Little Women (1949)

Littlewomen1949movieposter.jpgIn the recent days, I gained a new appreciation of June Allyson as a screen talent and in her own way she pulls off Jo March quite well though it’s needlessly difficult to begin comparing her with Katharine Hepburn or Winona Ryder.

Meanwhile, Mervyn LeRoy was a capable director of many quality films and it’s difficult to say anything damaging about this one because no matter the amount of mawkishness, it’s all heart to the very last frame.

If possible to imagine, this cast is even more star-studded than the 1933 adaptation and yet still somehow the casting just doesn’t seem quite right. In the Katharine Hepburn anchored cast every character was almost perfectly wrought and they felt like an impeccable ensemble.

Somehow here you have the varying personalities rubbing up against each other and it doesn’t feel like this is the March Family as much as this is June Allyson, this is Elizabeth Taylor, this is Janet Leigh, and Margaret O’Brien. Their beloved Marmee being played by none other than Mary Astor. They’re all fine actresses with esteemed Hollywood careers in their own rights but as a family, the dynamic is slightly off.

Of all the names attached, Elizabeth Taylor feels the most at odds with the material, not that she couldn’t play these types of sincere characters — she did it in Jane Eyre (1943) and National Velvet (1944) — but she’s nearly past that stage of being cute and now simply comes off as a bit of a snob. If I know anything about the character Amy (which I may not) she’s hardly that.

This is also far from Janet Leigh’s best role as she all but disappears into the background because there’s this underlining sense that Jo is the oldest sister here (due to Allyson’s obvious age advantage over Leigh) and so with that subtext Meg loses a great deal of her quiet strength as the perceived eldest sister. Because that means she’s hardly the one that the others look up to due to her age. She’s just the noble one while Jo is the free spirit hurtling over fences and throwing snowballs. Thus, the order of sisters really does matter for the full integrity of the narrative.

Come to think of it, the other obvious departure in the film is the development of Beth as the youngest March girl which gave Margaret O’Brien the opportunity to play her and she does a fine job at stirring the heartstrings with her timid solemnity but another dynamic gets altered in the process. I also wasn’t sure what I would have to say about Peter Lawford as Laurie and yet he does a commendable job as does the stately mustachioed C. Aubrey Smith.

It’s fascinating how the same story with at times almost verbatim dialogue can give you a completely different sense of the characters. Because it’s true that this version borrowed much as far as dialogue from the 1933 version. Thus, the scenes are all but the same with slight alterations to the opening and such, but the results are starkly different.

The same goes for the setting or rather the tones of the sets. Though the colored pictorials are glorious and lend a real jovial nature to everything also helping to make this Little Women adaptation a shoe-in for annual yuletide viewing, some stories just are not made for that treatment. It’s no detriment to this film whatsoever but there’s something about the original black and white that evokes the nostalgic aura of tintypes and antebellum photography in a way that this one simply cannot. Little Women seems like such a story.

Of course, that’s only my opinion and it could very easily be the case that someone else’s conception of the March family is very different than my own. That’s part of the fascination with novels and their adaptations. Despite our best efforts, or maybe because of them, they all turn out vastly different. It’s probably for the best.

3.5/5 Stars

National Velvet (1944)

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“Everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly, once in his life.” ~ Anne Revere as Mrs. Brown

There’s been many a boxing and a ball sport movie and so it seems only fair that there be room for at least one more Technicolor horse drama, especially one with the breathtaking and gloriously unbridled energy of National Velvet.

It showcases the lofty aspirations riding on the back of a horse and carrying the effervescent hopes of a young girl. I’m certain we could use more movies like this — ones done with this amount of candor and geared toward a broad audience — namely the entire family.

True, Clarence Brown is a director mostly lost to time and perhaps understandably so. This isn’t so much of a technical marvel as it is a story that wraps up its audience with some amount of vigor.

Nor was it a film shot abroad in some exotic location. But that is hardly a criticism, mind you. This was Hollywood’s rendition of the British Isles created in Pebble Beach, California much in the same category of other such period classics like How Green Was My Valley (1941) and Lassie Come Home (1943) — the most obvious point of connection being the always admirable Donald Crisp.

