By Richard Winters
My Rating: 3 out of 10
4-Word Review: Murder in the window.
Ellen Wheeler (Elizabeth Taylor) is an emotionally unstable woman recovering from a nervous breakdown. Her first husband died in a car crash along with his young lady lover. Now her second husband John (Laurence Harvey) is fooling around with Ellen’s best friend Sara (Billie Whitelaw). One night Ellen witnesses a murder at the abandoned house next door, but because of Ellen’s past mental state no one believes her. Even the police doubt her story, which starts to send her over-the-edge.
I saw this play about a year ago with a group of friends at a local church. It was written by Lucille Fletcher best known for having done Sorry Wrong Number, which was later turned into a classic film starring Barbra Stanwyck. Although the play started out slowly the twist ending was impressive and something no one in the audience had predicted, but what I liked even better was that when you went back and thought about it, it made perfect sense. I thought at the time that it would make a great movie and was interested in seeing what this film did with it. I felt that there was no way they could screw up such a great story, but somehow they managed to do it.
Director Brian G. Hutton adds a lot of elements to make it more cinematic that should have helped it, but it really doesn’t. I liked the flashback sequences showing the car crash of the first husband as well as Ellen visiting the hospital and identifying the bodies. These segments have a good nightmarish visual quality to them, but Hutton goes back to it too often and eventually wears it out. I also liked that the film shows the police inspecting the inside of the abandoned home, which in the play you never see, but I felt they could have done a lot more to make the place seem more distinct and creepy. There is also a skirmish between two people inside the place at the end that you can hear, but not see because it is too dark and shadowy, which was annoying. The music is effectively creepy, but it also has a ringing quality that quickly becomes irritating and gets way over-played.
This was just one of the many misfires that Taylor did during the 70’s that helped extinguish her otherwise illustrious career long before it should’ve. This one fares slightly better than the others, but not by much. Her affected British accent could seem annoying to some and sounds kind of like the put-on one that Madonna sometimes does although for the record Taylor’s is better than hers. Liz’s emotionalism is a bit too theatrical and may come off as unintentionally funny to certain viewers although seeing her go completely nutty is impressive and fun.
Harvey is all wrong as the husband. His cold, detached presence can work in certain roles, but definitely not in this one. In the play that I saw the actor cast in this part looked more middle-aged with a spare tire stomach, balding head, and graying sideburns, which is what I felt the role called for. This is a character that is overburdened with a stressful job and unstable wife and yet Harvey shows none of this. His slick black hair and turtleneck shirts, which were fashionable at the time, make him look like someone still going out to the trendy nightclubs to pick up young chicks… or guys.
Whitelaw is one of the best British character actresses of all-time, but her talents are wasted with a part that doesn’t allow her to show any range. Her blonde hairdo is nice, but Taylor’s histrionics dominate the proceedings and unceremoniously push Whitelaw into the background.
The play had a lot of humor especially with the Mr. Appleby character played here by actor Robert Lange. Unfortunately the movie turns it into a serious drama making it seem more like a soap opera instead of a mystery. I came away from this feeling that the live production that I had seen was far more entertaining and intriguing. I would suggest to viewers to skip this film and wait for a chance to see it done as a play as the movie does not do the story justice.
My Rating: 3 out of 10
Released: August 9, 1973
Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes
Director: Brian G. Hutton
Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures
Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video
Compared to Boom!, Secret Ceremony, The Only Game in Town, Hammersmith is Out, Ash Wednesday, and XY and Zee, this is one of Taylor’s more tolerable post Virginia Wolf debacles!