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Grand Style With Great Stars
A rapture of visual, audio and cinematic emotional brilliance all tied with a killer last line. What a wonder is set before the viewer when one enters the world of "Cheri". The visual richness of this parfait of the Belle Epoch is breathtaking from the rich creamy art neuveau architecture to the gloriously realized costumes of the early 20th century. What they only indicated in "Titanic" of the same period costumes. Explodes in luxury and in a sense informs the eye to the scene at hand and seems less costume than authentic clothing. As Cinema "Cheri" succeeds as more than an adaptation of a Collette novel but becomes a world unto it's own. Here we are presented with some of our finest female performers at the top of their game. In short I am speaking of Michelle Pfeiffer and Kathy Bates. As former courtesan rivals who are now aging friends they come together to define the last part of their lives and the beginning of Bates' son's life in a remarkable way. Kathy Bates goes deep into the complexities of her mix of comedy and nuanced drama in the same way she did with Annie Wilkes. Not to say that the characters of Annie and Madame Peloux are anything alike. But Miss Bates takes this role to a superior level while all the while not letting you see her do her magic. She is just THERE! The scene where her face decays from a radioactively sunny laugh to reveal her true deepest disgust her spoiled soul is priceless. Then there is Michelle Pfeiffer as Lea de Lonval, at fifty one she may be older that the literary Lea but she has never been more luminous or nearly goddess like. To look at her is to look upon a woman of a certain age that is ageless in her embrace of times changing hands upon her face. But there is more. This may be the pinnacle of her career, the role of her lifetime. She is Lea in so many levels both within her acting and in a sense as an actress. She is stunning and brings forth the soul of a great character as only our finest actors can. But all of this would seem a delightful trifle, a light story of an aging courtesan and her young lover if it were not for the narration that gives the film added depth and gravitas. I asked a friend today what he thought of the final outcome of the story. Of what the narrator reveals of what became of Cheri. He tossed it off lightly and said that it seemed an after thought. He could not have been more wrong. He missed the whole point of the film. The last lines of the film that tell us of the ultimate fate of Lea and Cheri are what give this film an emotional strength, irony, and ultimately heart wrenching tragedy. It is the final twist set into a stunning jewel of a film that is as captivating and spellbinding as Lea's mysterious emerald ring.
Giant In The Outback
There she stands against a wide horizon shielding her eyes against a glaring sun, a woman out of her element in a strange and savage new land. There behind her stands the big house of a western ranch, or tea or rubber plantation. A stoic strong man challenges her and their mutual attraction grows against a sweeping Technicolor canvas as the stereophonic lush romantic score swells to overwhelm our senses and pluck the quivering strings of our hearts. Sounds good doesn't it? This is the stuff of the silver age of Hollywood; the 1950's epics abound in these kinds of films. And now it is back in a BIG way.
Yes, we have seen this before, and unfortunately done with more conviction and brilliance. And when it is done right it is pure movie magic. For instance the incomparable George Steven's "Giant", or the lesser "Elephant Walk", or even the soapy yet very exciting "Naked Jungle" these are the fathers of inspiration for Baz Lurhman's "Australia".
This film is an ambitious effort that falls on its face under the weight of its director's choices to go way over the top too many times. Now don't get me wrong. I love over the top in my sweeping epics but in good and timely measures. Not from start to finish. It is just too much and becomes self-conscious and takes one out of the film experience.
The most indulgent of these choices is the casting of Nicole Kidman in the lead. She is too old and her face has changed by some sort of strange process over the last few years as to become hard and well, a little scary. But that aside her performance is not an honest one, she plays the comedy at the beginning of the film straight for laughs and that rings false. Comedy in this kind of film and with this kind of character should be played dead serious to make it work. You just don't believe her and her acting is showing all over the place.
But there were some good things about the film. The boy who the story is really about is just a natural wonder, a pure old acting soul in a child that the camera loves. Hugh Jackman delivers all that is required in the male lead and in the process is natural and believable in the "Rock Hudson - Charlton Heston" mode. The images of Australia are indeed stunning to behold and the cinematography is at times thrilling. But then she pops up in the shot with those puff lips and gives you a start.
There are those things to recommend "Australia" and on a purely visual level you might give it a try. Perhaps if you go in not excepting to love it, the film might work better for you than it did for me. On the other hand, I recommend seeing "Giant" instead to see how this genre of film can sing, zing and fly on the wings of élan.
War and Peace (2007)
Sensual Sensory Splendor
Condensed classic of epic proportions and sensual sensory splendors! This Italian T.V. mini series is studded with an international cast of brilliant players and enough extras to fill the Cinecitta Rome set five times over. One of the fascinating things about this marvelously accessible version of the story is that it is in English. Don't let the Russian Box fool you. An extra added bonus it that the film was shot in Russia so you get the added pleasure of seeing some incredible architecture of the period and the stunning Russian countryside (And a little of Lithuania.) There is in the huge cast some real stand out performances. Brenda Blethyn is wonderful as always, and as Prince Andre's father Malcolm McDowell is chilling and arresting in his approach to the part.
