Travels with My Aunt (film)

Travels with My Aunt is a 1972 American comedy film directed by George Cukor, written Jay Presson Allen and Hugh Wheeler, and starring Maggie Smith. Based on the 1969 novel of the same name by Graham Greene it was released on December 17, 1972.

Travels with My Aunt
Theatrical release poster
Directed byGeorge Cukor
Produced by
  • James Cresson
  • Robert Fryer
Written by
Based onTravels with My Aunt
by Graham Greene
Music byTony Hatch
CinematographyDouglas Slocombe
Edited byJohn Bloom
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • December 17, 1972 (1972-12-17)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,075,000 (US/Canada theatrical rentals) [1]


While attending the cremation of his mother's remains, London bank manager Henry Pulling (Alec McCowen) meets eccentric Augusta Bertram (Maggie Smith), a woman who claims to be his aunt and announces that the woman who raised him was not his biological mother. She invites him back to her apartment, where her lover, an African fortune teller named Zachary Wordsworth (Louis Gossett Jr.), is waiting for her. Shortly after she receives a package allegedly containing the severed finger of her true love, Ercole Visconti (Robert Stephens), with a note promising the two will be reunited upon payment of $100,000.

Augusta asks Henry to accompany her to Paris, and he agrees, unaware she actually is smuggling £50,000 out of England and transporting it to Turkey for a gangster named Crowder (Robert Flemyng) in exchange for a £10,000 fee she can put toward the ransom. The works of art adorning the station are shown. The two board the Orient Express, where Henry meets Tooley (Cindy Williams), a young American hippie who takes a liking to him and gets him to smoke marijuana with her in her compartment. When the train reaches Milan, Augusta is greeted at the station by her illegitimate son Mario (Raymond Gérôme), who presents her with a bouquet of flowers and an ear that supposedly belongs to Ercole.

When they arrive at the Turkish border, Augusta's plot is uncovered by officials who send her and Henry back to Paris. Augusta attempts to secure the money she needs from her former lover Achille Dambreuse (José Luis López Vázquez), but the wealthy Frenchman dies of a heart attack in her hotel suite before she achieves her goal. Efforts to extort $100,000 from Achille's widow in return for their silence about the adulterous circumstances of his death fail, and Augusta decides to sell a valuable portrait of herself she claims was painted by Amedeo Modigliani to raise the money.

After an argument with Henry, Augusta lets it slip that he is Ercole's "other son". Once the painting is sold, they join Zachary on a fishing boat to North Africa, where they pay the ransom and are reunited with Ercole. He removes his bandages, revealing ear and finger intact, indicating he has been the mastermind of a plot to separate Augusta from her money. Henry, who was suspicious from the start, reveals not only that he has deduced Augusta is his biological mother, but that he exchanged "neatly cut pages of the Barcelona telephone directory" for the money in the package they delivered. He wants to use the cash he kept to purchase the portrait Augusta sold, but she tells him she would prefer to use it to finance more travels. Henry decides the matter should be decided with the toss of a coin and chooses 'heads'. Wordsworth tosses the coin, and the film ends on a freeze frame shot of Augusta, Henry and Wordsworth as they await the fall of the coin.



George Cukor initially gave Katharine Hepburn a copy of the Graham Greene novel and told her he wanted to cast her as Augusta. Upon first reading the book, basically a collection of anecdotes, she felt it couldn't be adapted into a viable screenplay, but after reading it several more times she agreed to make the film.[2] She was ultimately unhappy with the completed script, and Jay Presson Allen finally suggested she rewrite the screenplay herself.[3]

After working on it for months, Hepburn submitted it to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but studio head James T. Aubrey, Jr. felt it was missing the charm of the book. Additionally, he wanted Augusta to be seen as a younger woman in flashbacks, and he felt Hepburn was too old to do so convincingly. In a phone call to the actress, he told her the project was being postponed, but the next day, her agent was advised she was being given notice for refusing to report to work. Hepburn was outraged and considered suing MGM for payment for her contributions to the screenplay, but finally decided against taking legal action.[4] Allen later claimed only one speech of hers remained in the completed film, but Hepburn was denied screen credit because she wasn't a member of the Screen Writers Guild.[3]

The film was shot on location in England, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Turkey and Yugoslavia, with the final scenes shot at Cabo de Gata natural park and Los Genoveses Beach. "Serenade of Love," the film's theme song, was written by Jackie Trent and Tony Hatch and performed by Petula Clark. Costume designer Anthony Powell became a close friend of Maggie Smith and dressed her for her later films Death on the Nile, Evil Under the Sun, and Hook as well as the plays Private Lives and Lettice and Lovage.

Critical reception

Roger Greenspun of The New York Times said the film's "great charm" lies in

"the surprising emotional complexity it manages in terms of its light tone and its nutty, endlessly involved plotting. Such emotional complexity depends a good deal on richness of characterization and delicacy of human contact, and in this the film sometimes succeeds and sometimes doesn't. Alec McCowen does marvelous things as Henry ... Maggie Smith, playing a woman twice her age, seems to have surrounded her character rather than to have inhabited it ... and she is energetic enough for any five ordinary performers. But it is the energy of caricature rather than personality, and Aunt Augusta is sufficiently an original not to need any eccentricities added on. But the film is full of privileged moments, lucid, controlled and graceful, and any of them might serve to epitomize the style and the meaning of the valuable cinema of George Cukor."[5]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "a whimsical romantic fantasy that works; which is to say, if you are not a fan of whimsical romantic fantasy, it's going to be too much for you." He added "It was nearly too much for me – I found myself wincing from time to time when one of the movie's ornate props seemed about to bean me – but in the end I was won over, I guess."[6]

TV Guide rated it three out of four stars and wrote:

"Condensing Greene's novel into a workable screenplay was not entirely successful. Some moments are glossed over; others fly by all too rapidly in a valiant attempt to cram in as much of the book as possible within the 109-minute running time. Though it doesn't always succeed, the spirit is there often enough to cover the rapid-fire plot development. Cukor gives this a sort of tongue-in-cheek direction; at this point in his career his heyday was long past, and the film is no match for some of his earlier successes. Like its central character, it is unusual, unexpected, and not entirely what it projects itself to be, yet it is entertaining."[7]

Video release

The VHS of Travels with My Aunt was released March 26, 1996.[8] An official DVD release came on October 4, 2011 when the film was added to the Warner Archive Collection.

Awards and nominations


  1. "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, January 9, 1974, p. 60
  2. Edwards, Ann, A Remarkable Woman: A Biography of Katharine Hepburn. New York: William Morrow & Company 1985. ISBN 0-688-04528-6, p. 374
  3. "Travels with My Aunt". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  4. Edwards, pp. 375–76
  5. Greenspun, Roger (December 18, 1972). "Movie Review - Travels with My Aunt - George Cukor Brings Graham Greene's 'Travels With My Aunt' to the Screen". Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  6. Roger Ebert (March 5, 1973). "Travels with My Aunt". Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  7. "Travels With My Aunt Review". Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  8. "Travels With My Aunt [VHS]". Retrieved January 18, 2015.
  9. "The 45th Academy Awards (1973) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved August 28, 2011.
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