Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Butterfield 8


Dir: Daniel Mann (Come Back, Little Sheba; The Rose Tatoo; The Teahouse of the August Moon; In Like Flint)

Elizabeth Taylor took down an Oscar for her preformance as a woman avoiding her traumas with drink and men is this movie adapted from the John O'Hara novel. I read his "Appointment in Samarra" over the weekend, and in both works the underbelly of society life is exposed with merciless honesty. The book, brilliant. This film, pretty good. But Hollywood got a hold of it, and neutered what I wager was a more brutal and engaging novel.

If they gave out Oscars for sexy, then Taylor obviously deserved one here. Her performance is great, the femme fatale with serious wounds lying just below the surface, alluring and dangerous at the same time. You actually understand why all of these men fall in love with her, a rarity in a world where good acting and a pretty face rarely go together, and the pretty face usually gets the role. The opening scene is a pantomime where Taylor wakes up in a room and tries to remember what happened the night before, putting together clues through her hangover. It's the best part of the film.

Another standout is Laurence Harvey as her married, ne're-do-well society suitor. Like his performance in The Manchurian Candidate, Harvey just teems with rage, barely in control of himself as he rails against life and the world. He is one of the great heels in acting history. The sour acting note (and what a stinker it is) is made by Eddie Fisher. The man can't even come close to acting; he is blown out of the water by Taylor. It helps if you are sleeping with the lead actress to get roles I guess (personal memo: sleep with more lead actresses to jump start acting career).

The story shows lots of promise, even if it falls into that obvious kind of psychoanalysis, where the traumas are easy to diagnose and the self-destructive behavior evident to all. The ending is pretty silly as well. I am sure that O'Hara made all of this sound much more deep than it comes across on the screen. The twists on the ill-fated romance of Harvey and Taylor are welcome, and I found myself openly rooting for Taylor to make the correct decisions, even if her instincts were pointing her in the wrong directions. A better treatment could have made this a very engaging plotline.

But still, if you can't enjoy watching Taylor act then you can't enjoy the movies. She owns the screen, portrays a complex charatcer, and the storyline is certainly dark and interesting enough to hold your attention. Serious students of film must reckon with her, and so I recommend this film in the "sometime before you die" category.