Twenty-something Laura Reynolds (Dame Elizabeth Taylor) 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 (Morgan Mason), 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 Monterey, California. This order is against Laura's wishes. The school's headmaster is Dr. Reverend Edward Hewitt (Richard Burton), 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 (Eva Marie Saint), 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...Written by
This movie was shortlisted in 1965 for the Oscars in four categories: Best Cinematography color, Best Art Direction Color, Best Original Score and Best Song. It was only nominated (and won) for Song. See more »
In a beach scene, Laura is shown sketching on a drawing pad. In shots facing her, she is always holding the pad up with her left hand. In shots facing Edward, the pad is propped up against some driftwood. At one point she is lying face down, with both elbows in the sand, her left hand on her head and sketching with her right. When the camera angle changes, she is suddenly partially raised up on one side, facing Edward. The drawing pad is flat on the sand with a rock in the middle of it. See more »
Dr. Edward Hewitt:
I've learned that total adjustment to society is quite as bad as total maladjustment, that principled disobedience of unjust law is more Christian, more truly law abiding than unprincipled respect.
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"The Sandpiper" was the second in a number of films ("The VIPs" was the first) made together by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Their romance, which had begun on the set of "Cleopatra", had both enthralled and scandalised the public, and the studios wanted to make the most of their notoriety. The public perception of Dick and Liz as a glamorous but scandalous couple can only have been increased by the subject-matter of "The Sandpiper". At one time a film about a clergyman engaged in an adulterous affair would have been an unthinkable violation of the Production Code. By 1965, however, the Code, although not quite dead, was no longer in robust health, and a film on this subject, although still highly controversial, was no longer impossible.
Taylor's character, Laura Reynolds, is an unmarried mother who works as an artist and lives with her nine-year-old son Danny in an isolated California beach house. (The film's title derives from an injured sandpiper which she rescues and nurses back to health thereafter and becomes a symbol of freedom). Danny's behaviour, however, has got him into trouble with the law, and a judge orders her to send the boy to a local boarding school. Laura is reluctant to do this; she is a free spirit who distrusts any form of institutionalised education. To make matters worse from her point of view, the school is run by the Episcopalian Church, and she is an atheist whose attitude to religion is one of positive hostility rather than mere indifference. Nevertheless, she realises that she must comply with the judge's order or risk losing custody of her boy.
Burton plays Dr. Edward Hewitt, an Episcopalian priest and headmaster of the school. Although his values are very different from Laura's, Edward is something of an idealist and is becoming disillusioned with his life at the school, feeling that he is neither a priest nor an educator but merely a fund-raiser. (The school is currently engaged in a major fund-raising drive to build a new chapel, something Edward feels is unnecessary). Edward takes a great interest in Danny's progress and finds himself increasingly drawn towards Laura, possibly because she is so different both from him and from his wife Claire. Claire is attractive and supportive of her husband but rather staid and conventional compared to the bohemian Laura. Eventually Edward and Laura begin an affair, even though he is a married man. (This plot line reminded me of Iris Murdoch's novel "The Sandcastle", published a few years before "The Sandpiper", which also dealt with an adulterous affair between a married older schoolmaster at a boarding school and a young female artist).
Danny himself does not play a major role, being more of a plot device than a character in his own right. I felt that this was a weakness, given that one of the themes of the film is two different philosophies of education. Laura's view is that all formal educational establishments, particularly conservative boarding schools like Dr Hewitt's, are undesirable because they exist in order to turn children into conventional conformists. Her own solution, however, home-schooling Danny in a remote part of the world away from any other children and without a father-figure in his life, struck me as being likely to turn him into a self-centred loner, although the film rather shies away from criticising Laura on this point. The opening scenes in which Danny shoots a deer strike a particularly jarring note. It seemed to me highly improbable that a woman like Laura, whose whole philosophy seems to be one of living in harmony with nature, would allow her young son to have a rifle and then, when he uses it to kill an animal out of wanton curiosity, shrug the whole thing off as a harmless youthful escapade.
Elizabeth Taylor looks stunning, but neither she nor Burton are really at their best here. Burton is certainly not as good as he was as the world-weary spy in "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold", also made in 1965. The relationship between Edward and Laura is not based simply upon sexual attraction, but upon a growing realisation that despite their differences they are kindred spirits. The unbeliever Laura, paradoxically, has more in common with Edward's Christian idealism than does the conventionally pious Claire. The trouble is that one never really senses in Burton's performance the idealistic religious believer hiding behind the mask of the formal and pedantic schoolmaster. Taylor always comes across as slightly too glamorous to be altogether convincing as a proto-hippie.
The film contains some attractive photography of the Californian coastal scenery (although the colours in the indoor scenes are often rather dull) and there is a notable musical score, including the song "The Shadow of Your Smile". As a psychological and emotional drama it has its points of interest, but overall it is a rather dated sixties period-piece, most interesting as a record of that decade's official Golden Couple. 6/10
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