The title begs the obvious question — who is Adela and why hasn’t she had her supper yet? I won’t ruin the surprise but the answer is certainly unexpected. Then again, almost everything in this gloriously bonkers film is unexpected.
‘Adela Has Not Had Her Supper Yet’ (1978) opens with a clear statement of intent as a sophisticated and refined conductor initiates lush orchestral music which is then brutally hijacked by aggressive player-piano tonking heralding the fact that anarchy is now taking over. Illustrations of turn-of-the-century crime fighters violently muscle-in on the opening titles announcing to us that this is going to be a detective spoof and one with a very slippery grasp on reality. This could get interesting.
It’s New York in the late 19th, early 20th, century and the world’s most famous detective, Nick Carter, is summoned from America to Prague to solve the case of the Countess Thunova’s missing dog, Gert. The mystery is that Gert was alone with the Countess in her bedchamber being lullabied to sleep with Mozart when he vanished, leaving behind only his collar.
Aided by his array of steam-punk gadgets and futuristic inventions, Nick Carter is determined to solve the case although it seems the sinister botanist Baron Rupert Von Kratzmar and his henchmen are intent on stopping the super-spy, especially before Carter can discover the secret of Adela and just who, or what, she is.
That’s all I’ll say about the plot as one of Adela’s many delights is discovering just how silly it all gets (spoilers — it gets very silly). But what I will say is that ‘Adela’ gets to her destination by way of references to James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Inspectors Gadget and Clouseau and, most explicitly, a heavy dose of Roger Corman’s ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’ (1960). It all sounds like a potential mess, and it often is, but director Oldrich Lipský knows exactly what he’s doing, funneling all this anarchy through an extremely artful Czech cinematic prism and a tight reign on the humour, no matter how daft it all gets. Sure, not all of it works with some of the comedy too broad at times — people walking into lamp posts etc — and some scenes going on a tad too long — Carter’s pub crawl through Prague being one — but the jokes come fast and of a startling variety, very often exploiting editing or filmic effects to eye-popping effect.
A great example is when the Countess is recalling to Nick Carter her memory of the fateful night when Gert disappeared, a flashback told in black and white still photography, still photography that starts shaking about as the Countess cries. The movie is crammed with film-breaking moments such as this, with a lot of the laughs coming from the visual invention as much as the more conventional gags.
And ‘Adela Has Not Had Her Supper Yet’ is visually inventive and furiously so, utilising everything from puppetry to models, animation (both illustrated and stop-motion, the latter being provided by the legendary Jan Švankmajer) and animatronics, lighting gels and forced perspective to name a few. This is all amplified by some stunning cinematography, imaginative set-design and beautiful costumes all decked out in gorgeous candy-pinks, whites, reds and pastels. Factor all this into the silliness and, at times, it’s like ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ (1964) meets ‘Airplane!’ (1980) as low-comedy meets high-beauty.
The pacing doesn’t always hold-up with a few lags towards the end but it gets back on track for an exciting, and hilarious, climax involving the funniest use of a recorder I’ve ever seen in a movie along with some truly masterful puppet-work. It’s wonderful. The movie raps up neatly, not so much in plot construction but in form, coming back full circle to our orchestra and conductor but, this time, the veneer of cultural respectability has been totally destroyed like a crashing, out of tune piano. It’s an absolutely delightful way to finish a movie, funny as hell and a clear answer to its opening statement of intent.
‘Adela Has Not Had Her Supper Yet’ might have readily identifiable influences but it achieves that something very few films manage, namely it is utterly idiosyncratic with its own unique identity. It’s a full-on piece of delirious escapism and a huge amount of invention both in front of and behind the camera. It’s not consistently wholly successful but the stuff that works works brilliantly and it’s a movie that clings fiercely to its own crazy logic. After all, “only a four square mind can fathom a pyramid mystery”.