|Burton and Taylor get the bird [atop Taylor's head]|
THE SANDPIPER (1965). Director: Vincente Minelli.
"I won't seduce him. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of blaming me afterwards."
Free-spirited artist Laura Reynolds (Elizabeth Taylor), who has a young son Danny (Morgan Mason) -- who is always getting into trouble -- but no husband, is angered when Judge Thompson (Torin Thatcher) tells her the boy either goes to the Episcopal San Simeon school run by Dr. Edward Hewitt (Richard Burton) or reform school. Hewitt is married to Claire (Eve Marie Saint), but that doesn't stop him from succumbing to his sexual and romantic feelings for Laura, and she makes little effort to stop him. On one hand The Sandpiper flirts with modern ideas and liberal attitudes -- Laura's atheism, her no-guilt approach to the affair -- but the screenplay is muddled, morally confusing, and talky, talky, talky. Taylor is miscast, but she and Burton were put into the film only to capitalize on the headlines they were garnering from their well-publicized affair at the time. Patrons expecting something steamy must have been disappointed, because [despite their off-screen relationship] these two generate little real passion and the movie isn't terribly erotic. There's much talk about Hewitt's hypocrisy, but none about Laura's, who easily gets indignant yet allowed a married man to pay her way through art school -- what, this "independent" woman couldn't get a job? An unintentionally hilarious scene has Taylor referring to the isolation of one trysting spot and saying "I feel as alone as Robinson Caruso." [And yet there's no opera in the background, only the pop tune introduced in the film, "The Shadow of Your Smile."] An injured bird that Laura mends hops around on her head during one love scene [see photo], probably as bored with the pretentious dialogue and alleged symbolism as the audience. Burton has his moments, and Eva Marie Saint and young Mason are excellent; Taylor comes off like an older version of her character in Rhapsody, still petulant, now living in luxurious poverty on the coast of Big Sur. The movie is beautiful to look at, however, with sweeping scenic views throughout. Robert Webber is fine in a thankless role as a cast-off lover of Laura's, and Thatcher offers a little bit of class as the judge. Tom Drake is also good in the very small role of a teacher at the school. Young Mason was later executive producer on Sex, Lifes and Videotape.
Verdict: For real romance and a better Taylor performance, watch Rhapsody instead. **.