The Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon
Welcome to the Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon! hosted by The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood
Dubbed “Liz and Dick” in the press, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the world’s most famous newlyweds as filming of The Sandpiper (1965) began. After nearly bankrupting a studio with Cleopatra (1963), the pair were ready to do it again.
In Vincente Minnelli’s The Sandpiper, Taylor plays Laura Reynolds, a free-spirited artist living with her son Danny (Morgan Mason) in scenic Big Sur on the California coast. In a documentary filmed concurrently with The Sandpiper, Richard Burton called Big Sur “a place of primitive beauty.”
Young Danny has gotten into minor trouble and gets sent to an Episcopal boarding school by a judge. Dr. Edward Hewitt (Burton) is headmaster, and his wife Claire (Eva Marie Saint) teaches at the school. The couple is under financial pressure keeping the school open. Claire is an intelligent, attractive blonde devoted to her husband. Then, the raven haired Laura appears and (surprise!) there’s an immediate attraction between the leggy bohemian and the button down academic, leaving Claire the odd woman out.
The theme of adultery was a case of life imitating art with viewers at the time certainly recalling the scandal that erupted during the filming of Cleopatra. At the time, Taylor was married to pop crooner Eddie Fisher and Burton was still married to his wife Sybil. The notoriety didn’t hurt The Sandpiper at the box office, counteracting lukewarm reviews. By 1970, the overwrought melodrama had earned over 14 million.
The Sandpiper won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for “The Shadow of Your Smile”; music by Johnny Mandel (who also composed the score) and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster.
The song begins:
One day we walked along the sand
One day in early spring
You held a piper in your hand
To mend its broken wing
Now I’ll remember many a day
And many a lonely mile
The echo of a piper’s song
The shadow of a smile
One can argue about the relative merits of the movie but the beauty of Taylor is incontrovertible. Having her portray an unconventional artist with a social conscience was also smart casting. Taylor’s support for many charities and causes throughout her life, especially during the AIDS crisis, was well documented.
Multiple Oscar winner Irene Sharif was the costumer and created the hip mid sixties attire for Taylor’s character.
Cinematography was by Oscar winner Milton R. Krasner. Blacklisted screenwriters Dalton Trumbo and Michael Wilson worked on the adaptation by Irene and Louis Kamp of producer Martin Ransohoff’s original story.
The Sandpiper was somewhat racy for its time. Boom! (1968) which I saw at a Midnight screening at the 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival, takes things to another level. Directed by Joseph Losey, Tennessee Williams adapted his play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.Describing the look of the film, the TCM Festival program noted the “team of top professionals—including director Joseph Losey and cinematographer Douglas Slocombe—have made the picture captivatingly beautiful. Losey did location work in Sardinia, where the Mediterranean has an almost unearthly blue. The studio sets are baroque masterpieces, while Taylor wears a stunning collection of black-and-white costumes. The results are so dazzling you won’t want to tear your eyes from the screen.”
John Barry of James Bond fame composed the modernist score. Annalisa Nasalli-Rocca acted as wardrobe supervisor for the outrageous costumes including Taylor’s headgear in the fantasy sequences.
Once again Taylor and Burton’s characters parallel their own lives. Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth (Taylor) is a still beautiful woman after multiple marriages and divorces but terminally ill. Christopher Flanders (Burton) is a mysterious stranger who arrives on the island and is possibly the harbinger of her death. There’s heavy symbolism and as a bonus, Noel Coward as the Witch of Capri.