BOOM! (1968; Dir. Joseph Losey)
Wasn’t nearly as bad as its rep. Not that it’s any good.
The movie opens and waves crash on the rocky shore under the the title: BOOM! The overbearing tone is set from frame one. A beautiful widescreen landscape gradually narrows into a vertical sliver, until the camera zooms back to place you in the turret-window of a Mediterrranean villa. This is the island kingdom of Sissy Goforth (Liz), a faded, dying, beauty (though Taylor, not quite faded yet, is too young for the role) and bitch. (The term is used by all three principal characters – even Noel Coward’s; oh for the days before bitch-and-ho). Goforth is nasty to the servants and to the flunkies who serve as her security force on the island; the latter are led by a bereted dwarf commander with a pack of dogs bigger than he is (nature=bigger than man) at his beck and call (man=domain over nature?). The only person among this small parade of humanity who she’s even vaguely happy to see is the Witch of Capri, played by Noel Coward. The role was originally intended for Katherine Hepburn. Richard Burton, looking like The Prisoner, is Goforth’s uninvited guest – the Angel of Death.
You get the idea. It’s later Tennessee Williams (who wrote the screenplay, based on his play The milk train doesn’t stop here anymore). But if you accept that tone, the movie’s not *that* bad. It looks great. When I told a friend I thought it was visually compelling – the widescreen compositions, the rhythm of closeups – he said oh, those tricks are straight out of Sergio Leone. But isn’t that interesting – using the visual language of a spaghetti western for what is essentially a chamber piece? I mean, the island *is* big enough for the two of them.
The trouble is with the acting. Not that it’s over the top – this is later TN Wms after all. But sparks don’t fly. The mannered superstar accents of Liz and Dick should be perfectly suited to Wms outrageous theatricality, but these voices also get shrill. Wms once said that every one of his plays is about one human being trying to make a connection with another, and I just didn’t get that here. Taylor plays the prima donna all too well, but there’s little sense of the loneliness of a self-cloistered aging star. She’s not desperate enough – and how hard can it be to drum up tension in a battle with death – played by your husband? Autopilot isn’t enough. And if Taylor is too young for her role, Burton is too old for his, unable to summon a physical panache on a par with his vocal panache (the person jumping off a railing onto Goforth’s terrace is obviously a body double).
I’m glad I saw it. I only looked at my watch five or six times.