The Champagne Safari

on October 27, 1995 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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   The winner of the Genie award for best Canadian documentary is a fascinating account of of the remarkable Charles E. Bedaux. French-born, Bedaux came to New York at age 19 with a dollar in his pocket and a penny's knowledge of English. By 1934, he was one of the five richest men in America, the creator of a new time unit that measured efficiency in factories, a sponsor of grand explorations and, as "The Champagne Safari" makes clear, a Nazi collaborator.
   Anchoring this documentary is newly found footage of Bedaux's ill-fated 1934 expedition across the uncharted Canadian Rockies, accompanied by his wife and her maid, his mistress, 53 cowboys, seven Citroen half-tracks, 130 pack horses and, to top it off, "High Noon" cinematographer Floyd Crosby, along to help Bedaux with the film he planned to shoot during the long trek. Clearly, Bedaux is one of those larger-than-life personalities that, as Time Magazine put it, would need the facts of his life toned down so as to fit within the realm of probability.
   Director/producer George Ungar, who spent 16 years working on this project, is clearly enthralled by Bedaux and his story, particularly his business machinations with German and Italian fascists and his relationship with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Which is all riveting, as is the footage Bedaux shot in the Rockies, which easily could have been incorporated into a Hollywood western. But the rather pedestrian presentation of the facts of Bedaux's life, the relatively few interviews in the film and its bland narration sidetrack "The Champagne Safari" from its best course. It's always interesting, but one suspects there's a better film to be made on the myth and reality of Charles E. Bedaux.    Directed and produced by George Ungar. Written by Steve Lucas, John Kramer and Harold Crooks. Documentary. No distributor set. Not yet rated. Running time: 100 min.
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