Featured front and center is Elizabeth Taylor in the days when she hadn’t yet been propelled to iconic sex symbol status and still remained the sweet precocious little girl who made the screen sparkle with her adorableness.

Here she is as Velvet Brown. Other girls, namely her big sister (Angela Lansbury) are boy struck but Velvet can best be described as horse struck. She dreams about them in her sleep, thinks about them in her waking hours, and must stop the moment she sees one of her favorite thoroughbreds in the fields on the road home to her town of Sewells.

From the first time she sees “The Pie” in all his majesty, she’s absolutely enchanted by him. It was a love story meant to be. Stirred up by her mother’s own past forays in sport, Velvet begins to entertain thoughts of entering her beloved horse in the Grand Nationals which she believes he is capable of winning with the right training and a rider who knows him.

With the guidance of Mi (Mickey Rooney), a young nomad hired on by the family, they get the horse trained up for competition. But of course, the only one who truly can ride “The Pie” and believes he cannot put a foot wrong is Velvet herself.

Perhaps it’s not as epic as a Ben Hur chariot race or a pod race but there’s still somehow such investment in Velvet and her horse and we feel the same urgency that’s coursing through Mi as he’s watching the race. It’s an infectious moment that catches us up in its swelling emotions to the very last leg.

Far more important than the outcome of the race, however, is how Velvet remains true what she deems to be right. She never lets her pure love of horses — or this particular horse — be muddied by any amount of press or potential fame that might come out of the partnership. Because she’s not seeking any of that. Her intentions are very sincere. She’s doing it all for the sheer joy of getting to gallop across country with her best friend. That’s reward enough for her.

It’s true that Velvet’s parents prove to constantly upend our typical expectations and there’s a pleasure in finding out more about their true character bit by bit. They are folks of hardy stock who are plain but not without their unostentatious charm that comes from being bred in a world of hard work and no doubt Christian charity.

Anne Revere gives one of the most enjoyable performances of her career, start to finish, imbued with an impeccably dry wit that also comes with being a mother who loves her family dearly and aspires for them to have hopes and dreams to carry them through life. You get a sense that she desires they might be decent people who never weary of doing the right thing. There’s a sublime nuance to her turn that would be lacking from the film’s frames otherwise. She is the moral heartbeat and the counterbalance to every other character.

Fiction also mirrored reality in that Elizabeth Taylor truly became the tenderhearted horse whisperer as one of the few people who could actually handle and ride her horse. There’s no sense of parlor tricks and if it’s possible to say this, there’s almost a visible chemistry between her and her steed. They seem meant to be together. Fittingly, on her 13th birthday after the filming was done she was bequeathed her four-legged friend and they remained together for his entire lifetime.

The only rather odd performance or casting choice might seem to be Mickey Rooney who was still a major star in 1944 but sometimes his role doesn’t feel the most authentic. It feels like he’s playing at his part. Meanwhile, Taylor continually bowls us over with every drop of cheerfulness she has in her being.

Maybe I am unfairly prejudiced against Mickey Rooney but he always seemed more like a personality than a true actor. Here as Mi he more or less looks like a tragic story waiting to happen but now thanks to a girl and a horse, he’s getting his shot at redemption. Thankfully for us, this is not wholly his story but more so the story of the horse and its girl.

It’s a wonderfully forward-thinking message for its day that a young girl with ambition can succeed in a man’s world even on the racetrack. Fantasy or not this is a story that uplifts with sheer climactic euphoria.

To all the future teachers, doctors, lawyers, explorers, scientists, and jockeys, this film gives its message loud and clear. Dare to dream. You can’t worry about what others might say. Just go out and pursue whatever it is with all the passion you can muster. No matter the outcome, there will be little to regret.

4/5 Stars

Review: A Place in the Sun (1951)

 

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George Stevens is only one among a plethora of filmmakers who came back from WWII changed. He had seen a great deal of the world’s ugliness — Dachau Concentration Camp for instance — and as a result, the films he made thereafter were more mature ruminations on humanity at large. Adapted from Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and a subsequent play, A Place in the Sun is one of those pictures crafted in the wake of such historical change.

