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Walking with Elephants


I’ve been on an Elizabeth Taylor spree ever since reading this month’s issue of Vanity Fair. Maybe it’s that seductive cover shot from the Suddenly, Last Summer set. Or that stunning photo spread of her with Richard Burton at the 1970 Oscars. Whenever I see a photograph of Taylor in those great glory days, seducing the camera with her impossibly violet eyes, I literally lose my breath.

Vanity Fair
I’ve seen all of her notable films, but there are several later flicks that I never got around to, plus a few less-acclaimed, early pics that I’ve missed. Reading about the Burtons’ love letters renewed my desire to watch all their movies. Did I mention that I’m a sucker for a Welsh accent, too?

Tonight, I’m watching The V.I.P.s, which is already amazing, and I’m only at the credits: Taylor, Burton, Louis Jourdan, Maggie Smith, Rod Taylor, Orson Welles, and an Oscar-winning Margaret Rutherford.

The last flick I watched was Elephant Walk, which is a peculiar and forgettable film with Taylor in a mousey role. Set in mid-century Ceylon, it begins with a bit too much of a “noble savage” take on the locals and nothing at all sympathetic about the Brits. Ultimately, it becomes a critique of both, but it’s mostly a drama of marital strife with a forced, unsatisfying resolution. And elephants.

Ruth Wiley (Taylor) has accompanied her new husband (Peter Finch) to the titular family tea plantation, where he becomes a nasty, demanding terror operating under the long shadow of his dead father. Ruth tries to adjust to being mistress of the expansive, exotic property but clashes with the disapproving head servant (Abraham Sofaer). Fed up with isolation and abuse, Ruth courts escape with a willing Dana Andrews, but the whole thing ends in a chaotic mish-mash of intentions and desctuction.
Elephant Walk

More than anything, Elephant Walk reminded me of Rebecca: New mistress moves into a huge country estate where she feels unwelcome, becomes estranged from obsessed hubby, battles domineering housekeeper, and tries to uncover the truth about the previous owner—the memory of whom is driving everyone nutters. Then the house goes up in flames. (I would apologize for the spoiler, but I think knowing it’s all going to fall apart actually makes this movie better.) Apart from stampeding elephants and a complete lack of suspense, that’s the plot for Rebecca. Mix in a little Naked Jungle (also featuring Sofaer), a dash of dull dust, and there you have it.

The Naked Jungle

Still, Taylor looks fantastic. In one scene, she wears a white gown with a single, chiffon shoulder strap. I wish I’d taken a screen shot. The dress was to die for. But I can’t recommend this movie, unless you’re an Elizabeth Taylor completist or a cinephile interested in Rebecca derivatives. It certainly isn’t satisfying as a romance, and I can’t even call the happy ending “happy.” None of this is Elizabeth’s fault. She does well with a routine flick.

I’m now a few minutes into The V.I.P.s, and it isn’t looking much better. But time will tell. At this precise moment, I’m annoyed that the bar scene is accompanied by Irish music—because, of course, drinking, drunks, and bars must equate with the Irish. On a more positive note, the cinematography is excellent and very structured in a Mad Men-esque early-sixties way. There’s also an interesting behind-the-scenes connection between this film and Elephant Walk. More on this one after I’ve finished.

Meanwhile, here’s a list of my favorite Taylor films:
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Suddenly, Last Summer
Reflections in a Golden Eye
National Velvet


From → Movies

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