In the lead female role we have the lovely Cemence Posey, who is near perfect in a role so associated in the West with Audrey Hepburn. There have been complaints that she is a blond in a traditionally dark haired part, but that seems trivial to me in comparison to her performance. In the romantic lead of Prince Andre is the wonderful Italian star, Alessio Boni. He brings to the role a deliciously tragic gravitas that is so important to the story. He is a brilliant actor who needs more exposure on this side of the world. Just check out his work in 'The Best Of Youth' and 'Don't Tell'.
Also the incredibly beautiful Violante Placido plays the wicked Helene with relish and great style. Not since Polly Walker in 'Rome' has there been such a delicious wicked woman on the screen. She was a delight to watch and I found myself missing her when she was not on screen.
Benjamin Sadler, who was so brilliant in Augustus is on had to lend his considerable slithery charm and great presence to the role of Dolokov. Why is this actor not a huge star yet? Yes there are many other worthy performances to see and savor in this lush and enthralling film, too many to go any further with here. Rather, take the chance and get this film and let the magic of Tolstoy's timeless story take you into a world that is gone with the wind.
Yes it is not as huge and epic as the 1968 Russian classic but it is none the less even at times more wonderful! The disk is splendid with clear beautiful image and great sound. As I said the film is in Enlish with an international cast. It is obvious they are all speaking in English and if any are dubbed that is Not obvious. Very well done in the sound department. And the score by Jan A.P. Kaczmarek is lush and soaring. Most particularly stunning at the end of act two as Natasha descends the grand staircase with the viper Anitole Kuragin,Ken Dunken on her heals.
The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964)
A Class Act All The Way
The Yellow Rolls Royce is a class act from the opening credits to the last shot. A pure example of the silver age of Hollywood doing what it does best. Great screenplay by Terrance Rattigan, gorgeous cinematography, engaging score, and impeccable direction by Anthony Asquith add up to a glittering fun and at times truly touching film experience.
Interestingly enough both Asquith and Rattigan teamed up before for a similar all star romp with the Taylor-Burton film "The VIPS" another story of intersecting lives brought together by a mode of transportation. In "The VIPS" it was airplanes and here in this charming film it is a resplendent canary yellow automobile.
To add to this heady cocktail the director has blended in a glittering all star cast of first rate talent from the early 1960's. This is a truly international roster of superstars each of which brings their unique talents and charms to bear on this film.
The story is in three acts encompassing events some years apart all involving the Rolls and how it came into and changed the lives of its various owners. In act one Rex Harrison is superb as being well, nothing less than Rex Harrison. The glamorous Jeanne Moreau shows her depth and considerable strengths as his wandering but loving wife. They sparkle and spark as an aristocratic English couple facing a major turning point in their marriage.
Act two really pops with comic genius flavored with a moving drama as Gangster George C. Scott takes his wisecracking Moll, Shirley MacLaine on a tour of Italy. Scott is revelatory in his roll and is complemented by Art Carney as his loyal and street wise right hand man. MacLaine channels a sharp, witty comic performance that stands with her best of the period. And as the amoral gigolo Stefano who opens her heart to real love and a love of life Alain Delon shines. They make a stunningly beautiful screen couple and by the end of the act they pluck the strings of star crossed romance beautifully.
The luminous Ingrid Bergman teams up with Omar Sharif in a romantic tale set at the outbreak of the invasion of Yugoslavia during World War II. Bergman brings to the film a beauty that is timeless and her star persona which is legendary. She is brittle, vain at first, and funny. But with the aid of freedom fighter Sharif she comes to a new understanding of sacrifice and true humanity amidst the tragedy of war.
And all throughout the films we are treated with spectacular vistas and sights of Europe in a travelogue of breathtaking cinemascope grandeur. The excitement of he Ascot races, the lush seductive beauty of Italy and the rough magnificence of the mountains of Yugoslavia.
"The Yellow Rolls Royce" is much more than a star vehicle, it is the distillation of great film-making in a long gone era that both entertains and inspires the heart of all true romantics.
My Big Break (2009)
The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of.
"My Big Break" is an astonishing achievement in documentary film-making. In telling the true story of the struggles of four actors and one filmmaker trying to make it in Hollywood one might say this is the most raw, honest, and enduring tale of tinsel town since the mythic and fictional "Sunset Blvd." It not only chronicles the rise of three young actors to sudden breathtaking fame but also the flat line of the fourths attempts at a career. And of course what the film is ultimately presenting is the fascinating tale of the film itself being made and trying to make it within the insular and cannibalistic land of the lotus-eaters. Brilliantly shot, edited and narrated by director Tony Zierra this is a must see for anyone with the slightest interest in Hollywood behind the scenes. (Or in pursuing a career there.) It is harrowing, funny, and deeply moving. I never expected to get sucked in by this but I must admit by the last entry from Wes Bentley juxtaposed by what the ultimate outcome of the tale turned out to be, well I nearly wept at the loss that was presented. Whether it is Hollywood, Hong Kong or San Francisco and you are a movie star, or an average Joe on the street it all boils down to what life is and what it can do to a dream and ultimately the dreamer. The score for the film is by a young rising talent out of Liverpool, David Ben Shannon. His contribution to the film is impressive. The score ranges from hip Hollywood sound to a few well places musical homage to films of the past. See if you can spot them. The score soars and supports the film just where and when it needs to. Overall a fine debut by an artist we will be hearing more from in the future. And I am sure more great things will come from Director Tony Zierra. A strong, passionate filmmaker who deserves at last his "Big Break"! Five stars and Bravo!
