February 24, 2007
The Sandpiper, 1965
This movie is set in the beautiful Central Coast of California, from San Simeon to Big Sur. The restaurant Nepenthe even makes an appearance. You may remember I wrote a poem about Nepenthe. In case you don't remember, this is a good excuse for me to re-post it.
At NepentheThe Nepenthe of 1965 looks pretty much the same as it did the last time I was there, about ten years ago. I see from their website that they've bumped the price of their hamburger up to $13 since then! In The Sandpiper, it was a hippie hangout too, and the scene of some minor fisticuffs between Charles Bronson and Richard Burton.
At the edge of a deep
The hissing ocean so far below
Barely seen this morning
Through the fog
Cool gentle breeze, and
Green strands among blue waves
Of the pacific, sea of forgetfulness
Calming spirit and mind
As you sit waiting
Pale rays of gold
The sun from your left
Warms your arm and lights
This contented respite
On your journey south
Sailing through the mist
Wings teetering, acute dihedrals
Vultures float like seraphim
Two hundred feet beneath
Your outdoor table, where
You eat your nine dollar hamburger
And quaff o quaff this diet coke
Elizabeth Taylor plays Laura Reynolds, a free spirited artist/feminist/atheist who's moved to a cozy shack on the beach in order to raise her son far away from the evil influence of traditional values. She doesn't have a high opinion of men, most especially Richard Burton's character Dr. Hewitt, an Episcopal priest.
Taylor's son gets in trouble with the law for shooting a deer, and the judge orders Taylor to send him to the private religious boarding school run by Burton. Single mom and school principal soon clash over child rearing philosophies, as in this scene.
Dr. Hewitt: It may be hard for you to believe Miss Reynolds, but boys like children of their own age. They also like some order in their lives. Given just a little time, Danny will adjust beautifully.Despite the parent/teacher friction, Burton quickly becomes smitten by the new MILF, even though he's a priest, and he's already married to another hottie, Eva Marie Saint. It doesn't take long before Burton abandons his scruples and they fuck while a little broken-winged sandpiper looks on.
Laura: Adjust to what?
Dr. Hewitt: To himself, to other people, to society.
Laura: That's just it, I don't want him to adjust to society!
Dr. Hewitt: Well if you want Danny to be a non-conformist, San Simeon is the best place that could happen to him, we'd give him a set of values there that he can rebel against later. Otherwise, he may rebel against yours.
Laura: Oh I see. You mean you teach children evil, so they can rebel against it when they grow and become good.
The Sandpiper is not a particularly good movie. It's really slow and there's some corny "oh God how I want you" dialogue. The best thing about it is the Oscar winning theme song "The Shadow of Your Smile," and of course the scenery. Check out both in these opening credits.
I expected better from director Vincente Minnelli (An American In Paris, Gigi) and writer Dalton Trumbo (Roman Holiday, Spartacus). I gave it three stars on the Netflix scale, "liked it," but just barely.
BUtterfield 8, 1960
I'll tell you right up front, BUtterfield 8 is one of my favorite Elizabeth Taylor movies. Beautifully shot, amazing performances, great characters, and no Richard Burton! Instead we get Laurence Harvey in the best performance of his career. He plays the same self-important prig that you saw in The Manchurian Candidate and The Alamo, only this time with a lot more depth. He's a playboy who married well, but messes around on his wife out of self-loathing and boredom. He treats his women like whores, until meeting Elizabeth Taylor's character, a nympho by the name of Gloria Wandrous. As in The Sandpipers, Elizabeth Taylor gets cast as the "other woman."
Interestingly, Elizabeth Taylor is at the apex of two love triangles in this one. It's more of a love bowtie, I guess. A subplot involves Taylor's best friend, a writer played by Eddie Fisher, her real life husband at the time. Fisher's girlfriend wants to get married, but he's having trouble getting past his barely concealed crush on Elizabeth Taylor, who toys with his affections mercilessly. Again, she's the "other woman," this time preventing a marriage.
But it's the fiery relationship between Taylor and Harvey that provides all the action in this movie. It opens with Elizabeth Taylor waking up alone in Harvey's bed the morning after their first tryst. She wanders around the mansion, and after brushing her teeth with whiskey, finds a thank you note from Harvey with a wad of cash for her trouble. In retaliation, she scrawls her response in the mirror and steals one of his wife's furs.
The second time they meet is at a bar. I love the dialogue in this scene because they spar like two champions in a draw match. You wonder, has the playboy finally met his match? Has the man-eater finally met hers? At the climax of the scene, Harvey grabs her wrist in a vice-grip, while she crushes his instep with her heel.
Ouch. They both retire to neutral corners after that, but by the end it's Harvey's character who throws in the towel. Can you blame him? It's Elizabeth Taylor! He's so in love he vows to change his life around for her, leave his wife, and get a real job. Taylor cleans up her act too, and it looks like she's become a one man woman at last. But, and there's always a but, in the end their high hopes all come crashing down. Quite literally.
Elizabeth Taylor won the Best Actress Oscar for this role, and she totally deserved it. (She was up against Shirley Maclaine for The Apartment that year. Wow, I'm glad I wasn't voting.) Remember this was 1960 and frank treatment of sexuality was still pretty daring. There's a scene at the end when Taylor breaks down in front of Eddie Fisher, telling him a dark secret. Even by today's standards, that scene still blows me away. That's all I'll say about it.
Hollywood still makes movies about slutty women, but nowadays it's all about shock value and appealing to the sickest impulses of the criminal mind. It's enough to make me turn into a feminist. "Hey let's chain a naked chick to a radiator for the whole movie?" How disgusting. I'll take the classics and Elizabeth Taylor over Christina Ricci and fetish porn anyday.
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