By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Wife sabotages husband’s affair.
Zee (Elizabeth Taylor) is the middle-aged wife of Robert (Michael Caine) and the two have been in a tumultuous marriage for many years. Then at a party Robert spots Stella (Susannah York) who is a single mother with two boys. Robert enjoys her much calmer less confrontational demeanor, which is the exact opposite of Zee’s and the two quickly fall into an affair. Zee though becomes aware of what’s going on and becomes determined to put a stop to it one way or the other. At first she is meddlesome by constantly calling-up Stella and warning her about Robert and even going to her place of business to harass her. When that doesn’t work she tries playing into Robert’s sympathy and at one point even attempting suicide, but when all that fails and the affair continues she uses her gay friend Gordon (John Standing) to dig-up some dirt on her and when she finds out the secret that Stella has she uses it to exact her revenge.
Taylor and her over-the-top shrewish performance is the whole reason the movie works and if you watch it for that purpose you won’t be disappointed. Sure she’s played this role a bit too often to the point that it was becoming more of a caricature for her and ultimately what I feel killed her career as by the 80’s she was no longer making films for the big screen, but still when she’s as entertaining doing it as she is here it’s still a joy to watch. Unfortunately she dominates every scene that she’s in that it leaves very little room for her co-stars particularly York who’s completely dull by comparison. York certainly was an accomplished actress, but in this movie she’s unable to go toe-to-toe with her superior co-star and the film suffers for it. A strong actress with a definite presence was needed instead York just quietly sits there looking overwhelmed as Taylor’s character continuously berates her. If anything Mary Larkin, who plays Caine’s nerdy secretary, should’ve been the love interest, Caine ultimately sleeps with her anyways, as she’s so meek that you would feel sorry for her when Taylor got snarky with her, but with York you feel nothing and it’s almost like she’s transparent.
Caine on the other-hand is able to hold his own, but his frothy retorts at Taylor’s abuse is never quite as clever, or entertaining as hers. My biggest issue with his character is why doesn’t he just divorce her as he’s quite wealthy and could easily do it and yet avoids it. He mentions at one point wanting to kill her, but never just divorcing her. Since the couple never had any kids it would be less messy, so why not just take that route and then he could see York, or any other woman for that matter without worrying about Taylor getting in the way. I realize some marriages are held together for weird reasons, even those when it becomes achingly clear that it should end, but for whatever reason it doesn’t. However, after 2-hours of watching this those reasons should eventually become clear, but they never do.
I sat through almost the entire movie just waiting to find out what the ‘dark secret’ was that York’s character held, as described by Leonard Maltin in his review, only to finally realize it was nothing more than her being a closet lesbian. What’s worse is that nothing much happens once the secret is exposed. Maltin also describes Taylor/York’s lovemaking scene as ‘ranking high in the annals of poor taste’ though this sentence has been removed from his review in the later editions of his book presumably to avoid making him look homophobic, but whatever lovemaking he may of seen I didn’t and I watched the full 1 Hour 49 Minute newly remastered version from Columbia Pictures (same version streaming on Amazon Video), so either a minute of it got snipped on this cut, or Maltin was offended at seeing the two women hug, which is all there is.
Admittedly I was disappointed as I was hoping to see them kiss, or in bed together, which would’ve livened it up a bit and made it worth sitting through, which otherwise is a strain. The lesbian angle should’ve been introduced much earlier and showing Taylor and York not only getting-it-on and enjoying it, but inviting the reluctant Caine in as a threesome. That would’ve made the movie truly sophisticated and ahead-of-its-time, but having it end the way it does with York seeming very ashamed and defeated about her homosexuality makes it dated and out-of-touch with modern-day sentiments. A misguided relic of its period that really doesn’t have much to say and nowhere near as ‘daring’ as the filmmakers thought it was.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Released: January 21, 1972
Runtime: 1 Hour 49 Minutes
Director: Brian G. Hutton
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video, Tubi