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Some reviewers and fans of the Bond films have complained that this film is a lesser effort in the series and pales in comparison to "Casino Royale". They have missed something important in their assessment of the film. When Dominic Green says to Bond that he and Camille Montez have something in common, that they are both "Damaged goods" he has clearly put before the audience the crux of the film that is "Quantum of Solace". The film picks up only minutes after the end of "Casino Royale" and we are presented with a very damaged and changed James Bond. As revealed in the first film by Vesper Lynd's assessment of him upon their first meeting on the train, James Bond is a man who came up from humble beginnings and was given a privileged education but never allowed to forget his low origins. This has made him a very guarded loner with a chip on his shoulder, a perfect candidate for recruitment by MI6. In his words to her later on in the film,Vesper has "stripped me of my armor." But by the end of that film he is a man scarred by the death of his love, the armor is back on never to be penetrated again. He is now becoming the Bond of legend and a man bent on revenge. So in "Quantum" there is no reason for the old fashioned quips or much humor in this man. Yet if you pay attention the character of James Bond as played by the incomparable Daniel Craig he lets us see that there are cracks in the armor. Something of a human heart still exists in him. This is played out in the scene after the plane crash where Camille asks him about his past. Craig shows it in his eyes in the most marvelous example of his layered and subtle acting style. Craig builds and molds a deeper, darker more complex Bond than we have ever seen before, a character more true to the books than in previous incarnations of Bond. The action in the film is superlative and stylish. The opening car chase is indeed a nail biter only surpassed by the Sienna chase moments later. This too is then topped by the DC10 aerial battle towards the end of the film. The stunts are breathtaking and propel the film at top notch speed. But perhaps the most stunning and original sequence is the gun fight in the restaurant at the Opera house. This is played without sound effect as the score of "Tosca" commands the ear and heightens the emotion of the scene. This is inspired and brilliant film making taking in account all aspects of editing, cinematography, score, and acting. And since I mentioned music I cannot leave out the incredible delicious score by David Arnold who has infused his Bond scores with the much need taste of John Barry. He captures the glorious Barry sound and builds brilliantly upon it. All the principle players give superlative performances. Judi Dench command attention as she always has as "M". Giancarlo Giannini redeems himself and is truly touching as Mathis. Mathieu Amalic is appropriately slithery and devious as the villain Green. As Agent Fields, Miss Gemma Arterton brings a light and fun light to the film. Finally in the role of Camille Olga Kurylenko holds her own opposite Daniel Craig. This is no mean feat and she is wonderful, athletic and touching in the film. In the end Bond does find a quantum of solace and ends the film in a telling way. A small gesture that lets us know he is now moving on but not without a tinge of sadness. This beautiful sad ending is a refreshing and moving way to end a Bond film. "Quantum of Solace" is a fast paced film that demands attention to the small details and respect for superlative performances by all involved from the director Marc Forster to the entire cast and crew.
"IT TAKES ONE DAY TO DIE, ANOTHER TO BE BORN"
Elizabeth Taylor reportedly said those words to her director Griffi when she came on the set the day after she left Burton for their first divorce. So with that mindset she went to work on one of her most unusual, daring and controversial films. From the moment 'The Diver's Seat' begins you know you are in a strange place. In Europe the movie was called 'Idendikit' so, with two names tagged to it thus making it schizophrenic from the first it easily falls into the realm of the ambiguous art film genre of the late 60's and early 70's. It's star, Elizabeth Taylor, appears here in one of her most remote and dangerous roles. She plays Lise a woman who is consumed by insanity and the desire to find the ultimate lover, the be all and end all of boyfriends you might say. As the film opens you are presented with a shattered view of a woman on the edge of something terrible. The camera moves past bald mannequins in a disjointed way. Is this Lise's view of others or is it a reflection of her ultimate fate? Upon being told to take a holiday from work after causing a scene in the office the film opens with her preparations to take flight to Rome. The film jump cuts from past to present as the police in Rome try to reconstruct her final fatal holiday in terrorist gripped Rome. Even Rome comes off as off kilter. This is not the Rome of Audrey Hepburn or Marcello Mastroianni but a city one hardly recognizes from the lack of typical filming locations one associates with 'Made In Rome!' movies. Director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi succeeds in presenting a uniquely Italian cinema verite film of the Muriel Spark novel. This is a unique film and very much of it's day. Its non-linear, experimental, almost documentary style will be hard to get into for any one not used to movies of this sort. But it is well worth the effort. So strange and challenging a film it is that it left the opening night audience at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival in stunned silence. The cast is well chosen and gives some oddly memorable performances. Ian Bannan as the macrobiotic sex-nut who tires to pick up Lise on the plane to Rome seems almost as mad as she is. It is a wickedly off kilter wild-eyed performance. The charming and always wonderful Mona Washbourne is sweetly touching as the woman who befriends the mad Lise and in doing so leads her to meet the man of her dreams. But the glue that holds it all together is provided by Miss Taylor who tops off her short list of insane characters from Susanna Drake to Catherine Holly with this daring and shocking portrait of Lise. She opens up as an actress that at the time would have been unthinkable to most of her contemporaries from the old M.G.M. days. That's one of the wonderful things about her film career. She came from an era in old Hollywood where she was trained and groomed to be glossy and perfect. But as times changed so did she and in doing so became much more than an MGM glamour girl, she became an actress with guts. In 'The Driver's Seat' she shows her chops as an actress and her willingness to accept challenges in her roles and in Lise she found a great one. One stunning image of her is when in her loud madwoman dress and raccoon painted eyes she challenges the airport security to frisk her. In that scene she seems totally there, totally gone, and totally in control as an actress.
