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Friday, February 05, 2016

The Sandpiper

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made a lot of movies together throughout the '60s, and each one was a bit of an event. The Sandpiper, the last film ever directed by Vincente Minelli, is an interesting if flawed film that, while a soggy romance, had some interesting ideas, perhaps because it was co-written by Dalton Trumbo.

Taylor plays a Bohemian painter living on the beach at Big Sur (I find it hard to believe that a woman with no money could live in a well-appointed house on beachfront property) with her son. The boy is home schooled has had some minor scrapes with the law, so a judge orders him to an Episcopalian boarding school. The headmaster is Burton, a stuffy but kind man who, upon first seeing Taylor walk into his office, is lovestruck.

The two spar at first--Taylor is an atheist and unwed mother--but of course they will eventually fall in love. This causes Burton no end of grief--not only is he a minister, but he's married (to Eva Marie Saint).

The film makes fine use of the Big Sur location and has a feel for what a community of artists is like (in some weird casting, Charles Bronson plays Taylor's friend and one-time lover, a sculptor). It does not disrespect her liberal views, nor does it romanticize them. Burton, enunciating like nobody else, is interesting as he's worn down by her principles--he eventually realizes his job is not a headmaster but a fundraiser, and he has it out with his friend and Taylor's ex-lover, Robert Webber (an excellent slimeball).

Taylor, of course, is stunning beautiful. There's a great moment at the end of the film when one of her son's classmates sees her and stares, slack-jawed. But I must admit I've never cared for her voice--it can get high and piercing, which suited her for Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf but can be like fingernails on a blackboard in other films.

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