Tag Archives: Richard Burton

The Comedians (1967)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life under Papa Doc.

Based on the novel by Graham Greene the film centers on Brown (Richard Burton) an emotionally detached British hotel owner residing in Haiti. He has spent years avoiding the political turmoil of the region and the Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier regime, but finds now that the walls may finally be closing in. He must deal with the suicide of a government official that occurs on his grounds in his pool as well as a visiting American couple (Paul J. Ford, Lillian Gish) with strong political connections. His ongoing affair with the wife (Elizabeth Taylor) of a South American diplomat (Peter Ustinov) risks him further trouble as does his friendship with an illegal arms dealer (Alec Guinness).

The film ebbs-and-flows unevenly and isn’t compelling despite some strong moments here and there. What grabbed my attention was the vivid on-location shooting that gives the movie an interesting visual appeal. Because of the political environment going on in Haiti the producers were not allowed to film there and instead choose the small African country of Benin, which was still called the Republic of Dahomey at the time, as their substitute setting. The contrast of the serene tropical landscape juxtaposed with the abject poverty of its citizens is stunning with the most impactful moment coming when they visit Duvalierville a planned city with expensive buildings and homes being constructed with poor homeless people scurrying around begging for money as the structures go up.

The acting though by Richard Burton is atrocious and a major hindrance. I like Burton and consider him in most productions that he has been in to be a very strong actor, but here he doesn’t seem into the part at all. His presence is quite aloof and conveys little emotion to the point that he seems to be just walking through his role and mouthing his lines.

Taylor on the other hand is quite strong and manages to speak with an authentic sounding German accent. She made many bad film choices later her in career that ended up stigmatizes her acting reputation, but if given the right script and a competent director she could clearly convey an onscreen brilliance, which she does here. Unfortunately she is not seen enough and appears only sporadically throughout. If this is supposed to be a Taylor/Burton picture then the two needed equal screen time and prominent roles instead of one being relegated to what seems like only a minor part.

The supporting cast is excellent and this is a great chance to see up-and-coming African American actors when they were just starting out including: Raymond St. Jacques, James Earl Jones, Cicely Tyson, George Stanford Brown, and Zakes Mokae.  Gish and Ford offer a surprisingly profound moment when they follow a procession of singing happy young children into a forum for what they think will be a religious ceremony only to find to their shock that everyone is there to witness a firing squad execution instead.

The story has its moments, but I would’ve preferred if it had been a little more focused. At times it is compelling, but it drifts back and forth between too many different story threads and never comes together as a whole not to mention a limp ending that leaves no impact.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 31, 1967

Runtime: 2 Hours 31 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Peter Glenville

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Box Set), Amazon Video, YouTube

Boom! (1968)

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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.

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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.

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Polish Poster

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: May 26, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Joseph Losey

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD (Region 2)

The V.I.P.s (1963)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drama at the airport.

Several diverse characters come together at London’s Heathrow Airport. All have urgent needs that require them to board a certain flight that they hope will take off as soon as possible. Frances (Elizabeth Taylor) is the wife of rich tycoon Paul (Richard Burton) and is secretly having an affair with gambler/playboy Marc (Louis Jourdan). She has left him a ‘dear John’ letter at home and hopes to be well on her way to New York before he reads it. Les (Rod Taylor) is a businessman who also hopes to get to the Big Apple quickly to avoid the hostile takeover of his company. Max (Orson Welles) is a famous movie director traveling with his vapid starlet Gloria (Elsa Martinelli) and hoping to leave England before he is forced to pay an enormous tax penalty. Unfortunately for them a fog rolls in, which delays the flight and sends everyone’s plans into disarray.

The drama has some potential at the beginning, but the 2-hour runtime is much too long for this type of material. Whatever compelling elements the threads may have had when it started become lodged in endless talk and boredom. The scene where Burton smashes Liz’s hand against a mirror is the only time there is any action and Terence Rattigan’s soap opera script is too clichéd. Director Anthony Asquith’s direction shows no visual flair and fails to capture the airport in any type of interesting way. The background sets look like they were built on a soundstage and the fog effects are quite tacky.

