On Location: The Green Shills of Africa

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Into the bar strolled Sir Alec Guinness, black of face and draped in a floral-print dress stuffed with toweling in the bosom. "Excuse my skirt," he said to Elizabeth Taylor as he bellied up to the bar. "Would someone buy me a beer, please? I'm not carrying any cash tonight. I don't know where I could put it."

A scene from an underground movie, perhaps? Nothing like it. Guinness, Taylor and Richard Burton were merely taking a booze break from the filming of Graham Greene's psychological thriller The Comedians, which they are shooting in Cotonou, principal city in the small West African nation of Dahomey. If Guinness' bar attire (left over from a just-finished scene) seemed a little farther out than usual—well, Dahomey itself may be farther out than the location of any movie since Nanook of the North. Financial Frankness. Barred from the film's proper location of Haiti because of the novel's distinct unfriendliness toward Haitian Dictator Francois Duvalier, Comedians' Producer-Director Peter Glenville and his company found a surprisingly exact replica in Dahomey. Cotonou is a jerry-built outcropping of grandiose, half-filled government buildings and a splendid four-lane boulevard that runs straight and proud to the weeds and sand at the city's edge. The one major difference is that Dahomey's strongman, President Christophe Soglo, held out the warm hand of friendship—and frank financial interest.

In six weeks of shooting, Glenville's troupe will pour $500,000 into the economy of a country whose national budget totals $10 million. In gratitude, Soglo cleared the cramped harbor of Cotonou while Glenville shot dockside scenes; he allowed Cotonou to be plastered with billboards of Duvalier, lent his own Mercedes to the Burtons for the duration, and rented them the Ivory Coast's government villa for a brisk $1,000 a month.

When not on camera call, Burton spent amiable hours in the bar of the Hotel de la Plage, talking of baseball and Viet Nam, reminiscing about Dylan Thomas and Wales, and doing his famous imitation of himself imitating Winston Churchill. As befits a woman who is at last earning less than her husband ($500,000 v. $750,000), Elizabeth sat conjugally by his side, interrupting every hour or so to ask: "Don't you think it's time we went home, Richard?" "Yes," replied the bilingual Burton. "When I've finished my drink, Garcon! Donnez-moi une autre bouteille de rotgut, s'il vous plait."

Half Loaded. The minor members of the company were no less help to the cause of Afro-Anglo-American friendship. One evening after the day's shooting, for example, American Negro Actor Raymond St. Jacques wandered into the Plage bar dressed in a gaudy, pajama-like African garment called a sapara, accented by a gold earring in his left ear. A half-loaded American businessman turned to his drinking companion and said loudly, "Hey! Look how colorful that one is!"

St. Jacques turned slowly. Then he spoke: "You're pretty colorful yourself, baby."