Last Chances and Lost Dreams
There are a few great writers of the overheated repressed and desperate from the theater and film world of the 1950's. At the top sit the two greatest, Tennessee Williams and William Inge. In a decade of conformity and great prosperity Inge and Williams tackled subjects ahead of their time. Of course they in some cases had to veil the subject matter but that lead to some wonderful revelations in writing and reading between the lines.
In this DVD from Colombia of Inge's Pulitzer Prize winning Picnic' we have one of the best films of this genre of sexual repression, animal heat, and desperation in small town America. Most reviewers of this film might begin with the leads but I must start of with the wonderful Verna Felton as Helen Potts the sweet old lady who is caretaker of her aged mother and lives next door to the Owens family. This gifted and now forgotten character actress sets the tone of the picture as she welcomes drifter Hal Carter (William Holden) into her house for some breakfast. At the end of the film she glows in tender counterpoint to the dramatic ending. She is the only person who understands Hal, even more than Madge (Kim Novak). Her speech about having a man in the house is pure joy to watch. Her most touching scene is at the picnic when she tells Betty Field. `You don't know what it's meant to me having you and the girls next door.' It is a small but important performance that frames the entire story with warmth and understanding. Betty Field turns in a sterling performance as Flo Owens, Mother of Madge and Millie. She is disapproving of Millie's rebellious teen and smothering of her Kansas hothouse rose Madge. This deeply felt performance is a stark contrast to her lusty waitress in Inges `Bus Stop' the next year. A single Mom trying in desperation to keep Madge from making the same mistakes she did. She becomes so wrapped up in Madge's potential for marriage to the richest boy in town she completely ignores the budding greatness that is bursting to get out in her real treasure. Millie. Susan Strasberg creates in her Millie a sweet comic oddball. She is the youngest daughter who awkwardly moves through the landscape of Nickerson Kansas nearly un-noticed, reading the scandalous `Ballad of the Sad Café' - being the only one who is different and can't hide it. Her yearning to get out of the smallness of small town life is colored with the skill of a young actress with greatness her. Watch how she handles her most tender scenes with Kim Novak. Strasberg has a deep connection with Millie, an understanding of what it means to want to get out and yet want so desperately to fit in. Rosalind Russell nearly steals the show as the fourth woman in the Owens household boarder, Rosemary the schoolteacher. She is the living example of what Flo doesn't want Millie to become, a frantic, hopeless and clutching spinster. In the capable hands of Miss Russell we have a real powerhouse of a performance. She imbues Rosemary with all the uptight disapproval of a woman who knows that her time has past and there are very few options left. She is electric in her need for love. Every nuance of her emotions is sublime in her presentation. Just watch her hands alone. She is present down to her fingertips as this poor clinging woman. Floating above all of this is Madge Owens, the kind of girl who is too pretty to be real. The kind of girl who in a small town like this is not understood to have any real feelings or thoughts other than those that revolve around being beautiful and empty. Enter Kim Novak, who is just such a girl. Who could ever expect such a beauty to be anything more than just pretty? But Miss Novak, a vastly underrated actress in her day (as were most beauties of the day) paints a knowing and glowing portrait of Madge. Her explosion of sexual heat upon meeting Hal for the first time is internal and barely perceptible until she looks at him from behind the safety of the screen door the end of their first scene. It's as if that screen door is a firewall protecting her from the flames. This device is used again near the end of the film where the screen becomes something that keeps her and Hal separated from each other in a new way. At that point it is a safety net keeping them from sex by calling her home. Here she hesitates again to reveal her longing for him. She fights in the early part of the film to keep her sexual desire for Hal in check. That night she loses her fight at the picnic and we watch as she opens to reveal a woman of feelings and dreams so much deeper than the prettiness of her eyes or the luminosity of her skin. This is one of Kim Novak's early great roles and one she fills out with lush and deep emotion. The lives of all of these women of Nickerson Kansas are changed one Labor Day in 1955 when Hal Carter comes steaming into town. William Holden gives a raw and wounded portrayal to Hal, a man at the edge of his youth and on the verge of becoming a lost man. He lives as he always has, on the cache of his golden boy charm and his muscular magnetism. Holden was 35 when he made Picnic, a golden boy at the edge of his youth. He was perfect for the part. Some reviewers say he was too old to play Hal, but I disagree. Without being thirty-five in real life as well as in the story Rosemary's `Crummy Apollo' speech would not be so effective or devastating. Hal is a man 10 to 12 years out of college who never bothered to grow up, a man who never let anyone get too close for fear they might see through is bravado and discover his fears of feeling something, anything before it's too late.