Margaret Rutherford won the supporting Oscar for her portrayal of an aging Duchess. She adds some much needed humor particularly in the segment where she has difficulty getting her hat box into the plane’s luggage compartment. However, like with the story thread concerning the Orson Welles character she is seen to briefly and their scenes are spread so far apart that you almost forget all about them.

Spoiler Warning!

There is also another segment where a complete stranger played by actress Maggie Smith approaches the Burton character and asks him for a hundred and fifty three thousand pounds and he gives it to her in the form of a blank check, which had me floored. Men like him don’t become rich by handing out a lot of money to anyone who asks especially people they don’t know. Some may argue that because the character was considering suicide that he didn’t care anymore, but it still seemed too much of a stretch and for me sent this already stale drama into the realm of the absurd and ridiculous.

End of Spoiler Warning

Every story thread gets a nice, convenient happy ending that gives the whole thing a TV-sitcom quality and barely worth the effort to sit through. The production has some glossy aspects and certainly big-name stars, but ends up being a buildup to nothing.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Anthony Asquith

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Becket (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Betrayed by his friend.

King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) is finding himself at continual odds with the Archbishop of Canterbury (Felix Aylmer) particularly in their disagreement of taxing the church to help fund Henry’s war with France when the elderly Archbishop suddenly dies Henry decides to appoint his longtime friend Thomas Becket (Richard Burton) into the position.  Becket had always shown extreme loyalty towards Henry and many times gotten him out of several jams so Henry expects this will continue in his new role, but finds that Thomas takes his position much more seriously than expected and shifts his loyalty from the king to the almighty, which causes serious conflict between the two.

The film which is directed by Peter Glenville is based on the 1959 stageplay written by Jean Anouilh that starred Laurence Olivier in the role as Becket and Anthony Quinn as Henry. This film version isn’t bad, but not quite the epic spectacle that we are so used to from these types of films from that period. The action is quite minimal and there is a definite staginess. I would have liked more camera movements and even a few scenes with a hand-held to help make it seem a little more authentic and less of a filmed drama. The scene where Henry and Becket are seen riding on horseback appears very corny as it was clearly done in front of a blue-screen. There is also too much music one scene has Henry and Becket running away from a farmhouse after being caught fooling around with a farm girl that has a cartoonish sounding melody that seems completely inappropriate especially for the time period.

Having Henry and Becket go from being friends to bitter enemies seemed to happen too quickly. I got the feeling we were seeing the ‘Cliff Notes’ version of events were they analyze only the important plot points and then quickly moved to the next. I realize the runtime of the film is already long, but spending more time showing the friendship gradually devolve would have been more realistic.

Normally I love Sir John Gielgud and his performance as King Louis VII is amusing, but he is clearly British and speaks with an English accent that doesn’t even come close to sounding French. The part of the Pope is given to an Italian, so the King Louis role should have been done by a Frenchman.

O’Toole is excellent. He has brown hair here instead of his patented blonde and his ability to stay in step with Burton by giving an almost comic performance of a King who is nothing more than an overgrown adolescent is brilliant. The royal food fight is good as are the many putdowns that he gives to both his wife and kids and even his own mother.

Burton is fantastic as expected playing a role different from any of the others that he has done. His piercing blue eyes have never been stronger particularly when he becomes the Archbishop.

The killing scenes done inside the church near the end has some nice camera work and Henry’s final emotional speech as well as his flogging by the monks are all strong and make this worthwhile viewing, but I couldn’t help but feel that we have ‘grown-up’ a bit in the way we do period pieces today and this is one that could use a remake.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1964

Runtime: 2Hours 28Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Peter Glenville

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Off with her head

Based on historical fact the setting is 1527 King Henry VIII (Richard Burton) is bored with his current wife Catherine of Aragon (Irene Pappas) and becomes intoxicated by the beauty of 18-year-old Anne Boleyn (Genevieve Bujold). Initially she resists the advances of the King and finds him unappealing, but once she gets a whiff of all the power that being a Queen can give she falls in-love with him. The King wants her to bore him a son, but their first child turns out to be a girl, which causes their marriage to sour. Their acrimony is furthered when their second child turns out to be a stillborn son. Eventually the King grows tired of Anne and hires Thomas Cromwell (John Colicos) to find a way to get rid of her. Cromwell tortures some servants into saying they had sexual liaisons with Anne which gets her placed under arrest and awaiting trial and execution.

