Friday, May 25, 2018

Elizabeth Taylor calls the sandtune

Another recent movie viewing off my DVR was The Sandpiper, which TCM ran when Elizabeth Taylor was Star of the Month in March. It's available on the four-movie box set of Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton movies, since both are in it.

Taylor plays Laura Reynolds, an artist living in a beach house (or at least, for what passes for a beach) in California's Big Sur. She lives with her son Danny (played by James Mason's son Morgan) and no father in sight. Laura home-schools Danny, so although he's bright, he's got some problems with society. It's caused a few run-ins with the law, and this time the judge has decided he's had enough. Danny is going to be put in a boarding school, an Episcopal school run by Rev. Dr. Hewitt (Richard Burton).

Laura is unhappy with this, but the alternative is the boy going into reform school, so she reluctantly decides to send Danny there. She's afraid that Danny is going to develop "conventional" values which won't serve him well as an adult and that he won't be able to reason for himself. Danny isn't happy either at first, but when he recites Chaucer -- in Middle English, no less -- to Hewitt's assistant Claire (Eva Marie Saint), she sees the potential in him.

Oh, Claire is Mrs. Hewitt, too; remember that Dr. Hewitt is Episcopalian and they have no qualms about married ministers. This is going to be a problem for reasons you can probably figure. Dr. Hewitt has to deal with Laura both for the practical purposes of getting legal paperwork done, but also to try convince her that his school really is best for the kid. But while doing so, it opens up a whole new world to him, as he gets to see the real Laura and her bohemian artist friends Cos (Charles Bronson) and Larry (James Edwards). And slowly Dr. Hewitt begins to fall in love with Laura.

That is a huge problem for a man who is supposed to be a moral pillar, never mind what it's going to do to his wife should she find out about the relationship. Meanwhile, Laura's theories are beginning to make Dr. Hewitt question whether he should be raigins money for a new chapel for the school....

The Sandpiper is clearly a star vehicle for Taylor and Burton, who were a hot pair after their romance started a few years earlier (I think on the set of Cleopatra). It's too bad that the story is pedestrian, and director Vincente Minnelli couldn't be bothered to rein in Taylor. She takes every opportunity she can to chew the scenery and make the whole movie faintly ridiculous. If you like watching Taylor chew the scenery, you'll love this one. If not, unfortunately The Sandpiper isn't even bad in a fun way like X, Y, and Zee.

The Sandpiper also won an for its original song "The Shadow of a Smile", heard in instrumental throughout the movie and then with lyrics in a horrible MOR arrangment over the closing credits. It's a terrible song, and only makes the movie more aggravating.

Then again, I always say that you should probably judge for yourself. The TCM four-film box sets are always moderately priced, so if you don't like The Sandpiper, you might still like one of the other movies.

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