Holden also brings a sexual heat to the film that is eons beyond the time it was filmed. He is presented almost like a slab of meat, something we were used to seeing in our female stars of the day, but not so blatantly in our men. He struts around in a pre-Stonewall dream of sexy hotness. Not only the girls in town notice him but a few boys too. (There are several layers to Nick Adams paperboy if one bothers to look.) When finally Holden sparks with Novak they blow the lid off of the uptight code bound studio-strangled world of Hollywood in the Fifties. The film is photographed magnificently in lush color and cinemascope by famed cinematographer James Wong Howe. The famous score by George Durning is classic not only for the famous reworking of the old standard `Moonglow' but for his virtuosity in dramatic power. This is a giant of a score from the silver age of film music. The direction by Josh Logan is perfect in every way and stands among the best of his work. The DVD has a few extras, more than most Colombia releases. However I want to point out that there is an excellent photomontage with music from the film to be found here. In watching the shots and listening to the accompanying score by Durning one can really appreciate his artistry as a composer. Finally, this is a very sexy film and should not be missed as a lesion in how really smart people got so much past the censors in an age of sexual repression and conformity.
Blood and Sand (1941)
Death in the Afternoon
`Blood and Sand' based on the novel by Ibanez and presented by 20th Century-Fox is a masterpiece of old style Hollywood filmmaking. Director Rouben Mamoulian pulls out all the stops to present this Technicolor flushed romantic story of Juan Gallardo who is portrayed by the impossibly beautiful Tyrone Power. Juan grows from a poor boy dreaming of glory in the bullrings of Spain to the epitome of arrogance and ignorant of the cost to his soul of his fame. The three principals of the story are, Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell as his childhood sweetheart Carmen, and Rita Hayworth as the seductive and hollow Dona Sol. Tyrone Power presents us with a marvelous, energetic portrait of a young, brash and over confident Juan. His first close-up bursts the edges of the screen and burns in the colors of Goya. Tyrone Power was made for the movies and cinematographers Ernest Palmer and Ray Rennahan film him with as much care as they do the two female leads. Thus this overpoweringly beautiful close-up sucks the viewer into the world of Juan and one is swept away by his charm and bravado. Mr. Powers's performance is almost overshadowed at first by his physical presence but as the story progresses his talent as a film actor takes over and sustains the viewer to the end.
Linda Darnell, a great beauty of the movies and by her own admission, not much of an actress, turns in a very good performance as Juan's discarded wife Carmen. I do not agree with Miss Darnell's opinion of her talents. One only has to look at `Letter to Three Wives' to see what an accomplished screen actress she was. And here too she takes the thankless roll of Carmen and makes one care about the poor girl. Then we have Rita Hayworth who here in `Blood and Sand' sets the standard for the great-lost beauties of the silver screen. Her Dona Sol is everything we hope for in the empty shell of a femme fatal. It is said of her, at one point in the film by a newspaper critic of bullfighting, as he points to the ring: `Gentleman, if this is death in the afternoon, then she is death in the evening.' And Miss Hayworth lives up to every inch of his description in this her breakout performance.
In the garden scene where she performs the `Toro!' seduction and sings to her victim Juan, she is utterly captivating and irresistible in her Travis Banton gown and cascading titian hair. Here we see the birth of Rita Hayworth and the demise of Rita Cansino. Also worth mentioning are Anthony Quinn as one of Juan's boyhood friends, Manola De Palma and the wonderful silent star Alla Nazemova who is heart breaking as Juan's mother. The music by the masterful Alfred Newman sets the tone and emotion of the film. Lush and full of the sounds of Spain it is one of his best.
Darryl Zanuck believed that story was everything in film. Without a good story you had nothing to build a film on. In `Blood and Sand' the head of Fox proves his point and gives us a great movie presented in the grand style of Hollywood's golden age.
Divorce His - Divorce Hers (1973)
Four Stars for a fine performance by Miss Taylor
`Divorce His; Divorce Hers' would be a much better film if it were trimmed from three to two hours. In this effort, T.V. producers attempt to milk the then world shaking coup of nabbing the Burton's for a two-night event (Their first Movie made for television). But the cow ran dry at two hours. The story of a crumbling marriage is told first from the husband's point of view and then in the second half is told from the wife's. Much of the same ground is covered twice and much more interestingly in the second half.
