Tuesday, August 31, 2010

BUtterfield 8 (1960)

Mrs. Jescott: Vulgarity has its uses. 
~BUtterfield 8 (1960)
I often wonder if it was the descent of films into trashiness which dragged society into the mire, or whether the films were (and are) merely a reflection of on-going societal trends. Perhaps it is a little of both. BUtterfield 8, in the tradition of other films about lost girls in the big city, depicts the night life of Manhattan in the late '50's. While the film may have lessons to teach, it portrays a sordid side of life, including the idea that someone can find the love of their life after a one night stand. It was the Sex and the City of its time. As the reviewer for the New York Times wrote when the movie debuted in 1960:
 ...It offers admission to such an assortment of apartments, high-class bars, Fifth Avenue shops and speedy sports cars, all in color and CinemaScope, that it should make the most moral status seeker feel a little disposed toward a life of sin. Brandy, martinis and brittle dialogue flow like water all over the place. Figure another million has been spent on consummate chic.
Unlike Sex and the City, however, BUtterfield 8 shows promiscuity to be a disorder of heart, mind and soul. The protagonist, Gloria Wandrous, played by Elizabeth Taylor, is being treated by a psychiatrist even as she carouses and sleeps around just for fun. She lies to her mother (Mildred Dunnock) who meekly goes along with the fiction that her Gloria is a respectable girl. Amid all the partying, Gloria is miserable, and when she meets and beds the equally miserable Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey), she has no idea of the obsession that will be released.

According to Apollo Movie Guide:
BUtterfield 8 gave Taylor her first Academy Award winning role, coming after she was nominated four years consecutively. While the movie sometimes slips into manipulative oversimplification and sentimentality, Taylor’s performance is tremendous, showing both her wit and her ability to express believable emotion.

Taylor plays Gloria Wandrous, a New York City party girl who has dedicated her life to drinking with and loving a variety of men. She has an answering service (just dial BUtterfield 8) to prove it. Gloria has a long time male friend, Steve Carpenter (Taylor’s husband at the time, Eddie Fisher, is very good in one of his only two big screen roles), but their relationship is purely platonic, contrary to the insecurities of Steve’s fiancé (Susan Oliver).

Currently, Gloria is spending time with Weston Liggett ( Laurence Harvey) a wealthy cad who’s not exactly respectful of Gloria, and is married. As Gloria and Liggett embark on a tumultuous relationship, it becomes clear that both are troubled and short on self-esteem. They drink and party and – to the surprise of both – fall in love. But there’s the matter of Liggett’s wealthy wife (Dina Merrill) and their mutual doubts about whether this is the real thing.

Daniel Mann’s film version of John O’Hara’s scandalous novel features plenty of emotional manipulation and a few doubtful character transformations, yet is still a compelling success. Much of the repartee is smart and its timing is good throughout the film.

Taylor deserves much of the credit for the movie’s success, as she imbues Gloria with moxie and vulnerability at the same time. Taylor is sharp-tongued, with pain almost constantly in her eyes. Largely due to Taylor’s performance, it’s difficult to dislike Gloria, even if she is a self-professed ‘slut.’ The same can’t be said for Liggett, as Harvey successfully paints him as a fellow with a sharp tongue, a cool exterior and plenty of trouble just beneath the surface. Liggett’s vacillation from spiting Gloria to loving her – and back again – is sometimes difficult to believe, as Harvey isn’t able to make his character as transparent as Taylor does.

Gloria is determined to reform herself, especially after she catches a glimpse of Liggett's faithful and virtuous wife (Dina Merrill), who impresses her as having a kind of beauty that comes from goodness rather than mere physical appearance. She decides to break it off with Liggett and leave him to his wife. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Gloria was molested as a young girl, which set her on the path to her disturbed and unhappy existence. Nevertheless, she does not give up seeking redemption, even though her past pursues her up to the very last moment.


Mrs. Wright said...

Great movie...I just watched it last week with my son. Actually it looks innocent compared to today's headlines. Love your blog!

elena maria vidal said...

It is innocent compared to what we have now! Thank you!

May said...

This may sound silly, but how is the title supposed to be pronounced?

elena maria vidal said...

It's "butter field eight."

Julygirl said...

It was not a favorite of mine and would have slipped through the cracks of the expose' style films of that era had it not been for Elizabeth Taylor's presence.