Thursday, February 07, 2013


Elizabeth Taylor plays a free-soul artist who lives in a beach house at Big Sur with her young illegitimate son; the boy's father offered marriage and her parents offered an abortion, but Taylor wants life on her own terms—she says she's always felt used by men and she made the choice to abandon the boy's father. When the boy gets in trouble one too many times, he is sentenced by a judge to an Episcopalian boarding school. Taylor is furious at first, but is placated a bit when she meets the priest in charge of the school (Richard Burton); he comes off as fairly non-judgmental even when she tries to shock him by calling herself a "naturalist," someone who believes that mankind is doomed by belief in religious myths. Burton, clearly fascinated with Taylor—even though he's married—begins to visit her on the beach frequently. He's present when she takes in a small bird, a sandpiper, with a broken wing and puts a splint on it, then declares that the only way to help wild things is by letting them be free. He also meets her beatnik friends, including a blustery sculptor (Charles Bronson) who's working on a nude of Taylor and doesn't like Burton one bit. Soon, after a night together at a beachside bar called Nepenthe, Taylor and Burton are having an affair which, of course, cannot end happily for anyone concerned.

This movie is not very well regarded, but if you want to wallow in a beautiful looking soap opera with Liz Taylor chewing the scenery, you’ll love it. The Big Sur locations are gorgeous, and the beach house—which was shot in a French studio—is truly fabulous, though you may wonder how our free spirit can afford to stay there. The first hour is actually pretty good, with Taylor doing a very nice job, almost underacting, but as melodrama takes over, things deteriorate a bit. In a scene where Robert Webber, a former lover, tries to take her by force, she shrieks at him, "You’re a creep! A creep! A terrible creep!" No one could have made that dialogue work, but Liz gives it all she has. Burton is good, and Torin Thatcher, James Edwards (the token African-American beatnik) and Tom Drake (Judy Garland's Boy Next Door in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS) are adequate in small roles, but poor Eva Marie Saint has the totally thankless and one-dimensional role of Burton's wife. I did not regret watching this, which I suppose is damning it with faint praise, but it is (in widescreen) lovely to look at. [TCM]

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