Jane and Martin Reynolds live La Dolce Vita in Rome in the early 70's and after 18 years come to the slow and painful end of their marriage. Rome looks wonderful in the location shots in the Borghese Gardens, along the Via Condotti at night, and Piazza Navona. And attendant with the glamour of Rome the aura of the Burtons is well served in making the Reynolds seem impossibly rich. Notice that Elizabeth wears her Krupp diamond and the famous La Peregrina Peal necklace. No successful business tycoon of Burton's character's income could have afforded such lux baubles for his wife. Still in the early 70's the Liz and Dick glamour machine must be well oiled and the public at the time expected it. Some degree of disbelief would be suspend in anticipation of the Burtons because we somehow felt that what we were seeing less a drama than a simi-documentary about Elizabeth and Richard. And perhaps in some ways those films were just that. Richard Burton's performance is somewhat stiff and cool with flashes of Welsh temper to pepper his scenes. But, over all, he seems rather distant and not too interested in the proceedings. But on the other hand Elizabeth's excellent training in film acting over the years by the masters at M.G.M. comes to her aid in creating a warm fully developed and wonderful lady in Jane. She shines in particular in her scenes with the children and in her scene with Carrie Nye when she learns of Miss Nye's relationship with her husband. She is missed when she is not on hand to bring a little life to Mr. Burton's scenes. Miss Taylor shimmers in her own inimitable way and once again shows new comers and old pro's what real screen acting is about. The film is by no means great but not nearly as bad as some reviewers would lead you to believe. `Divorce His: Divorce Hers' is worth seeing for Elizabeth's solid work.
BUtterfield 8 (1960)
A Blazing Performance
`The most desirable girl in town is the easiest to find. Just call Butterfield-8!' So trumpeted the posters of this, Elizabeth Taylor's first Oscar winning performance. The film is a modernization of the 1935 novel by John O'Hara, which was based on the real life of the 1920's New York City call girl Starr Faithful.
Miss Taylor was dead set against playing Gloria Wandrous. She felt was a deliberate play by M.G.M. to capitalize on her recent notoriety in the Liz-Eddie-Debbie scandal. Also, she was anxious to move on to her first ever million-dollar role in Fox's Cleopatra. She was told by M.G.M that if she did not fulfill her contractual obligation to her home studio for one final film on her eighteen year contract that she would be kept off the screen for two years and miss making Cleopatra all together. She swore to the producer Pandro S. Berman that she would not learn her lines, not be prepared and in fact not give anything more and a walk through. Mr. Berman knew her better than she suspected. In the end Elizabeth Taylor turned in a professional, classic old style Hollywood performance that ranks at the top with the best of her work. She brings a savage rage to live to her searing portrait of a lost girl soaked through with sex and gin. A woman hoping against all hope to find salvation in yet one last man. Weston Leggett, a man who is worse off than she is in the self-esteem department. In her frantic quest for a clean new life Gloria finds that the male establishment will not allow her to step out of her role as a high priced party girl. She is pigeon holed by her past and the narrow mores of the late 50's are not about to let her fly free. Not the bar-buzzards of Wall Street, not her best friend Steve who abandons her at his girlfriend's insistence. Not even her shrink Dr. Treadman believes in her. The three women in her life are blind to who she really is. Her mother will not admit what Gloria has become. Mrs. Thurber will not believe she can ever change and Happy, the motel proprietor is too self involved in her own past to care who Gloria is She is the dark Holly Golightly and this is the lurid red jelled Metro-Color Manhattan that is the flip side of Billy Wilder's The Apartment (also 1960). Wilder's New York is cynical. Liz's tony East Side phone exchange rings only one way, the hard way. This New York is dammed. Recrimination and death are Gloria's final tricks, and she goes out in a melodramatic blaze that Douglas Sirk might have envied in place of his usually unsettling, unconvincing happy endings. In the end we have a bravura performance by the last true star of the old system. Yes she deserved the Oscar more for `Cat'. Yes it was given to welcome her back from the brink of death in London. And even Shirley MacLaine's lament on Oscar night, `I lost the Oscar to a tracheotomy.' can not diminish this must see performance by Miss Taylor.
In what one could call a perfect example of what an `Oscar scene' is all about she says it all. `I loved it! Every awful moment of it I loved. That's your Gloria, Steve. That's your precious Gloria!' She gave it to us with both barrels blazing, and Metro, and Berman be dammed.
The Misfits (1961)
A Lesson in Film
This once nearly forgotten movie, the last film of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe is now coming forward in the lexicon of film history as an underrated gem. Universally misunderstood for the most part at the time it came out it is clear now that this film was at least five of six years ahead of it's time. It fits in more comfortably with films of the late 60's and early 70's. The screenplay by Miller is one of his most striking works. A story of a group of people lost in the wide expanse of the West in search of the discarded souls of their misspent lives. The film's beautiful cinematography by Russell Metty stands out as superb artistry at the demise of the black and white era. It shimmers with the silver of the deep expanse of the desert and the flat grays and blacks of the distant mountains upon which the last act of the story plays. The music by Alex North is among his best work and gives a savage punch to the aerial scenes and the round up at the end of the wild mustangs. Montgomery Clift, by now sliding into the last years of his life is touching in his performance of Perce. His broken cowboy with the broken heart is almost painful to watch. His phone call home to his mother is among some of his best work. Eli Wallach gives a strong deeply moving portrait of Guido who has lost his wife, his way, and his humanity. He shines in his scene with Monroe where he asks her to save him. When she can't to at least say `Hello Guido'. Thelma Ritter is, well, Thelma Ritter in yet another of her excellent character roles. Ritter is the master of the one line wisecrack but here as Isobel she laces the cracks with an underlying sadness and vulnerability.
