Dima (Omar Sharif) is a thief on the streets of this city by the mouth of river where it joins the sea, and finds a fish floating in the water when he is down by the docks, which he plucks out and contemplates what to do with it. As he does so, a white rat appears and takes an interest, so Dima cuts off the tail and feeds it to the creature: such is the life of a man who makes his way through life scavenging and stealing, but is not such a bad sort, he simply wishes to survive. Meanwhile there's a rich eccentric, Uncle Rudolf (Christopher Lee) at the other end of the social spectrum who feeds his dogs champagne and caviar, rides around on part of a mechanical cow, and clashes cymbals along with the sound of opera on the jukebox. How could these two be connected?
Well, they're both in a film directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky made during his brief burst of cinematic creativity around 1989-90 which gave rise to this as well as the purer dose of his work, Santa Sangre, though it was The Rainbow Thief that he disowned for whatever reason, purportedly because it was not drawn from his own script and taken out of his hands. That said, there were aspects here which were unmistakably the results of his highly individual imagination, whether that be the idiosyncratic visuals or the quasi-religious themes of the nobility of the poor and the social outsider, which rendered this particular effort ideal as a gateway into the oeuvre of Jodorowsky when the thought of El Topo was too daunting.
On the other hand, should you leap straight into his headier brews then you would be getting the full strength experience and not the watered down verison that this could represent - what a lot of water there is, as well. The plot, taken from the imaginings of screenwriter Berta Domínguez D. who was the wife of producer Alexander Salkind, dispenses with Uncle Rudolf all too quickly in light of what a great time Christopher Lee is having, surely one of his weirdest roles and one he throws himself into as his character serves large bones to his family who want to inherit his money, and rather than spend time with them opts for the company of a bed full of topless prostitutes, whereupon the excitement evidently becomes a little too much and he has a heart attack landing the old man in a coma.
The search is now on for his nephew, the Prince Meleagre, essayed by that larger than life personality Peter O'Toole who could make the phone book sound like Shakespeare so has no trouble with the dense dialogue he is offered here. But tying in with that sentimentality about life's drifters, the Prince is some kind of magical figure without actually doing anything magical, unless you consider using the stuffed body of his beloved Irish wolfhound as a ventriloquist's dummy magical, and he lives in the sewers as well. This is also where Dima lives, and whatever you think about the script it was nice to see the venerable stars of Lawrence of Arabia reunited, so the thief provides for the Prince by raiding just about anything that isn't nailed down on the surface.
Up top are an array of characters who naturally for this director include a great many circus performers, one time Britain's tallest man Chris Greener among them who looks after a dwarf permanently aggravated that Dima nicked a Vitrola from him. Also showing up, why not, was New Wave star Ian Dury as a bartender sharing scenes with Sharif, lead singer of the Flying Pickets Brian Hibbard as a fortune teller in drag, seventies horror director Pete Walker's muse Sheila Keith as a Rudolf relative, and comfortable in her skin British porn star Linzi Drew for good measure. After mulling over the casual cruelties our accursed existences visit upon us, Jodorowsky offered an all-action finale where the river bursts its banks and a great flood occurs, leaving Dima the choice of whether to go back for the Prince or to take the first available train out of town. To tie in with the theme of self-sacrifice he chooses the former, and these sequences are impressively staged if conventional for a movie of this derivation, though even then the director throws in oddities. A jumble, but engaging enough. Music by Jean Musy.