By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: A Vegas love story.
Fran (Elizabeth Taylor) is an aging Las Vegas showgirl living alone in a two-bit hotel room while awaiting the return of her lover (Charles Braswell) who has disappeared yet again while he goes off to his wife that he consistently promises he will eventually divorce. In her loneliness she decides to go out to a piano bar and order a pizza. It is there that she meets Joe (Warren Beatty) and the two quickly hit-it-off while also spending the night together. Joe has a gambling problem, but promises that the minute he saves up $5,000 he’ll be out of Vegas for good. He moves into her hotel room where she helps him save up the necessary dough to achieve his dreams even though with his gambling addiction he will fritter it all away the moment he gets his hands on it. Then Fran’s long lost lover returns and ready for marriage. Will she go back with him, or stay with the self-destructive Joe that she has despite her better judgement fallen in love with?
The script by Frank D. Gilroy is based on his stage play and it’s not particularly rich in character development or plot. In fact the play itself fared poorly when it ran on Broadway and had only 16 performances before being shut down. However, despite its lack of originality I still found myself enjoying it and a major reason for this is the casting.
Taylor shines in a role that didn’t seem to be a particularly good fit for her. She spent the latter part of her career playing bitchy old dames that always seemed one step away from the sanitarium or a nervous breakdown. Here her character merits some sympathy and her usual overacting is actually entertaining and helps propel the flimsy plot along. The pairing of her with Beatty is an odd one, but then again the relationship is supposed to be awkward, so it ends up working to the script’s advantage.
Beatty’s performance is equally impressive. Normally he specializes at playing characters that are cool, calm and in control, but here he portrays one that is quietly crumbling and manages to pull it off to complete perfection. The scenes of him at the craps table and compulsively blowing all of his hard-earned money away is genuinely difficult to watch, especially since real cash gets used, and one of the most effective looks at the gambling addiction that I’ve seen.
This also marks the last film to be directed by the legendary George Stevens. He was known for helming some epic Hollywood productions, so it is a bit surprising that he choose to do this one since the storyline and setting were far more constrained from what he was used to working with. In fact the majority of it was shot in Paris, France and not Las Vegas, which many critics at the time felt was a detriment, but to me it made it even more fascinating to watch because of it. For one thing the crew did spend 10 days in Vegas shooting some of the outdoor shots, so you still get some legitimate Sin City scenery regardless. What I enjoyed though was the way Stevens was able to camouflage the rest of the scenes including having the bright daytime light seeping through the hotel room windows, which convincingly looked like the natural sunlight reflecting off of the sandy desert landscape. The recreation of the giant Las Vegas grocery store was impressive as well and strangely one of my favorite moments from the movie.
If you enjoy quirky love stories particularly between characters who are painfully human and less than glamorous you may enjoy this film better than most. It’s also a terrific chance to see two very fine actors playing against type and doing so in splendid fashion.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: January 21, 1970
Runtime: 1Hour 53Minutes
Director: George Stevens
Studio: 20th Century Fox