Castro remembers Elizabeth Taylor, actress
Her beauty and mega-stardom often obscured Elizabeth Taylor’s (1932-2011) acting. As the Castro Theatre’s retrospective (May 27-June 1) shows, however, she gave many exceptional performances. Opening night benefits Project Inform.
MGM planned Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) for Grace Kelly, but it gave Taylor a signature part. Director Richard Brooks and James Poe adapted openly gay Tennessee Williams’ Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, toning down the direct references to repressed homoeroticism. Taylor’s Maggie is riveting: sexy, aggressive, sarcastic, vulnerable, desperately in love with husband Brick (Paul Newman) and determined that he not be disinherited by his dying father (Burl Ives). Newman’s Brick, the most demanding of Williams’ male roles, tensely embodies tremendous anxiety about his dead best friend Skipper’s nature and their relationship. Ives, recreating his Broadway triumph, is an American Lear. Judith Anderson, Jack Carson and Madeleine Sherwood (also from the stage) are sensational. Six Oscar nominations: Picture, Actor (Newman), Actress (Taylor), Director, Screenplay, and Cinematography.
Gore Vidal adapted Suddenly Last Summer (1959) from Williams’ shocking, allegorical off-Broadway success. Taylor is Catherine, traumatized after witnessing her homosexual cousin Sebastian’s gruesome death, and desperate to avoid a lobotomy. Katharine Hepburn is her rich Aunt Violet, fearing the truth about her only son and prepared to sacrifice Catherine to protect his memory. Gay Montgomery Clift is the troubled neurosurgeon/psychiatrist. Set in 1937 New Orleans. With Mercedes McCaimbridge. Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed. Taylor and Hepburn received Best Actress Oscar nominations. Williams found the film too literal, but like Cat, it cleaned up. (Fri., 5/27)
MGM saw Raintree County (1957) as another Gone With the Wind. It wasn’t, but it did well. Taylor plays a mentally unstable New Orleans belle visiting Indiana. Feigning pregnancy, she steals Montgomery Clift from Eva Saint Marie. She also learns her mother may have been insane. During the Civil War, she returns to the South, winding up in an asylum. Taylor scored her first Oscar nomination for her overwrought characterization. Edward Dmytryk directed. With Lee Marvin, Agnes Moorehead, and pre-Star Trek DeForest Kelly. Not on DVD. Taylor stunned critics in George Stevens’ A Place in the Sun (51), based on Theodore Drieser’s An American Tragedy. Clift is the disadvantaged youth involved with factory worker Shelley Winters. Then he meets Taylor, the embodiment of an American princess. Their love scenes created a sensation. Edith Head designed Taylor’s influential gowns. Winner of six Oscars, including Director, Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, Cinematography, Costume Design, and Editing. A smash. (Sat., 5/28)
Stevens directed Giant (1956), from Edna Ferber’s bestseller about Texas. In another part intended for Grace Kelly, Taylor plays Leslie, whom rancher Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) marries after a brief courtship. Jett Rink (James Dean) is the soon-to-be oil-rich hired hand attracted to her. Spanning decades, the film deals with ethnic prejudice, cattle vs. oil, and Bick and Rink’s rivalry. With Carroll Baker, Dennis Hopper, Mercedes McCaimbridge, and Sal Mineo. The gay Hudson and the bisexual Dean disliked one another, but Taylor befriended both. The men earned Oscar nominations, as did the movie. Stevens won. Dean died in a car accident before filming ended. A major hit. (Sun., 5/29)
A charming 12-year-old Taylor became a star in National Velvet (1944), based on Enid Bagnold’s novel about a horse-loving English girl. Clarence Brown directed. With Mickey Rooney, Angela Lansbury, Donald Crisp, and Anne Revere (Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner). Bisexual Vincente Minnelli guided a radiant Taylor to acclaim in Father of the Bride (1950). Spencer Tracy is terrific as daddy. With Joan Bennett and Billie Burke. A smash. (Mon., 5/30)
Joseph Losey helmed Secret Ceremony (1968), with Taylor as an aging London prostitute and Mia Farrow (in a black wig) as a mother-obsessed young woman. Beautifully photographed, morbidly fascinating, but confusing. With Robert Mitchum. Not on DVD. In X, Y, and Zee (1972), a Rubenesque Taylor and Michael Caine are a swinging London couple. Taylor seduces his mistress (Susannah York) to end their affair. Edna O’Brien’s screenplay has sharp, bitchy dialogue, delivered with gusto by Taylor. Brian Hutton directed. With Margaret Leighton. (Tues., 5/31)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) won Taylor, only 34, her second Oscar as the middle-aged harridan Martha. Richard Burton is husband George. Debuting director Mike Nichols triumphantly brought Edward Albee’s corrosive look at marriage to the screen. Taylor - blowsy, bitchy, vulnerable, angry, sexy, coarse - is memorable; Burton, extraordinary. With George Segal and Sandy Dennis (Supporting Actress winner). Twelve Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, won by the staid A Man for All Seasons, for which Paul Scofield edged out Burton as Best Actor. It was the highest grossing black-and-white movie to date. Losey directed Boom! (1968), based on Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, with Taylor as Sissy Goforth, a much-married, dying millionairess, dictating her memoirs in her Mediterranean villa. Burton is "Angel of Death� Christopher Flanders, who comforts wealthy women in extremis. Taylor was too young and Burton too old for their roles. Gay Noel Coward livens things up as The Witch of Capri, trading barbs with Sissy. Taylor’s costumes, including a Kabuki ensemble, are by Tiziani of Rome. Glorious Sardinian locations. A flop, it’s become a camp favorite. Not on DVD. (Wed., 6/1)