Bujold gives a powerful and mesmerizing performance and I am surprised that she didn’t win the Oscar. However, Burton, who is an actor that I admire, seems uncomfortable in his role and just walking through his part.

The story itself is compelling and because it is based on fact makes it all the more amazing. It moves along at a good pace and the viewer can’t help but get absorbed in it. This is no stuffy costume drama and it is probably tawdrier than any soap opera out there. However, Charles Jarrot’s direction is a bit stale. The sets and costumes are great, but the atmosphere and cinematic style is missing and the whole thing seems too much like a filmed stage play.

My biggest quibble with the film is that it doesn’t stay completely accurate. Historians insist that the King does not offer Anne any type of reprieve nor does he visit her after she is imprisoned like he does here. While this scene is nice because it does humanize him who in every other way is despicable it doesn’t help the viewer better understand the story or the people in it by inserting something that really didn’t happen.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 18, 1969

Runtime: 2Hours 25Minutes

Rated M

Director: Charles Jarrott

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu

The Night of the Iguana (1964)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Flawed clergyman loves women.

Lawrence Shannon (Richard Burton) loses his job as a clergyman when rumors surface of indiscretions he had with a young female parishioner, which pushes him to preach a ranting sermon at the pulpit that eventually drives all the members of the congregation out of the building. He then gets a job as a tour guide in Mexico and has the chore of leading a bus load of middle-aged women around the country. Charlotte (Sue Lyon) is a young nymph who takes a liking to Lawrence much to the chagrin of her over-protective chaperon Judith Fellowes (Grayson Hall). When Charlotte is caught in Lawrence’s bedroom late at night Ms. Fellowes promises that she will have it reported and get him fired. Unable to handle a another potential job loss Lawrence takes the bus load of women to an isolated seaside hotel run by Maxine (Ava Gardner) an old friend of his. He hopes that by somehow trapping them there he will be able to convince Ms. Fellowes to drop the charges, but along the way he meets Hannah (Deborah Kerr) who he starts to fall in-love with.

Unlike most of Tennesse William’s other plays this one, at least the first half, is full of energy and comical nuance. I found the group of ladies and Lawrence’s exasperated dealings with them to be quite amusing and the film moves along at an engaging pace. The second half though bogs down with more of William’s signature brooding drama that ends up hurting the flow. In many ways this film seems like two movies in one and the difference in tone and pace never gels. Despite a good nighttime conversation between Kerr and Burton I kept hoping the ladies and Ms. Fellowes would come back and felt the film was weaker without them.

Legendary director John Huston hits most of the right buttons here although it is not his best work. I was surprised and impressed to learn that Maxine’s hotel was built specifically for the production in an otherwise deserted region of the country. The building had an authentic old look and helped give the film added style and personality. I had mixed feelings with the black and white photography. On one had it helps bring out the dark recesses of its flawed characters and accentuate the moodiness of William’s script, but it also takes away from the exotic beauty of the locale.

Burton is good as usual and playing the part of an emotionally fractured, alcoholic character seems right up his alley. Gardner is great as the brassy Maxine and the scene of her making out with her two young, shirtless, maraca playing male assistants along the beach late at night is genuinely steamy. Kerr is in fine form as well and her more restrained demeanor makes a nice contrast to Gardner’s.

Lyon’s acting isn’t quite up to her costars and she seems particularly out of her league during her scene with Burton, but in the looks department she is unmatched. She is more filled-out and mature than in Lolita and in many ways even hotter. The scene of close-up shots of her moving her hips to a tune at a Mexican bar may excite some of the male viewers.

The under-rated Hall is excellent in her role as the heavy. Her craggy face and personality are perfect for the part and it rightly got her a supporting actress nomination.

In the final analysis this is not a bad version of Tennessee William’s material, but not a great one either.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 6, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 58Minutes

Not Rated

Director: John Huston

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video