Thursday, July 12, 2007


Eleven years after LOOK BACK IN ANGER, Richard Burton gave a very different kind of performance in this odd little look at an aging gay couple, produced during the early days of Hollywood's freedom from the repressive Production Code. Burton and Rex Harrison are two middle-aged men who have lived together as a couple and run a barber shop for almost thirty years. What we see is a few days in their lives; Burton, who has gone bald and keeps his head wrapped in bandages and such to hide it, frets about his bedridden and severely arthritic mother (Cathleen Nesbitt) who lives with them, and about Harrison's fidelity; for his part, Harrison, a former music hall entertainer who still fancies himself a looker in his tight clothes and moderately painted face, is worried about a summons to appear before a magistrate over a charge of cross dressing in public (he did a quick, off-the-cuff drag bit in a bar). The narrative is not packed with incident: they go on a day trip to a park, and one night Harrison brings home a trick (younger but very unattractive), but mostly we just watch the two bicker. There is no real resolution to the narrative, such as it is, except for the message that, like many long-married heterosexual couples, they'll go on as they always have, whether it's love or just being accustomed to their situation. The film feels like a cross between WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF and BOYS IN THE BAND, though it is not as funny, clever, or insightful as those films. The characters are full of self-loathing, or at least self-pity, and their bitchy, snippy, hurtful behavior may make today's audiences cringe, but it's instructive to know that homosexual behavior was still illegal in the U.K. until just two years before this film was made. Harrison almost sleepwalks through the role, relying on campy mannerisms at half-energy. Burton is much better, actually trying to inhabit a character. There are some funny moments: Burton, upset that sex organs are all messy and "tucked away," thinks they should be like antennae sprouting out of our heads; Harrison harps away at Burton's recurring behaviors, calling them "weeping stints" or "sulking stints," and I'm worrying that I may pick up one of his repeated lines, "God save us all and Oscar Wilde." It's watchable, mostly because of Burton, but it's not a film I'd recommend to everyone. [TCM]

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