Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Feb. 27
DVD Rentals: Reflections in a Golden Eye
Why rent when for the same money you can buy a copy at Big!Lots?
John Huston and cinematographer Aldo Tonti originally envisioned Carson McCuller's story of military base masochism as a golden-hued fairy tale of sexual repression, ""Rated Mature: FOR ADULTS ONLY!" Huston's design concept originally called for only one natural color per scene, bathing the rest of the shots in a urine-drenched, anamorphic glow.
Opening weekend audiences, baffled by Huston's stylistic decisions and befuddled by the story, left the theatre subliminally craving nothing more than an ice cold bottle of Mountain Dew. Several days later, the Warner Bros. board of directors, recently acquired by Seven Arts in a "trick deal," were put on yellow alert by the new suits. In a flash, traditionally timed color prints were ordered, struck, and shipped. It was too late. Word had already leaked.
One week later:
The pristine camera negative remained on ice for four decades until an ambitious Warner Bros. page smelled gold in Huston's old yeller' elements and ordered up a DeLuxe Special Edition Original Director's Intent DVD.
Opening day DVD sales exceeded the first year's theatrical cum. Legend has it the only surviving 35mm dye transfer, IB Technicolor print of the original theatrical release is in the immediate possession of The M. Scorsese National Archive. Why hold this truth to be self-evident? Study Brando in the mirror rehearsing his spontaneous reactions to everyday living and you'll see Travis Bickle staring back. Once again, all roads lead to Him, and that's that.
Brando was not Huston's first, second or even third choice. Montgomery Clift signed for the part, but insurance underwriters demanded proof that the frail, long-suffering star could pull off such a demanding role. Elizabeth Taylor put her enormous salary up as collateral in hopes of securing the part for her long-time friend. Clift was dead before filming began. Richard Burton, Lee Marvin and Patrick O'Neal were next in line, but Taylor nixed them all; she wanted Marlon Brando.
Brando's fey impersonation of Montgomery Clift's genuinely fey persona produced competent, complex, and somewhat confused results. His cotton-in-mouth delivery leaves one thankful that we live in an age of wonders. Jut hit the CC button on the remote and his inarticulate inflections become crystal clear.
Poor Marlon. His missus, Liz, the hottest wife on the base, gives him a private strip show and still he can't get it up. Brando returns Liz's demeaning invectives by brutalizing her horse, which in turn causes her to horsewhip him in front of company.
Next door neighbor Brian Keith (looking very "Uncle Bill") has different problems in his bedroom. After their baby died, Mrs. Keith (the eternally asexual Julie Harris) took a scissors to her nipples. Keith and impetuous Liz openly cavort while Marlon drools over a mysterious enlisted man (Robert Forster) who rides naked through the woods on horseback. Forster also has a peculiar habit of stealthily watching Liz sleep on a nightly basis.
With its European influence (it was shot abroad with an Italian crew), exterior gloss masking layers of tortured family secrets, and bushels of dead leaves, this would make a great supplementary title in a Douglas Sirk festival. Huston is nowhere near as stylistically inclined (or inventive) as Sirk; Doug might have diminished his hues for a scene, but an entire feature?
Liz Taylor, in her buxom-bovine period, brings unexpected credibility to the role. Normally I'd agree with Marlon when he turns to Liz and drools, "You disgust me," but this time her sado-Gothic dom is quite appealing.
The title refers to a watercolor drawing by hairdresser-turned-one-shot supporting player, Zorro David. As Anacleto, Harris' houseboy/personal support group, Zorro is part Benson Fong, part George Takei, and 100% Franklin Pangborn. Oozing all the charm of a Geisha house eunuch, Anacleto's hand-holding and pop psychology bedside manner soothe Harris' Actor's Studio induced neuroses.
Is it worth your time? You bet! There's enough brooding Brando, phony Huston machismo, and Liz Taylor's pulchritude -- particularly in that white dress -- to make this entertaining, if not particularly rewarding.
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