There’s no doubt that this is Hollywood melodrama backed by a raging score from Franz Waxman but this is no less, high powered high-class stuff. It’s augmented by gorgeous black and white imagery that reaches pitch black tones and still manages to make Lake Tahoe into a scintillating getaway. Meanwhile, the camera captures the action with elegant movements, sashaying through space, at times nearly imperceptible to the eye. Though admittedly the film’s stature as a social commentary is less interesting now than it probably would have been in its day. Still, we can’t have everything now, can we?

Montgomery Clift is often forgotten in the fray of powerhouse actors but the line can easily be traced from his intense performances to the work of Brando and Dean which would also sprout up in the 50s. Though that same intensity is there, it never feels like he’s trying to sell us a gimmick or a method. He’s simply trying to provide a lens to see a bit more clearly the intricacies of an individual, in this case, one George Eastman. It manages to be a profound and at times an agonizing performance.

Of course, Elizabeth Taylor is exquisite in every frame as always but her bright-eyed sincerity is equally arresting. She feels perfectly made for the role of Angela Vickers and seamlessly transitions into more adult fare with A Place in the Sun, standing tall alongside Clift, destined to make them one of the great romantic pairings of the 1950s. She supposedly said that she finally felt less like a puppet and more like an actress after this film. It shows.

Still, though given a thankless role at times, Shelley Winters is equally important because, in her simpler, humbler way, she reflects how quickly a man can change. She’s not a bad person at all, just a frail, even helpless one who feels like she has very few people in the world to hold onto. George proves to be a comparable companion until he unwittingly finds himself running in different circles and that’s where the tension begins.

I look at George Eastman and see the same drive for recognition, power, and wealth in many of us, those desires that oftentimes can be our undoing because they turn out to be meaningless. The irony is that his intentions never seem malicious but he is undermined by something. He quickly sinks into this double life. At first, he was simply happy to have a job and some companionship. His desires were simple. But slowly, as he found himself rising in the ranks of the Eastman company and getting more recognition, he couldn’t help but want more. Are these impulses bad? Not in the least, but they led him to some pretty rocky soil.

The scene that stands out in my mind could seem fairly mundane. But Stevens maintains a fairly long shot that’s peering through Eastman’s living room and we can see into the next room over as he is on the phone. It feels like minutes go by and Stevens fearlessly never cuts the sequence. The first call is from Alice which he takes.

But the second comes from Angela and at that point, we know that things have changed. It’s set up the dilemma. He genuinely loves Angela and wishes to be with her and to be a part of her life. Yet for that to come to fruition he must do something about the other girl. Alice won’t disappear. It’s funny how someone who you used to appreciate so dearly now feels like a burden. To her credit, we feel sorry for  Winters’ character without question.

In fact, the film succeeds along those lines. We pity her for the sorrowful position she is placed in — essentially abandoned by George. And even in her frivolity and opulence, there’s a candidness to Angela that makes us want to root for her and that allows us to simultaneously pity her because she has no idea of George’s other life. If there is anyone to lash out against it is George Eastman himself and still even in that regard, Montgomery Clift reveals the full gamut of this tortured man so even if we are hesitant to feel sorry for him, he does open us up even with a tinge of compassion.

But the muddled morality is complicated by the fact that Clift’s character has a sense of remorse. Surely he cannot be all bad based on what Vickers saw in him? His capacity to love and be tender is evident. Still, that is not enough to keep him from going on trial and the film’s final third takes place, for the majority, in a courtroom. The district attorney is played by Raymond Burr, who might well be in a dry run for Perry Mason and he comes at Eastman with all the fervor he can muster to convict him in his lies. Even in these moments, we must fall back on George’s inner conflict, his capability to love others, and his intentions for love.

If A Place in the Sun gets too preachy or succumbs too much to Hollywood’s stirringly romantic tendencies, it still might be one of the finest examples of such a film. Front and center are two phenomenal stars and Stevens films their euphoric romance with a meticulous eye catching them in particular moments, with close-ups, and such angles that we are constantly aware of their intimacy.

As much as Eastman is looking for his place in the sun, and he could spend hours just sitting with Angela soaking in the sun’s rays (not many would blame him), it’s just as true that there is nothing new under the sun. That’s what we’re left with. Mankind is still distracted by many things. Oftentimes they are good things but we make them ultimate things and they wreak havoc on our lives. Meaningless, meaningless, everything is meaningless under the sun. But that doesn’t keep us from wanting to bathe in its tantalizing warmth any less. That’s part of the American Tragedy.

