier, the fact that the guy smacks of pedophilia or the fact that Maggie Smith is a 38-year-old woman portraying a 16-year-old school girl. You can imagine how convincing that is.
  • Each time you think this film couldn’t get more bizarre, it does. During the aforementioned scene, the characters break out into a ridiculous love song. The song runs throughout the film, all throughout the film, you keep hearing that song…it never goes away.
  • Visconti is portrayed by Robert Stephens, who was married to Maggie Smith at the time they made Travels. There’s a strange character actor sort of chemistry between them but it’s not hard to believe that they divorced two years after this film was released.
  • Finally, Travels with My Aunt was made in the 1970s and boy, can you ever tell. The costumes, the color pallet, the music (think The Love Boat), the drug use. Yeouch! And yet, there is something strangely watchable about this film. It’s Maggie Smith after all, and no matter how off-target a movie may be, if she’s in it, it’s worth watching. And Travels, well, between Maggie Smith’s performance, which is excellent, and her La Cage Aux Folles appearance, and the high-70s style and story, it’s like watching a car accident–you’re horrified and can’t believe what you’re seeing…and you just can’t stop watching.
  • Believe it or not, I give it **** …it’s just that odd.

2 thoughts on “Travels with My Aunt

  1. My jaw was on the floor the entire time I was watching this movie–impossible for my brain to absorb a) Maggie Smith in drag; b) Maggie Smith dressed as a Brodie girl and falling in love with a pedophile; c) Cindy Williams traveling on the Orient Express with an endless supply of ham; d) an equally endless soundtrack of bad-’70s (a la Chuck Mangione) trumpet overlays. This movie immediately shot to the top of my list of impossibly weird movies that have to be seen. It shares the No. 1 spot with “The Young Girls of Rochefort.” Both films make you feel like you’re doing LSD without the fuss and mess of actually doing LSD, collapsing time and reality in a weird sound and color show that leaves you feeling mildly hungover the next day.

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