Friday, November 18, 2011

Movie Review: BUtterfield 8, 1960

Elizabeth Taylor after winning the Oscar in April, 1961
Photo by Grey Villet from LIFE Photo Archive

This is one of my favorite Elizabeth Taylor movies (even though it was NOT one of her favorites).  She won an Oscar for her performance and she wears another iconic slip dress (for the other one, see my previous post on iconic movie fashion).  You could say this was another story similar to Breakfast at Tiffany's since we are talking about a call girl here, but this movie has a completely different tone and Elizabeth Taylor is no Holly Golightly.  She plays Gloria Wandrous, a woman about town who doesn't take $#*&! from nobody.  She is independent for that time, driving her own car, making a career out of modeling clothes at hot spots around town, and sleeping with wealthy men (although this is not said right out at first, until Gloria herself confronts her mother about it and she and her lover argue about it).  Gloria receives calls from Butterfield 8, which was the phone code for New York's upper east side at the time.  These calls are usually from her beaus and her current one is Wes, a married man who both intrigues her and infuriates her.  She's also friendly with Steve, a down and out composer who has sincere feelings for Gloria but also has a girlfriend who is the complete opposite of sultry and slinky Gloria.  After having spent a night with Wes but being insulted in the morning upon discovering a wad of cash on a table and his wife's luxurious fur coats in the closet, Gloria seeks comfort in Steve.  He disapproves of how she is leading her life and the disapproval continues when Gloria pays a visit to her mom (lying to her about where she spent the night).  Pretty soon Gloria and Wes are embroiled in a passionate affair, but Gloria can't let go of her own self-identity as an unworthy woman (in the eyes of society).  She tells Steve of a sordid story that happened when she was only thirteen years old and of how she feels ashamed not because of what happened but because she enjoyed it.  In the morning Steve proposes to his long time girlfriend.  Gloria decides she needs a fresh start and leaves for Boston, but her past is not far behind and tragedy unfolds.  

The movie is based on the book by John O'Hara, published in 1935.  Elizabeth Taylor was 28 at the time of filming and had just married Eddie Fisher after a very public affair and his divorce from Debbie Reynolds.  This was part of the reason Taylor admonished the film.  Both her and Fisher disliked that the public was referring to her as a home wrecker and she was playing one in the movie.  They called the movie "Butterball Four" for laughs.  Another reason Elizabeth Taylor disliked the movie was because she was basically forced to complete it under her contract with MGM.  She wanted to leave the studio in order to film Cleopatra with 20th Century Fox, but was denied until she completed BUtterfield 8.  Frankly I'm glad she did.

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