As Gay Langland, Clark Gable gives what I consider to be the best performance of his career. It was a brave move for Gable to take on the role of what on the surface seems another one of his typical macho made to fit parts. But as the story unfolds from Arthur Miller's pen Gay reveals that beneath his gruff, not a care in the world, cowboy is a man in deep pain and despair at his losses. The world has left him behind. Abandoned by his children the drunken Gable breaks so violently it is a shock to watch the great man fall. This is Clark Gable at his finest ever.
Marilyn Monroe gives an astounding performance as Roslyn Tabler the newly divorced dancer. A damaged woman who finds in the company of these three men something to finally believe in, something to stand up and fight for, she finds life. It is a performance ground out in part from her own person and experience and in part by the director John Huston and the editor George Tomasini who helped a nearly destroyed Monroe create her stunning Roslyn. This, her last performance is her best and the true example of the collaborative creation that film really is. That Marilyn under the circumstances of her life at that time could be so good is a testament to her talent as an actress and a star. Watch her when she is listening to the other actors. This is where she shines; this is the true mark of a great screen actor. To be able to listen and draw you into the inner life of the character through that deceptively simple act of listening and reaction is her gift to the audience. Her scene with Monty in back of the bar, sitting on a pile of trash, her afore mentioned scene with Eli Wallach in the speeding car. These are but a few of the examples in this film of her great talent. In the 1950's and early 60's there were only a handful of great young actresses in film, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe where at the summit of the small mountain.
The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)
An Actress Comes of Age
Here in The Last Time I Saw Paris an interesting thing happens. Elizabeth Taylor becomes a woman. Before this picture there were really only two other outstanding performances by Miss Taylor. Or I should say where she was allowed to rise above the material. The first being of course the rhapsodic National Velvet and the second the astonishing A Place In The Sun. The films in between those and The Last Time I Saw Paris were mostly along the `Isn't she beautiful?' line of movie making, and, why not? That was the main engine of most Hollywood star vehicles of the day. A Star didn't have to be a talent. But it was essential to possess a presence that reached out from the screen and touched the audience in a primal way. Miss Taylor had that in spades but she had much more that was often eclipsed in the dazzling explosion of her extraordinary almost alien beauty. But here in the hands of director Richard Brooks (who would later lead her to her triumph in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof) Miss Taylor finds a new level in her abilities as an actress. Her Helen is a woman of many layers and dark corners, of mercurial flights and deep sadness. Elizabeth at the tender age of 22 grasps all the aspects of this tragic woman and illuminates not only the screen with them but the whole enterprise as well. She shows us where she, as an actress is going in the future. And who she will become in her later films, one of the best screen actresses of the twentieth century. This is the real beginning of the Elizabeth Taylor of legend. She fills the role as no one of her generation could. Never again after this film would she sleepwalk through a film, a beautiful shadow to dream over. She is aided in what is perhaps one of Van Johnson's best performances. Donna Reed scores high in the role of Helen's bitter sister and Walter Pidgon is a delight as her roguish father. A standout cameo is presented by Eva Gabor, (not Zsa Zsa) the only one of the famous sisters who had any real talent. The only false performance in the film comes from child actress Sandy Descher. When you compare her forced and overly cute performance to that of the child Elizabeth Taylor in `Jane Eyre' then you see what a treasure Miss Taylor has always been. There is something so essentially wonderful in this gem from MGM and it is this. The Last Time I Saw Pairs is the perfect example of the last flowering in the 50's of the `woman's picture'. Films where women could be multi faceted and complex and drive the story on under their own steam as whole human beings. This is a window to the 50's and a style of filmmaking that seems gone forever, great stories of strong women who fill the screen with power and grace. But with `Far From Heaven' and `The Hours' I may be wrong about forever. I recommend this admittedly dated but charming film for anyone who wants to see what screen acting is all about. It is about thinking and Miss Taylor is a master at the craft.
Taylor's Beard For Burton's Hustler
`Boom' is a blast! This is one of the most fun of the Burton - Taylor films. "Boom" is also a gassy misfire that draws one into the veiled world of aging homosexual desire disguised as a heterosexual struggle between an aging, dying woman and the unattainable youth in the angel of Death.
This is story wearing a beard. Taylor's role is really that of an aging rich gay man who is trying to hang on to youth and the beauties that great beauty attract. After all, her name is `Sissy'. Burton's role is that of the hustler who is all that is left for the old queen to attract. But as with so many Williams works it all must be encrypted and coded so that the America of the late 50's and early 60's could handle his true intentions, the soft underbelly of his plays. Burton is too old for the role that was written for a man in his twenties and Taylor is too young and too healthy looking to be the dying Sissy. But despite that, the story of a struggle of great wealth against the inevitable grows from loopy strangeness to a compelling and moving ending. Here Taylor gives one of her oddly finest post Virginia Woolf studies in a dramatic/comic performance. There is in fact so much subversive humor in her performance that she is at times hilarious. Her vocal range dances from the shrill to the silly to the grand dame and all to serve her imperious and ultimately terrified Sissy Goforth. In the last desperate half hour of the film she does some of her finest work. Burton is rather cool and distant at first but builds his Angelo De Morte into a truly fine character study. In particular, listen to his fine delivery of the speech about the old man in the sea.
