The List of Adrian Messenger

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The List of Adrian Messenger
VHS cover for The List of Adrian Messenger
Directed byJohn Huston
Produced byEdward Lewis
Written byPhilip MacDonald
(based upon a story by)
Screenplay byAnthony Veiller
StarringTony Curtis
Kirk Douglas
Burt Lancaster
Robert Mitchum
Frank Sinatra
George C. Scott
Dana Wynter
Clive Brook
Gladys Cooper
Herbert Marshall
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyJoseph MacDonald
(as Joe MacDonald)
Edited byTerry O. Morse
Hugh S. Fowler
Joel Productions
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • May 29, 1963 (1963-05-29) (New York City)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,700,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

The List of Adrian Messenger is a 1963 American mystery film directed by John Huston starring Kirk Douglas, George C. Scott, Dana Wynter, Clive Brook, Gladys Cooper and Herbert Marshall. It is based on a 1959 novel of the same name written by Philip MacDonald.


A writer named Adrian Messenger (John Merivale) believes a series of apparently unrelated "accidental" deaths are actually linked murders. He asks his friend Anthony Gethryn (George C. Scott), recently retired from MI5, to help clear up the mystery and provides him with a list of the victims' names. Soon afterward, Messenger's plane is bombed while he is en route to collect evidence to confirm his suspicions and, with his dying breath, he tries to tell a fellow passenger the key to the mystery.

The passenger survives and turns out to be Raoul Le Borg (Jacques Roux), Gethryn's old World War II counterpart in the French Resistance. They join forces to investigate Messenger's list of names, and decode Messenger's final cryptic words. They establish that all on the list were together in a prisoner of war camp in Burma, where a Canadian sergeant, George Brougham, betrayed his fellow prisoners, foiling their escape attempt. Each has a reason to kill Brougham. It evolves that Brougham is their killer, but why? They deduce that he is about to come into prominence and cannot risk being recognised. Gethryn and Le Borg establish that he stands in line to an inheritance of the Bruttenholm family, landed gentry who are friends of Gethryn and the late Messenger, and who avidly engage in fox hunting.

Having disposed of all possible witnesses to his wartime treachery, Brougham (Kirk Douglas) appears at a Bruttenholm estate fox hunt and introduces himself as a member of the family (he has previously been seen only in disguise). It then becomes clear to the visiting Gethryn and Le Borg that Brougham's next victim is to be the young heir, Derek. In an attempt to divert Brougham, Gethryn makes known his investigation of Messenger’s list, calculating to set himself up as the next victim.

That night, Brougham sabotages the next morning’s hunt by laying a drag with a fox in a sack over the fields. He especially marks a blind spot behind a high wall, and moves a large hay tedder behind, intending for Gethryn (who has been given the honor of leading the hunt) to be impaled upon its lethal tines. Unbeknownst to Brougham, his plan goes awry when a farmer repositions the tedder early the next morning. The hunt commences but comes to a halt at the specified spot. Gethryn reveals to the gathered crowd that he discovered and removed the hay-tedder booby trap earlier that morning and, with the help of the lead fox hound, will detect the scent of the culprit amongst a group of hunt saboteurs. Brougham, once again disguised, is identified and runs off, mounting Derek's horse. When Derek shouts a command to the horse, the animal stops short, throwing Brougham and impaling him on the very same machine he intended for Gethryn.


Cameo appearances:

Director John Huston also gives an uncredited cameo near the film's end, as Lord Ashton.


The List of Adrian Messenger is a relatively modern Golden Age type of mystery with an additional gimmick that was featured prominently in its advertising. A number of famous Hollywood actors were advertised to appear in the film heavily disguised in make-up designed by John Chambers: Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, and Robert Mitchum. During an epilogue the stars appear on-camera removing their disguises and revealing their identity. Curtis is revealed to have portrayed a street organ player; Lancaster removes the disguise of a female fox-hunt protester; Sinatra doffs the make-up of a gypsy horse-trader; Mitchum removes his disguise as the victim Slattery; and Douglas sheds one of his make-ups at the close of a montage of several of the killer’s personas.

In actuality, only Curtis, Mitchum and Douglas performed in the body of the film.[unreliable source?] Lancaster and Sinatra only appear during the unmasking coda; their parts were portrayed by uncredited performers. Similarly, several of Douglas’ character’s disguised personas were performed instead by character actor Jan Merlin, who was hired in secret and labored with the Universal make-up artists for nearly a year before shooting began, under sometimes painful conditions and with no attribution. Merlin later incorporated his experiences working on this production into a thriller novel, Shooting Montezuma (ISBN 1-4010-2823-3).[2][3][4][5]


  • There were several screenplay drafts, one by Vertigo co-writer Alec Coppel, before the final draft by Anthony Veiller, who receives sole screen credit.[6]
  • Elizabeth Taylor was scheduled to be one of the guest stars hidden under make-up in a disguised role. She demurred after word was conveyed to her about the grueling process that applying and removing the disguise would involve.[7]


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Home media availability[edit]

The List of Adrian Messenger was released on Region 1 DVD by Universal in 2009 as part of their print-on-demand "Vault Series."[9] It was later included in Universal's 2016 DVD box set "Kirk Douglas: The Centennial Collection."[10] It is also available on an Australian factory-pressed PAL DVD distributed by Umbrella Entertainment.[11] An original soundtrack recording of the Jerry Goldsmith score was released in 2014 by Varèse Sarabande.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Beyond Our Ken played on the title of "Messenger" in its ‘film worth remembering, which is more than can he said for the next half hour’ at the start of the fourth programme in the seventh series, first broadcast on 15 December 1963.[13]
  • Get Smart did a 1970 parody of this movie called The Mess of Adrian Listenger starring Pat Paulsen aka Adrian Listenger alias Ace Weems.
  • The plot of Red is a variation on that of "Messenger": man coming into prominence needs to bump off old associates.


  1. ^ "Top Rental Features of 1963", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 71. Please note figures are rentals as opposed to total gross.
  2. ^ Weaver, Tom. Earth vs. the Sci-Fi Filmmakers: 20 Interviews. McFarland, 2014. P. 271-291
  3. ^ "The Astounding B Monster | B Monster Bulletin". Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  4. ^ McFarland, D., & King, W. (2017). John Huston as Adaptor. Albany: State University of New York Press. P. 15.
  5. ^ Forshaw, Barry (2012). British Crime Film: Subverting the Social Order. Springer International Publishing. P. 60-61
  6. ^ Personal papers of Kirk Douglas at the Wisconsin Historical Society
  7. ^ Weaver, Tom. Earth vs. the Sci-Fi Filmmakers: 20 Interviews. McFarland, 2014. P. 285
  8. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.
  9. ^ "The List of Adrian Messenger: George C. Scott, Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra, Dana Wynter, Clive Brook, Gladys Cooper, John Huston, Edward Lewis, Anthony Veiller: Movies & TV". Retrieved 2016-10-10.
  10. ^ Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-21. Retrieved 2014-08-21.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-02-26. Retrieved 2014-02-13.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Laughterlog—Radio: Beyond Our Ken". 2009-02-25. Retrieved 2016-09-23.

External links[edit]