By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Bitchy lady rules island.
Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth (Elizabeth Taylor) lives on a secluded island in a large mansion and surrounded by servants who cater to her every whim. She has alienated most everyone she has come into contact with and relies on her secretary Miss Black (Joanna Shimkus) to write down her autobiography that she dictates to her indiscriminately throughout the day. In comes Chris Flanders (Richard Burton) a nomadic poet living on the skids who infiltrates her palace and her oppressed sexual desires with his ruggedness and mystery. Will Sissy fall under his seductive spell, or does this mysterious stranger have even darker intentions?
The film was directed by Joseph Losey who is one of the more inventive and groundbreaking directors who ever lived and sadly doesn’t get enough recognition. Unfortunately he was going through a bout of depression when he made this film, which caused him to abuse alcohol and seriously affected the film’s final result although it still manages to be a fascinating visual excursion nonetheless. The location shooting, which was done almost entirely on the island of Sardinia, is dazzling. The shots of the steep cliffs and crystal blue water, which are literally a part of Sissy’s backyard, are breathtaking. The modernistic mansion that she lives in is equally sumptuous particularly with its myriad collection of art paintings and wet bars that seem to pop-up every few feet in whatever room or patio the characters are in.
The acting is also outstanding as Taylor eats up the scenery with her over-the-top bitchiness and unexplained anxiety attacks, which she takes to an unprecedented campy level. The outrageous hat that she wears to her dinner date is quite possibly one of the most bizarre things ever to be put on top of a human head.
The normally commanding Burton unfortunately comes off as weak in comparison and overall looks uncomfortable in his role. The script originally called for a young man in his 20’s for the part and thus casting Burton, who was already 42 at the time, seemed misguided.
Dwarf actor Michael Dunn is excellent in support. His character utters only three words, but still makes his presence known with the way he shows complete control over his attack dogs while playing of all things Sissy’s bodyguard. Playwright Noel Coward appears in a fun bit as one of Sissy’s friends who she invites over for dinner. The friends secretly disdain each other in private, but put on a superficial friendship when together and apparently this is also how the two performers behaved with each other behind-the-scenes as well.
Unfortunately the script, which was written by Tennessee Williams and based on his play ‘The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore’ leaves much to be desired. The plot meanders on to an unsatisfying conclusion while rehashing old themes that had already been used in his earlier and better known works.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: May 26, 1968
Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes
Director: Joseph Losey
Available: DVD (Region 2)