‘Dinner for Adele’ (Adéla ještě nevečeřela) movie review: classic Czech comedy

The Greatest American Detective comes to Prague in Adéla ještě nevečeřela (Adele Hasn’t Had Her Dinner Yet), a strange, surreal mystery-comedy from acclaimed director Oldřich Lipský that might be called the closest Czech film to The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Part Little Shop of Horrors, part Wild Wild West, and part Inspector Gadget (though it predates that cartoon by a decade), Adéla was widely successful in the Czech Republic when released by in 1978, and even received an international run in the years following (it was the Czech Republic’s submission to the 1979 Academy Awards, and won a Saturn Award in 1980 for Best Foreign Film) under the title Nick Carter in Prague.

Nick Carter was a pulp detective hero who appeared in dime store novels as well as a brief series of movies in both 1940s Hollywood (played by Walter Pidgeon) and 1960s France (played by Eddie Constantine). The Constantine films might be the prime inspiration for Adéla: an opening in New York City even includes a brief reference to French supervillain Fantomas.

In Adéla, Slovak actor Michal Dočolomanský stars as Nick Carter; the actor would later team with director Lipský for 1983’s similar Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians. In the film’s NYC-set opening – which is really just a skyscraper office set and a painted backdrop – he breathlessly disposes of a variety of criminals using the gadgetry concealed in his attire, which even includes a boxing glove hidden in his Fedora.

To choose his next case, Carter picks at random from the dozens of letters requesting his services, and lands on one from a Countess Thun (Květa Fialová) who requires assistance in solving a missing persons case. Prague? Lipský and screenwriter Jiří Brdečka have some fun with American attitudes towards (read: complete ignorance of) Bohemia as the detective makes his way to the Czech capital.

In Prague, Carter teams with Commissar Ledvina (Rudolf Hrušínský), who shows him the ropes – and more than a few pints of the local beer. Hrušínský, playing the kind of hard-drinking, sausage-eating Czech everyman he exemplified in films like Rozmarné léto, just about steals the film away from all of Carter’s bizarre gadgetry.

Carter’s investigation eventually leads him to a pretty young woman (Naďa Konvalinková) and her botanist grandfather (Ladislav Pešek), and a mysterious gardener (Miloš Kopecký) who has been breeding the titular man-eating Audrey-like plant that begins to salivate whenever it hears a particular piece of classical music.

As in Lipský’s later Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians, surrealist filmmaker Jan Švankmajer provided the stop-motion animation and designs for some of the film’s bizarre set pieces, such as the central plant who comes to life whenever the gardener plays his violin.

Combining elements of inventive gadget-based comedy, pulp detective mystery, and even a little light horror and sci-fi, Adéla ještě nevečeřela is a film quite unlike any other. It’s especially fun for anyone more familiar with classic Czech and Bohemian tropes, who will get all the little in-jokes surrounding the presence of a famous American detective in Prague.

Like Little Shop of Horrors and Rocky Horror Picture Show, Adéla ještě nevečeřela later became a stage musical that premiered at Prague’s Broadway Theatre in 2008.

Over the years, the only version of Adéla available was a grainy, cropped 1.33:1 version that was released on home video and DVD. Many classic Czech films from this era are only available in this format, from their very first transfer to home media, but the Czech National Film Archive is helping to restore them to their former glory under the program ‪#‎zpětvkinech (#backincinemas).

The NFA’s new print of Adéla is a gorgeous-looking, near-pristine thing that preserves the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio of the movie. Bonus: the film was shot entirely in 1970s-era Prague, and the scenery from the streets of Old Town, Malá Strana, and elsewhere is beautiful to behold.  

To say that Adéla has never looked this good would be an understatement; the new print is revelatory. If you don’t manage to catch it in cinemas, be on the lookout for a rerelease on DVD, blu-ray, or digital format in the near future.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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