Monday, June 21, 2010

Everybody has at least one clunker

No matter how good an actor is, there's at least one of his or her movies that's an utter mess. One good example of this is Elizabeth Taylor, who made the lousy movie The Only Game in Town. That movie is airing tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.

Taylor plays Fran, a chorus girl in Las Vegas. One day, at a lounge, she meets pianist Joe (Warren Beatty), who has a compulsive gambling problem. He's only in Vegas trying to get the $5,000 that he needs to be able to live in New York for six months, where he figures he's sure to get his big break. The two fall in love, and Joe loses all his money one night gambling, so he decides to move in with her while she takes control of his money, until he can earn that $5,000.

There are a few problems, though. Fran had been mistress to a wealthy man who couldn't get a divorce, so she hasn't seen him for several months. And she's not quite sure if she wants to give him up for Joe. Joe, of course, has that gambling problem, which if anything leads him to have a relationship with Fran that, in a later decade, would be described with buzzwords like "dysfunctional". Things go from bad to worse when Fran's man shows up, telling Fran that she should drop everything and leave with him for London. It's almost enough to make Joe find where Fran's hidden his money and go on another gambling binge....

I don't know what I can say about this movie to make it sound like a particularly good movie. Interesting, yes. Good, not so much. Fran and Joe are two characters in whom it's tough to develop any interest. Taylor, frankly, was very wrongly cast in this. She's supposed to be a chorus girl, although Taylor was pushing 40 at the time she made the movie. Unlike, say, the Susan Sarandon character in Atlantic City, we never really see the casino resort where she works. And do she and Joe have to be so shouty all the time. What's interesting about the movie is seeing these actors fail -- or, more charitably, be failed by the material. Perhaps the worst you can blame Taylor for is selecting this stuff to perform. Train wrecks are, after all, always interesting to watch, in a morbid way. Also, there's the wonderful 1970-era style. The establishing shots of Las Vegas show a Vegas which is much less sanitized than we would see even one year later in Diamonds are Forever, and certainly not the image that Vegas wants to put out for itself nowadays. Also, the interiors are fascinating, if only in a "was style really like that in 1970" way. Perhaps the interesting thing about the interiors is that most of them were done in Paris: Taylor was there with then-husband Richard Burton, who was working on a movie of his own.

The Only Game in Town doesn't seem to have been released to DVD, so you're going to have to catch one of the Fox Movie Channel showings. Catch just one; you probably won't want to see it a second time.

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