Ash Wednesday (1973)

ash wednesday 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Liz gets a facelift.

Barbara (Elizabeth Taylor) is not aging gracefully. Her husband Mark (Henry Fonda) is having an affair with a much younger woman, but Barbara is determined to win him back. She decides to get a facelift and then spends her time afterwards at a winter resort in Italy where a young man name Erich (Helmut Berger) becomes intoxicated by her sudden youthful beauty and the two go to bed together. When her husband arrives she still strives to save the marriage, but finds that to him the facelift makes no difference.

The film’s biggest claim-to-fame is the graphic and vivid look at an actual facelift surgery that sickened many viewers who watched the film when it was first released. The footage is explicit, but fascinating as well as I never quite understood how this procedure worked, so seeing it from a medical viewpoint is to a certain extent educational. I also liked that during Barbara’s stay at the hospital she meets a middle-aged man named David (Keith Baxter) who has had several of the some procedures himself and showing that this wasn’t exclusively a woman’s issue although I was confused why a man would spend so much money having facelifts, but then not bother to dye his hair.

The effects of the procedure is a bit misleading because Liz was only 40 at the time and was put into heavy makeup to make her appear much older at the beginning, so the results of the surgery are really just her as she normally looked. The idea that a facelift would have such a galvanizing effect on everyone around her is also not realistic. A recent study found that many people who had the procedure ultimately only looked 3 to 5 years younger instead of the 10-plus that they had hoped for. Sometimes a facelift can make a person look even worse, or in my opinion a sort of ‘duckface’ that this movie doesn’t even hit on, but should’ve.

I also thought that the idea that this woman would want to stay with a man who is openly cheating on her was unrealistic. If this woman was poor, lonely and homely and he was her only source of a social outlet then maybe, but this guy was loaded and I would think most women would simply hire a good divorce lawyer and take the cheating cad to the cleaners and then merrily move on especially when she had already proven to herself that she could attract other more attractive men on her own anyways.

The role itself seems to be an extension of Taylor’s own personality in that of a woman living in an insular world obsessed with shallow problems because she has too much time and money on her hands and unable to either understand or portray an average person in a regular lifestyle even if she wanted to. The wide variety of big puffy hats and scarfs that she wears becomes a bit of a distraction and almost like a character into itself.

Fonda is wasted in another one his typical latter career roles that gives him very little to do. He doesn’t even appear onscreen until the final fifteen minutes and only then long enough to tell her he wants a divorce before promptly leaving.

The opening sequence showing the two stars aging through the years during the credits is interesting and well-done especially seeing Fonda when he was young. The musical score by Maurice Jarre has a nice classic flair to it and lifts this dreary production to a more classy level than it deserves, but unfortunately doesn’t get played much after the beginning.

The film probably would’ve worked better had the surgical procedure not happened right away, but instead been done in the middle and had more of a backstory at the beginning. The facelift scenes are actually the film’s highpoint and it goes rapidly downhill afterwards until it becomes a mind numbing train wreck that isn’t worth watching for any reason.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: November 1, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Peerce

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS

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