Twenty-something Laura Reynolds is a free spirit who questions social conventions, laws and regulations. A struggling artist, she lives in a secluded beach-side cabin in Big Sur with her nine year old illegitimate son, Danny, on who she has instilled her values. Because of this questioning of convention, Laura has decided to home school Danny. Also because of this questioning of the law, Danny runs into some legal problems, and as such is court ordered to be sent to San Simeon, a Christian school in Monterrey. This order is against Laura's wishes. The school's headmaster is Dr. Rev. Edward Hewitt, who tries to convince Laura that San Simeon is not the prison she probably believes it to be. Married for twenty-one years to his faithful wife Claire, Edward has become more a fund-raiser at all cost (for a new chapel) rather than an educator or priest. Despite their differences, Laura and Edward begin to fall for each other. Both but especially Edward have to reconcile their feelings for ... Written by
The story in this film is worth telling, but the script seems to take forever to tell it. Lots of explanatory dialogue bogs the film down, and there's really only enough story for maybe a one-hour television drama. One good aspect of it is it would be very easy to make this a one-sided film in which the Big Bad Headmaster (with a Soft Spot) takes away the child of sweet, free-spirited Elizabeth, but Taylor and Burton play their characters in ways that we could sympathize with either of them--or not.
Unfortunately, "or not" is a very distinct possibility. First of all, the boy in question does not exude a persona that's engaging in any way. (And what he does in his first scene certainly does not endear him to the audience.) And secondly, there's nothing really compelling enough about any of the other characters either. (Eva Marie Saint's character would be a possible exception if she had more screen time.) They're just varying degrees of liberal and conservative clichés.
While Vincente Minnelli was really incapable of making a truly awful film, given his talent--and the talent we would see in Taylor and Burton the following year in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?--this can't be seen as anything but a disappointment. But it's not a total failure either. If you're initially interested, Maybe you'll stay with it. If not, you'll be totally bored.
Note: This film gave us the Oscar-winning song, "The Shadow of Your Smile." But none of the characters smile much, so it makes little to no sense when the Studio Singers perform it over the end credits. But it works as a score.
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