BUTTERFIELD 8 (director: Daniel Mann; screenwriters: Charles Schnee/John Michael Hayes/based on the novel by John O’Hara; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Ralph E. Winters; music: Bronislau Kaper; cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Gloria Wandrous), Laurence Harvey (Weston Liggett), Eddie Fisher (Steve Carpenter), Dina Merrill (Emily Liggett), Mildred Dunnock (Mrs. Wandrous), Betty Field (Mrs. Fanny Thurber), Jeffrey Lynn (Bingham Smith), Kay Medford (Happy), Susan Oliver (Norma), George Voskovec (Dr. Tredman); Runtime: 109; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Pandro S. Berman; ; 1960)
“When viewed today it’s a work of considerable dreck, it’s badly dated and unappealing.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The hottest actress of the time, Elizabeth Taylor, won an Oscar for her performance as a high-class Manhattan model/whore who had fallen in love and is sensitively searching for understanding. Though Taylor’s performance was more lousy than good, she won mostly a sympathy vote for recovering from a near-fatal bout with pneumonia just a few weeks before the Oscars and going through the emergency tracheotomy operation that saved her life. To Liz’s credit, she hated her role, thought the story was a lemon and that she stunk. Taylor was eager to take the part only because MGM offered to release her from a contract that had three years to run if she would agree to make this steamy pic and thereby she could take 20th-Century Fox’s extraordinary offer of a million dollars to star in Cleopatra (1963). The troubled actress had taken up with Eddie Fisher (leaving wife Debbie Reynolds and their two children, which provided the tabloids with enough gossip to keep the stars in their daily headlines) when hubby number three, movie mogul Mike Todd, died in a plane crash. Fisher was Todd’s best pal. To celebrate getting the Cleopatra part, Liz dumped the bland Fisher—a pop singer who had no gift as a thespian.
It’s loosely based on John O’Hara’s sleazy pulp novel and written by Charles Schnee and John Michael Hayes. O’Hara’s 1935 novel was based on the life and death of a real-life call girl named Starr Faithfull, that had to be changed to skirt around Production Code of the time (the film changed the heroine to a model). Daniel Mann (“Come Back, Little Sheba”/”I’ll Cry Tomorrow”/”The Teahouse of the August Moon”) directs by keeping things skin-deep and never forgetting that the film had only two good things going for it: Taylor and its glossy high production values. It was racy for its time, but when viewed today it’s a work of considerable dreck, it’s badly dated and unappealing.
Gloria Wondrous (Elizabeth Taylor) is a hottie hedonistic model and party girl, suffering from a bad childhood, who is out to take men for what she can get from them. Things change when she falls for the wealthy married Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey), who insults her by leaving $250 after a night in the sack in his pad. Gloria leaves his apartment wearing his wife Emily’s (Dina Merrill) mink. Emily’s wealthy father set the heel lawyer up in the company chemical business, and Liggett never had to break a sweat to live like a king. Gloria’s only trusted friend is Steve Carpenter (Eddie Fisher), whom she has a platonic relationship with even though his fiancée Norma (Susan Oliver) jealously thinks otherwise. Gloria receives therapy from psychiatrist Dr. Tredman (George Voskovec) and relates that her relationship with Wes is an honest one and has cured her of her need for promiscuity. Tredman cautions that belief might not be completely true. The soap opera theatrics push on with its ill-fated love story until the tragic climax where everything gets resolved in an unhappy way.
There’s a good chance this sudser with lipstick messages in the mirror might induce unintentional laughter to the viewer who finds it turgid and nonsensical.
REVIEWED ON 5/29/2008 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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