Archive for the ‘Betty Field’ Category

Butterfield 8

24 Mar

Butterfield 8 – directed by Daniel Mann. Romantic Melodrama. A promiscuous model falls for a married man and sacrifices her all. 109 minutes Color 1960.
Unutterable junk.

The script is so bad that everyone tends to overact to fill in the blanks. An example is the barroom scene where Elizabeth Taylor stabs her heel into the toe of Laurence Harvey’s shoe. Her delivery is unnecessarily nasty; a woman that beautiful never has to be nasty; as an actress she is in error, as she tended more and more to be as time went by.

Our Liz was a person who never lost. For Elizabeth Taylor, losing was a factual impossibility. She doesn’t have to lift a fist, only her little finger. The question is, What is she winning? And even, as here, when the repartee is flimsy and the moral motive phony, all she needs to do is keep it small. She has moments in the movie, but they are all quiet moments. Her failures as an actor come when, as when she reveals her thirteen year-old molestation to her pal, Eddie Fisher, she emotes. This was not what her instrument was designed by God ever to do well. Elizabeth Taylor is one of the greatest of all film actresses when the emotion and the body are contained. Here, however, she embarks on a career as a dramatic actress. Here she turns in the direction of Martha and The Shrew. She never really recovered. She won an undeserved Oscar, and she knew it.

Nor did she recover as a human. Everyone who saw the film at the time – and everyone did (on a $2.5 million cost the film earned $7.5 million)  — realized they were watching a woman of 28 on her fourth marriage, each one of them notorious, the mother of three young children, playing out the role of the femme fatale everyone took her to be in real life and came to this movie to see if it was so. The film confirmed it. They did not know that a woman in her position has to marry her lovers.

Taylor didn’t want to make the movie, because her character originally was made out to be a call girl, which in the present version she is not quite.

She also found Laurence Harvey to be a vain jackass and the director Daniel Mann a jerk. But she never held an animosity long, although Harvey is completely miscast opposite her and would no more be a graduate of Yale than would one of The Three Stooges. A New Englander? No. He retains his English accent, his lizard visage, and his icy eye. All this adds up to a minus.

The  cast is a mishmash; you never believe a single one of them; they agree stylistically in nothing. And since the script is atrocious, none of them can find a basis in reality for what is before your unbelieving eyes. Big Broadway actresses Betty Field and Mildred Dunnock are hauled in to play their one note apiece. And even the great Mildred Dunnock, as Taylor’s willfully dumb mother, plays at a pitch slightly above the needed, in a part that is ill-conceived and vacant.

I watched a days shooting and had lunch with Mildred Dunnock, Sidney Guilaroff the famed hairdresser, and Elizabeth Taylor at the Gold Medal Studios in the Bronx as Butterfield 8 was made. Taylor was real, gutsy, curious, savvy, and bright. She was not vain about her looks. She also was clearly unphotogenic. Sitting across from her at the cafeteria table, you have never seen anything so beautiful in your life. And that is what the public came to see. They had grown up with it. Velvet had become Helen of Troy. The face that launched a thousand ships and burned the topless towers of Ilium now had to be observed as it enacted the next chapter of its strong and fervent destiny.



Tomorrow The World

05 Feb

Tomorrow The World – directed by Leslie Fenton. Drama. On the home-front in WWII, a German adolescent is fostered out to relatives in the U.S. but turns out to be a member of the Nazi Youth Movement.  82 minutes black and white 1944.

* * * * *

Betty Field delivers the knockout performance that makes this material work. She sets up every scene so strongly that you understand perfectly what she is up against in the nasty little Nazi-youth which Skippy Homier plays. Homier comes from the Broadway company of the play, and his performance is dyed in the wool and equally as strong as hers. You really have to hand it to him. He is thirteen years old when he makes the picture, and not a moment too soon. He plays the part of a German youth movement youngster, who, during WWII, is brought to America to live with the family of his deceased father. He plans to take over America, and actually partly succeeds. One always thought of Betty Field as a little squishy as an actress, but not here.  Here she is opposed to two heavy talents, Frederic March and Agnes Moorhead, and they both are in fine form indeed. To watch Moorhead’s economy of means is a treat. And Frederic March has a line in stalwartness that is real and well judged. But it is Field’s scenes with March that grip one, as she fires tactic after tactic to confront him. In the entire film the acting is strong, direct, and simple, an excellent example of the style of film acting of that period. No pauses. No back story. No self-indulgence. No reaching for a depth the material will not support. As to the story, I had no idea how it would turn out. And it did.


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