Archive for the ‘Laurence Harvey’ 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.



Summer and Smoke

04 Apr

Summer and Smoke — Directed by Peter Glenville. Love story. A spinster letches for the ne’er do well boy next door. 93 minutes Color 1961

* * * * *

As a critic, I wonder what good it does to bring to the front things that cannot be remedied. Here, the lighting often fails its needs, and the director should never have been hired, or shot soon after. The leading man is out of place and league. But this movie contains one of the greatest love scenes ever filmed, ever written, ever acted. It also records the performance of it that brought the play out of the obscurity of its original failure on Broadway, and thrust into prominence both the play, the theatre, The Circle In The Square, and the actress who played Alma and plays it here, Geraldine Page. The play lends itself to one’s imagination as one sees it in a theatre, but the scriptwriters have coarsened these references by literalizing them. The director, who is English, has no sense of the atmosphere required for this material or how to diminish the staginess of his performers. Laurence Harvey is right only in his opening scene, for he has none of the juice and charm that would make this character bearable and understandable. And he should be understandable, for Tennessee Williams has done again what he did in Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire; he has created a female protagonist whose tragedy is that she puts on airs. Why does she do this? Because, like all of us, at one time or another, she so wants to be someone else, someone whose heart is a little taller than the arrows shot at her. She wants to escape the stern facts of her circumstances. This makes her an isolate and a tolerated mockery. It makes her the sort of phony no man wants to be around. Geraldine Page is able to work this character just short of putting our teeth on edge. With desperate hands she clasps her body as though it would fly apart if she did not. She seethes with the sexuality she has to gainsay in order to sustain her act, but she longs for its release if only the young man would stop carousing. You can see the character in Page’s eyes, which are wide open and which are so true to the feeling, to the longing, to the passion in Alma’s being. It’s astounding that she can do all this opposite Laurence Harvey, with his tight, narrow temperament, and his bad Southern accent, a role made thankless by the actor’s lack of blood, a role perfectly suited to Jack Nicholson back in the day. Yet the great scenes unfold between them, carried by Williams’ superb writing and Page’s profound grasp of this woman’s needs. I never saw Page do it on the stage, but when I asked Mildred Dunnock what she thought of Page in the picture, she said she felt Gerry had lost her lyricism in the role. I should have asked her what she meant, and I repeat it here as a lighthouse for actresses to come. But I cannot do anything now except to say you must see this remarkable performance of this remarkable character in this remarkable play.


Rss Feed Tweeter button Facebook button Technorati button Reddit button Myspace button Linkedin button Webonews button Delicious button Digg button Flickr button Stumbleupon button Newsvine button