4.5/5 Stars

Review: Giant (1956)

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People might come to Giant for James Dean. They might come seeking out the final film in George Stevens unofficial American Trilogy (including A Place in the Sun and Shane).  Maybe it’s even the promise of a sprawling epic of monumental length and scope that turns out to be both a blessing and a curse by most accounts.

But this adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel, despite all of this, is really a film about marriage and family in a world that’s constantly changing. Rock Hudson is a towering giant in his own right turning in a performance that works as quintessential Texan Jordan “Bic” Benedict. Elizabeth Taylor proves that far from a one-dimensional classical beauty, she has acting prowess as well delivering a spirited showing that gels with Hudson for the very fact that it often chafes against his characterization. Meaning they’re believable as husband and wife.

James Dean plays their marginalized ranch hand Jett Rink who is nevertheless treated well by Bic’s  hardy sister Luz (Mercedes McCambridge) as well as Leslie while harboring a life long feud with Bic over the ensuing years.

Time turns this story into a battleground of two dueling giants. One a life long rancher of great stature. The other a modern figure blessed with a meteoric rise as an oil magnate. Their resentment carries through the generations as much as their differing fields reflect the sign of the times. The tectonics shift as the old guard of the Texas plains is replaced with a new breed of powerful men.

Of course, Dean’s performance is the stuff of legend and there’s an idiosyncratic, grumbling magnetism about it as only he could do. This isn’t Brando and it’s not even Monty Clift who previously played opposite Elizabeth Taylor in Stevens’ earlier picture. It’s James Dean showcasing his personal flare.

The final moments of his “Last Supper,” after his subsequent rise to glory, are devastatingly pathetic. The mighty oil tycoon of Jetexas falls into utter disgrace crashing to the floor of the empty banquet hall with a clatter. Rolling around in a drunken stupor, making a shambles of his grand exhibition of wealth, and simultaneously concluding Dean’s last scene in front of an audience.

His life would be taken even before Giant finished filming, some of his last scenes of dialogue being reread by close friend Nick Adams, his temperamental nature and habit of mumbling lines impacting the production even after his passing. Still, George Stevens himself, despite the insurmountable hell he was put through, and the hits his shooting schedule took, even admitted that Dean was something special.

You might not like him but all of us seem to gravitate to him for some inexplicable reason. He carries our gaze with his ticks and his delivery. It’s as if he forces us to take heed even out of a necessity to understand him, his head downcast, his hands fidgeting and such, all a ploy to carry our attention. It generally works.

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Yes, we lost him so young but the beauty of Giant’s epic stature is that in cinematic terms Dean was blessed with a full life. We saw him as a fiery youth in East of Eden (1954) and Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and in Giant he evolved into an equally tortured man who grew old before our eyes. That’s the magic of the movies. But sometimes it’s so easy to have his legend overshadow all others.

The latter half of the film is really about the Benedict family evolving with the maturation of their children. Dean is worth a closer look certainly, but I’m inclined to enjoy the performances of Carroll Baker and Dennis Hopper nearly as much if only for the simple fact that they’re less heralded.

Baker is the daughter caught in the throes of romance and decadence who finds Jett Rink more fun partly for the very fact that her stuffy parents abhor what he has become. Meanwhile, Hopper brings a surprisingly earnest candor as the Benedict’s eldest son with aspirations to be a doctor instead of a rancher, pushing against family tradition, subsequently marrying a Mexican-American bride, and facing the unfortunate ostracization that comes with such a life.

Some of the most evocative scenes are actually held between Hudson and Taylor. To most, their careers were known for personal lives exploited by tabloids. They don’t get the same adulation as Dean as actors. Still, in this film, they do something quite spectacular in a more unassuming way. They quite authentically reflect the life of a married couple as their romance and life together waxes and wanes over the years. That includes Jett Rink’s onslaught and the trials with kids but, at the core it’s just the two of them, grappling with it together.

Because this is a film that unfolds over decades we come to appreciate the changes that come over the characters and not so much the makeup or touches of gray. More important are the strides they make in their lives or even how they remain the same.

They model what it is to be young and in love, to quarrel and bicker and to make up and to be diplomatic and to have dreams and aspirations and to want the best for your children and at the same time hold grudges and feel like the ones you love are purposely trying to undermine you.

To begin with, this is a fairy tale romance of opposites. Hudson is the formidable Texan bred as a rancher and he comes to the upper echelons of eastern society looking for a stallion and he comes back with a bride instead.

She comes to his country initially welcomed and then feeling like an outsider in a land that is so set in its ways. Men and woman are expected to exist in certain spheres. White folks don’t fraternize with Mexicans. And cattle barons tame their land and breed their stock like their fathers before them. It’s tradition and they stick to it. Bic Benedict is raised in that Texas tradition dating all the way back to the Alamo, his stock proud, fiery, and tough.

Still, his wife Leslie is just as audacious but in different ways, testing his sensibilities and testing the matrimonial bonds of their marriage. She rather comically proposes her own marriage, looks to break up the boy’s club mentality that dictates the culture, and tramples over the de facto laws of the land in favor of goodwill to all. That means if a baby is sick, she fetches a doctor. The color of its skin makes no difference. In that atmosphere, it’s radical that she extends kindness to everyone, not simply her own “kind” as it were, whether divided by class or racial barriers. Ultimately, it’s a testament to the sorry state of affairs but also of her personal convictions and they bleed into the rest of her family.

The final showcase comes not in his front and center bout with Jett Rink because although we’ve been expecting it for decades, as such it never comes. Jett’s not worth it anymore. Instead, Bic’s shining moment comes in, of all places, a roadside diner. He’s not as strapping as he used to be and he gets wailed on something awful. But in this moment as he’s duking it out with a local bigot, the platform that he stands on is not simply about his family name or his own personal honor as a Benedict but along the planes of what is morally right and wrong.

Rejecting service to people based on the color of their skin is inherently wrong. Disrespecting people of other races can and never should be accepted. Years before he would have never taken a stand on such touchy issues but he’s matured in that regard and his wife falls in love with him all over again. She sees first hand why she grew to love this man.

He lies there on the floor heaving and bloodied with food flung all around him the oddly upbeat throngs of “Yellow Rose of Texas” still whirring on the jukebox but ironically Leslie has never been more proud of her man. It’s that paradoxical maxim written about many times. Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing good.

Most modern viewers will honestly thank their lucky stars that they don’t make epics like this. But there’s something fleetingly enchanting about these old-time vehicles that managed to encompass so much space with grandiose ambitions and awesome imagery full of million dollar skies and fluffy clouds as far as the eye can see.

The West is dead as is the American genre. The stars as we knew them are no more. We are still a nation struggling with issues of race and class. Love and marriage. That mixture of nostalgia and timelessness still makes Giant a draw.  George Stevens is one of The Great American Directors and though Shane (1953) will remain his unassuming masterpiece, Giant deserves at the very least a modicum amount of respect as a dying breed of American epic.

4.5/5 Stars

Note: Entry in The Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon!

Jane Eyre (1943)

Jane-Eyre-1943-1Are you always drawn to the loveless and unfriended? ~ Edward Rochester

When it’s deserved. ~ Jane Eyre

I can still recall visiting the Bronte Parsonage, marveling at the fact that these sisters were able to have such a lasting impact on the world of literature — a world so often dominated by men at that time — and I simultaneously rued the fact that I had yet to crack open any of their works. Now several years down the road, I still have not opened up Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre by Emily and Charlotte Bronte and so I can only come into this 20th-century adaptation with certain expectations.

I realize that no film can wholly represent every page of a novel — especially of great length — because in a practical sense it’s simply not theatrically possible. But my hope is that at the very least this version of Jane Eyre maintains the essence of the source material and if nothing else I can revel in the fact that it is a thoroughly engrossing film from director Robert Stevenson.

It feels like some sort of intriguing marriage between Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre and the recent craze of gothic fiction adaptations — the most noted of course being Hitchcock’s Rebecca only a few years prior — that by some strange happenstance had input from Aldous Huxley. Here we have the ever timid beauty Joan Fontaine starring once more, this time opposite Welles. But the story starts at a much earlier point in the life of Jane Eyre.

