Classic Movie Watchlist 2018

Classic Movie Of The Week: BUtterfield 8 (1960)


Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher, Laurence Harvey

Director: Daniel Mann

Elizabeth Taylor is Gloria Wandrous in this film adaptation of the sexy, best selling novel BUtterfield 8. The title refers to the a telephone exchange number for a wealthy area of Manhattan. Gloria is a beautiful woman with everything going for her, but rather than settle down, she likes to skip from man to man. When she falls in love with a married man, it has tragic consequences because he can’t accept her past and she can’t face her reasons for doing the things she does.

It’s a film that Elizabeth Taylor did not want to do, but was forced to under her contract by the studio. They wanted to cash in on her public persona as she had just broken up Eddie Fisher’s marriage to Debbie Reynolds, who was America’s sweetheart. Many didn’t approve of Taylor’s marriages, but people were still fascinated by Taylor and her personal life did not detract from her popularity. In this film, her performance was so good, it won her her first Oscar. The film sells itself on sex appeal, and it’s hard not to notice the way the advertising is trying to shame it’s star.

The film is quite dated in it’s social setting. While the studio’s tended to hold on to old values, the times were already moving towards a greater sexual freedom. Here, Gloria sleeps around because she likes it, and she’s often looked down on in this film or thought to be a prostitute. Taylor as an actress is so elegant and seems to have a core of steel, the impression is that she is in control and having fun. She is using the men who’s company she enjoys as much as they are using her.

Her vulnerabilites show when she falls in love. The man she loves wants to leave his wife for her, but then is embarrassed that other men will laugh at him. He can’t handle her sexuality or that she has a past. Gloria also talks about the childhood reason for her being the way she is. It’s all a bit heavy handed and over the top, and the values it espouses were already fading. It’s a film that showcases attitudes to women that flash like a warning sign, if you have sex, you’ll never find love and come to a tragic end.

But Taylor’s performance has something to it. In her hands, Gloria is never weak. She’s her own agent, in some ways a free spirit, on others an injured bird. She’s wonderful to watch as an incredibly beautiful woman who isn’t afraid to piss people off and who wears a fur coat with nothing underneath. Rather than tragic, she feels ahead of her time.

See It If: dated and a bit melodramatic at the end, it’s worth seeing for Taylor’s performance, even if the message is flawed.

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