Friday, March 25, 2011

"Gone But Great"- Elizabeth Taylor

As I'm sure everybody already knows, Liz Taylor died two days ago at the age of 79. 
Now I can't say that I've seen every movies she's made, but there are many I

A few highlights from her vast career, all which have ties to Broadway:

She starred as Maggie in the 1958 film version of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof . The film, and play, is all about family relations in the South and what happens when the patriarch is close to death.  Maggie, "the cat," having married into this wealthy family, finds it difficult to live with her husband Brick (Paul Newman) who seems to have no interest in making a play for the family's inheritance.  He would rather have yet another drink and stay depressed after his pro football player friend Skipper's recent suicide, a friend who he might just have been more intimate with then he is with Maggie.    And while some of the more mature content from the play was toned down or virtually eliminated for the film due to the limitations put on films at that time, the adaptation is still quite good and Taylor, Newman and the film were all nominated for Oscars.  My friend Steven loves to quote one of her lines in that film that she delivers to her handsome yet innatentive, alcoholic husband- "Why can't you get ugly Brick? Why can't you please get fat or ugly or somethin' so I can stand it?"

Her next film was an adaptation of another Tennessee Williams' play.  She stared as Catherine in the 1959 movie of Suddenly Last Summer with Katharine Hepburn and her good friend Montgomery Clift.  In the film, Taylor is driven to the brink of getting a lobotomy after witnessing the events surrounding her cousin Sebastian's death when they were vacationing in Europe.  His mother, played by Hepburn,  is a force of nature who will stop at nothing, even bribery, to convince the doctor who is analyzing Taylor to go through with the lobotomy so it will eliminate the truth about her son's death and what he was.  Shot in glorious black and white, Taylor and Hepburn simply crackle in their scene's together with Taylor completely holding her own against Hepburn.  The flashbacks that show her cousin's death are eerie and shocking. There are plenty of classic lines in the play and film, including this one, delivered by Taylor after being confronted with the possibility that Sebastian was just using her as a way to attract the poor European men they encountered to prostitute themselves for Sebastian's benefit - "Is that what love is? Using people? And maybe that's what hate is - not being able to use people."  I also love how various characters in the play use the phrase "and then suddenly last Summer" throughout the film.   Simply a movie, and a play, that you won't soon forget.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff? is the 1966 film she made with her husband Richard Burton.  Taylor won the Oscar for best actress for her performance as "Martha" in this adaptation of the Edward Albee play, a play that has secrets revealed throughout and a story that isn't always exactly as it seems.  The plot is fairly simple- older couple has younger couple over for a few drinks, but it becomes quickly obvious that the younger couple is simply an audience for an ongoing drunken emotional game that spirals out of control deep into the wee morning hours.  The film (and play) are devastating but both are theatrical gems and are highly recommended.  Here are a couple of classic lines you might want to use the next time you're at a cocktail party that gets a little out of hand - "Get me another drink, lover"  or the great reply that George gives Martha, "rubbing alcohol for you?"

One other "theatrical" film that Taylor made was the film version of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's A Little Night Music.  Unfortunately, the film and Taylor's performance weren't that highly regarded and pretty much the parts that made the musical a success on Broadway were virtually eliminated for the film which was now constructed as a play within a play.   Much like the film version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, the entire ensemble and their songs were cut for the film, but since they were the ones who commented on the action in the play, the story suffered as a result of it.  And though Taylor looked great and acted well, her version of the hit song "Send in the Clowns" left a little to be desired.

Taylor appeared on Broadway twice, her Broadway debut was in 1981 in a revival of The Little Foxes and her only other appearance was in 1983 in a revival of Private Lives with her husband Richard Burton. 

I recommend putting any of these films into your Netflix queue.

One other Broadway connection - Liz's first big smash was in the 1944 film National Velvet, which just also happened to co-star a young Angela Lansbury, who has won 5 Tony Awards including winning for Sweeney Todd, which just happens to be my favorite musical!

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof scene with Newman -

Trailer for Suddenly, Last Summer - 

Trailer for Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff?

The "Send in the Clowns" sequence from the film of A Little Night Music with Len Cariou -

Amazon link for Suddenly Last Summer on dvd - Suddenly, Last Summer

Amazon link for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on dvd - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Deluxe Edition)

Amazon link for Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff? on dvd - Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Two-Disc Special Edition)

Amazon link for A Little Night Music on dvd - A Little Night Music

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