Her life is a desolate and horrible affair as we soon find out, due in part to a caustic culture that uses their religion to ostracize others instead of bringing them into the fold of society.

In fact, most of those who hold a Christian belief system are puritanical and more problematic still, hard-hearted. Ironically, there’s no room for grace in the Christian faith that they practice. Foremost among this crowd is Mr. Brocklehurst (Henry Daniel) who runs the Lowood Institution for Girls.

It’s in this very issue revealed early on where the film finds much of its substance. Because thematically all throughout the narrative the audience is forced to grapple with various characters who are subjugated to the fringes of society and for various reasons are labeled as outcasts.

This is how Jane is seen first by her unfeeling aunt (Agnes Moorehead), then by the narrow-minded reverend. They seem absolutely incapable of compassion sitting atop their high horses of proclaimed humility and charity. In reality, they have very little of either to offer. A few do show her kindness including Dr. Rivers (John Sutton) and the cook Bessie (Sarah Allgood) but such behavior is the exception and not the norm.

Still, Jane the very person who has been relegated to a wretched and lesser state is for that very reason ready and willing to reach out to those around her who are treated likewise. The very fact that she has been marginalized allows her to see it in others and be compelled to move toward them when others move away.  She cares deeply for the outsider.

The most galvanizing experience involves her closest friend as a young girl (played by a child who still is very unmistakably Elizabeth Taylor). Then as she grows up and chooses to move away from the oppression of her surrogate home, it is the role of a governess in a gothic manor that once more allows her the opportunity to extend her graces to others. First in the form of the precocious ballerina extraordinaire (Margaret O’Brien) and then the brusque but obviously tortured man of the house (Orson Welles).

She sees in him something that runs deeper than the surface. He’s far from a bad man. In fact, she grows to love and cherish him because she sees the good that dwells in his conflicted soul. Burdened as he is with guilt and a past that still haunts him to the present moment. The film exhibits a bit of a love triangle as Rochester invites many guests to his estate among them the well-to-do Blanche Ingram (Hillary Brooke).

But the film pulling from its source material goes a step further still.  It digs into the dark recesses, involving itself with the less than pleasant realities, namely an unseen person who hangs over the storyline like a specter. In those very designs, whether they are simply employing the rhythms of Bronte’s book or not, there’s another evident parallel there with the 1940 adaptation of du Maurier’s Rebecca.

Gothic tones matched with an impending sense of foreboding with the demure Fontaine similarly relating the action through voiceover even reading verbatim off the page as if from a diary. And once again it works. While there is no Mrs. Danvers, Welles has the same Shakespearian gravitas of an Olivier that accentuates the very modesty of many of Fontaine’s performances. Their exchanges reflect the sensibilities of the time but furthermore help draw up the very differences of their characters. However, as much as that juxtaposition would seem to draw them apart it even more passionately brings them together.

Some might find this rendition of Jane Eyre too stark, too much of a studio production, even too abrupt, but with Welles and Fontaine opposite each other, it’s a frequently enjoyable gothic romance. As much as gothic romances can possibly be enjoyable.

4/5 Stars

The Father of the Bride (1950)

FatheroftheBride1950I’ve seen both versions of Father of the Bride and Steve Martin is fine and dandy but there is no better lovable curmudgeon than Spencer Tracy and he dons the role of the protective and skeptical father so effortlessly.

Furthermore, all down the line this production is an impressive gathering of talent with a radiantly young Elizabeth Taylor embodying the role of Kay, Joan Bennett leaving behind femme fatale roles for that of the level-headed mother and, of course, Vincente Minnelli positioned behind the camera. All in all, it’s a delightful light comedy that also finds time to say something heartfelt about the relationships of parents and their children, especially between fathers and daughters.

It’s rather like sitting back for story time as Tracy struggles with his shoes and begins to regale us with the recent happenings — the events that left his stately home looking like a hurricane disaster zone. It was all as a result of his daughter’s wedding. The event that is bound to challenge his sanity and bankrupt him in the process. But it’s for his “Kitten” so he’s willing to go through it out of his unwavering love for her.

First, he’s dubious of his future son-in-law, cringing at the thought as he shuffles through his memories of Kay’s many beaus. In his estimation, none of them was a winner, but then again, no one is good enough for his daughter. He’s not too excited about giving his daughter away nor by the prospect of supporting her good for nothing husband either. I’m sure most every father has the same conundrum to wrestle with. And it’s important to note that it’s played for comedic effect but never in a way that belittles these characters.

Minnelli was always a master of the color medium but here he still takes on the important role guiding us through the comedic moments with a deft touch and allowing us to track with the mayhem at large when necessary.

There are also some wonderful spots for veteran supporting players like the overly stuffy wedding coordinator Leo G. Carroll and the charmingly enthusiastic Melville Cooper as he guides the wedding rehearsal with a chaotic vigor.  Then, of course, there’s the prospective groom Buckley, played by the always affable everyman Don Taylor.

But everything must return to Tracy and Taylor because they are the nucleus of the storyline and as such, they work well together. Admittedly, Taylor might feel slightly out of place in such a family, but she is Elizabeth Taylor and she’s captivating all the same. Putting her together with Tracy means a lot of poignant sequences. Those moments where he comforts her, encourages her over a midnight snack at the dining room table, and finally, willingly gives her up to the man she has chosen to have and to hold for the rest of her life. To its credit, the film strikes a fine balance between comedy and heart always returning to this father-daughter relationship.

3.5/5 Stars

The Bests Films of Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

“Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses.”

1. Giant
2. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
3. A Place in the Sun
4. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
5. National Velvet
6. Father of the Bride
7. Life With Father
8. Lassie Come Home
9. The Taming of the Shrew
10. Jane Eyre
11. Father’s Little Dividend
12. Suddenly, Last Summer

Famous Collaborations: Richard Burton, George Stevens, Montgomery Clift

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton with director Mike Nichols, this taboo-breaking adaption of the stage play revolves around a middle-aged couple. George is a professor and he and his wife Martha have a love-hate relationship. Urged by her influential  father, Martha invites a young couple to their home. Because of the late hour and lots of alcohol, the rest of the evening becomes a wild war full of nasty insults, hurtful games, and manipulation. Martha and George use their guests and go as far as physical violence. However, in the end secrets are uncovered and they realize that they truly are afraid of Virginia Woolf. What began as a joke became all too true. At points this film seemed to elude me but I will say the acting was intense and powerful. There were moments where you disdain these people, then you feel pity for their plight, and other times you may even be able to relate to them in some ways.

4/5 Stars

Giant (1956)

This is an epic film that stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean, with direction by George Stevens. It shows the ongoing conflict between a rancher (Hudson) and his former hired hand who becomes rich off oil (Dean). As Jett Rink (Dean) exclaims, he becomes even richer than the rancher Bic Benedict (Hudson) ever dreamed. The relationship escalates when Rink makes a rude remark to Leslie Benedict (Taylor), and some punches are traded. From this point on the three main characters slowly grow older and the Benedicts have children. In his final screen appearance, Dean’s character is suppose to give a speech at a large banquet. However he is so drunk he falls flat on his face a complete wreck. Giant was ahead of his time by giving commentary about the race relations with Mexicans. It also took young actors and progressively made them look older, something that was quite unusual. Although this was Dean’s final movie I think it can be said he came full circle. He began as a youth in East of Eden and by the end of Giant he was a old man.

4.5/5 Stars

A Place in the Sun (1951)

In this film starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters, with George Stevens directing, a young man (Clift) tries to rise up in his uncle’s company. He is poorly-educated yet ambitious and he slowly moves up in the Eastman business. While he works George begins to fall for a modest girl (Winters) who also works in the assembly. They slowly begin to show romantic feelings for each other because they face the same hardships. With a new found postition George begins to interact with people of higher social status. Although he feels out of place there, he meets the beautiful and rich Angela (Taylor) who he begins to fall in love with. As he begins to get more involved with Angela, he learns that his former love interest is pregnant and therefore wishes to marry him. Faced with a dilemma, George makes a decision that will ruin him forever, whether he goes through with it or not. A hard-hitting drama, and an adaptation of “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser, the latter half is the best part, including the chilling finale.

4/5 Stars