Old Hollywood is a nice place to visit. I’ve always loved the glamour and class that older films possess, and while we’ve made great strides in filmmaking and it’s quality, sometimes it’s good to appreciate the Golden Age. When I look for old films to watch, it’s usually one from a major star from that time and in this case it’s Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor is one of my favorite classic actresses an is one of those screen gems that will be forever remembered. She was praised for her beauty, acting, and of course her many jewels. Her films included hits such as: National Velvet, Father of the Bride, Cleopatra, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and this film from 1960, Butterfield 8. So is Butterfield 8 a Hollywood classic that’s worth your time? Did Taylor deserve her Academy Award win for this?
We open with a shot of Taylor’s character Gloria waking up in a New York apartment after a night she’s spent with a gentleman. Her character is a call girl, so this isn’t something that’s uncommon for her to do, but things are different with this man. While he is one of her clients, something more begins to grow between them. Things aren’t exactly ideal though; after all she is a call girl and he is married. While these prove as obstacles, that doesn’t stop what they feel, if it did we wouldn’t have a film. So what ensues is a melodrama surrounding these characters and the romance they’ve created.
There are some really good ingredients here, and while I’ll go over each one, the major ones that you’ll walk away remembering are the two leads. Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t simply beautiful, she was also a great talent. She was perfect to play this role not only because of her stunning looks, but also because of her ability to convey great emotion. I referred to this as a melodrama, and some may roll their eyes at that term, but sometimes a good old fashioned melodrama hits the spot. And while the lines are sometimes cliché or overly dramatic, Taylor still has a way of captivating you. She delivers the dialogue with conviction and makes you love and root for her character through it all. Laurence Harvey plays Weston Liggett, and does a great job. Yes, he’s a good fit on the surface, very classically handsome, the kind of man you could swoon over, but on top of all that, he also owns the material and delivers a fittingly dramatic performance.
Whether or not there is tangible chemistry is huge with a film of this nature. If you’re going to go for a melodramatic feel and have a romance be the center of attention, the chemistry is make or break. Thankfully, it is good here. It’s probably a combination of both the leads good looks and their acting abilities. But honestly, the scenes between them have an electric feel, whether it’s when they are fighting or in the throws of ecstasy. You just buy it when they’re interacting with one another. And while some of the dialogue is kind of cheesy, not all of it is, some of it (the monologues in particular) really works and proves powerful.
I liked how they developed the main characters through dialogue that informs us about both their past and current situations. Taylor’s character Gloria is given a lot of depth and isn’t cheapened by the fact she’s a prostitute. The supporting characters include: Eddie Fisher, Mildred Dunnock, Dina Merrill, and Betty Field. I enjoyed each of their performances, but Fisher and Field were my favorite. Fisher’s character is a longtime friend of Gloria’s and serves as a good source of likability and comfort. Field plays Gloria’s mothers best friend and is the comedic relief of the film. She is almost 100% sarcastic and delivers her lines in a fresh/amusing way. Speaking of comedic relief, while the dialogue is mostly serious and dramatic, there are some very witty humor sprinkle here and there that I enjoyed.
The ending is the one major thing I didn’t think worked that well. I can see and appreciate what they were going for, but I just think it was a little too bonkers. Other than that, the only other thing I didn’t like was Susan Oliver’s character. While her character does provide some comedic relief, it’s minor and she just seems in the way and uninteresting. Overall, this is an enjoyable classic melodrama that will entertain. The quality is largely due to the legendary Liz Taylor.
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