Particular note should be made of the cinematography, which is gorgeous, and the stunning sun washed bone toned opulent glamour of the sets. I understand that the Burtons owned the house in Sardinia for a while after the film was completed. The spare and haunting score by John Barry is an added delight to his impressive repertoire. And for you jewelry fans there is plenty of Miss Taylor's own jewelry on hand. So get out your copy of `My Love Affair With Jewelry' my Elizabeth and thumb along as she parades her diamonds in the Mediterranean sun.
Campy? Yes! Great? Maybe we will know about that in another 40 years. Is it worth your time? Only if you like a challenge and are willing to let the Burtons take you into the world of Tennessee Williams camp classic.
Zee and Co. (1972)
Elizabeth Taylor shines in Comic tour de force.
Set in the swinging London scene of the early 1970's, the last gasp of the hippie era clashes with the chic international jet set. The result is this triangular jewel of a movie. Robert Blakeley (Michael Caine) is married to the glamorous, manic and barren Zee (Elizabeth Taylor). Intricate games and a few threads of love hold the marriage together. Into the volatile mix comes Stella, a younger woman who is on the edge and ready for a little shove. Michael Caine and Susannah York are great actors in any right. Mr. Caine particularly shines in this film. However in `X, Y and Zee' both actors are blown off the screen by an inspired comic performance by Elizabeth Taylor. Not often given the chance to play comedy she turns in a well-timed and poignantly funny performance in this Black Comedy of marriage, sexual confusion, and social boredom. It is sad that Miss Taylor was mostly relegated to dramas and not allowed often enough to stretch her comic wings. You can see flashes of her comic abilities in such odd fare as "Boom", "Reflections In A Golden Eye" and "Hammersmith Is Out!" But in this film she soars as a woman of wit and warmth who will stop at nothing to come out on top.
The Return Of The Queen
That a film as good as CLEOPATRA is was created at all under the madness and panic of it's legendary production is indeed an amazing feat. That CLEOPATRA has been given such loving care in its restoration in this DVD of the "Road Show" print and the attendant bonus materials is a wondrous gift to those who love this film. The documentary, "Cleopatra: The Film That Changed Hollywood" is in on it's own an engrossing and informative two hour movie. For anyone who knows little of the history of CLEOPATRA, or who was not around at the time, this documentary will give them the feeling of what those last days of old Hollywood was like. And therein one can find the reasons why this intimate epic is indeed the wonder that it is. Many thanks should go to the Mankiewicz family and the producers of the documentary. The print and the sound of CLEOPATRA seems now to surpass what I recall it to be in its first presentation nearly forty years ago. The depth of the colors and the richness of the shadows are indeed splendid. In this restoration, it is hard to believe this film is as old as it is. The commentary track is in and of itself like finding the lost treasures of the long dead monarch. For there are wonderful recollections by Martin Landau, Tom and Chris Mankiewicz, and even the one of the films publicists Jack Brodsky gets to read sections from his book "The Cleopatra Papers" which gave a blow by blow description of everyday events on the set. But I must give special mention to Landau's part. With his keen eye for the art direction of John DeCuir one sees things in the background and along the edges of the scene that one never noticed before. Such lovingly detailed sets and interiors will never be seen again. The costs today are just too prohibitive. Also his insights into what was cut from the film, particularly his and Richard Burton's contributions in the second act give one the idea of what Mankiewicz was intending. Poor Richard suffered the unkindest cut of all. The presentation of the DVD menus is so clever and exotic. The creators of this DVD are to be commended in their art direction. At last we now know what is behind the massive 20th Century Fox logo!
The film itself remains what it has always been. It is a good film that might have been a great one if only Zanuck had trusted Joe Mankiewicz' original vision. It is said that they are still looking for the missing film; one can only hope that they succeed in this task. The performances range from good to excellent. Particular praise must go to Rex Harrison, Richard Burton, Martin Landau, Robert Stephens, Andrew Keir, and Roddy McDowall. Lastly in this department there remains Elizabeth Taylor's performance as Cleopatra. At the films release the brickbats were reserved for her and for reasons that had nothing to do with her performance. Many reviewed her behavior as seen through the narrow focus of the tabloids and emerging paparazzi. Even today it is sometimes hard to separate the history of the lady from her film roles. But here is the moment in time, in this film where she became the ELIZABETH TAYLOR she has remained in the mind of the world ever since. In this fact alone she is perfect in the role. But she is more than that. As Cleopatra she is at once regal and commanding, strong and tender, soft and hard. These are all the contradictions that have always been at the heart of Cleopatra herself. She and the Queen are masters of a public enigma wrapped within a mystery. In her performance as written by Mankiewicz Elizabeth Taylor is probably not too far off from the historical Cleopatra. Finally, ever since Judith Crist gave CLEOPATRA the needle in 1963 and in the act made her name, the public, for the most part, has viewed this film a failure. But today, stripped of the scandal, hype and hysteria of its release in June of 1963 it is now possible to view CLEOPARTA as the film it is. A near great film that is the signpost of when Hollywood passed from one age into another. Historically this is an important DVD and I recommend it highly. CLEOPATRA remains as seductive, beautiful, and intelligent as it was in Walter Wanger's original conception. "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety."