With the exception of Divorce His; Divorce Hers, no movie starring the Burtons is more rollickingly mockable than The Sandpiper, and the laughs start right at the beginning and continue right to the finish. The movie’s a refresher on the state of the Burtons during the 60s; it personifies the public view of their infamous adulterous affair before they eventually married. Hardly a scene or an utterance of a line that’s not geared for exploitation; every bit of Liz reeks of booze fat; every time the camera closes in on Dick you can see his embarrassment. An acknowledged money-grab, Liz hadn’t any movie offers two years after The V.I.P.s—primarily because she was being sued by Fox who falsely claimed her scandalous behavior was the cause for the alleged box office failure of Cleopatra. Vincente Minnelli is credited with the direction and Dalton Trumbo gets a nod for helping write what you’ll never believe, no matter the proof, he had much of a hand in. (The camp dialogue suggests that John Michael Hayes sneaked on the set.) Some argue that had it been camp on purpose, it might have been the funniest soaper ever made; when Liz screams at slime bag Robert Webber that he’s a “creep...a terrible creep” and threatens him with a hatchet while wearing a blue halter top barely capable of containing its two occupants, some of us would argue that it couldn’t be anything else. Sucking in her pre-Martha love rolls, sometimes hidden in pre-Zee caftans, Liz is on another vacation from acting, slumming in the trash terrain of Ann-Margret. Originally, William Wyler was set to direct, and he was the bait that lured Taylor to the project. In spite of critical howls, a big hit, because the audience enjoyed being in on the joke. The Johnny Mandel-Paul Francis Webster soundtrack, which featured the Oscar-winning “The Shadow of Your Smile,” was a huge seller. Location work was filmed in Carmel, California; for tax purposes, interiors were shot in Paris. Winner of the Harvard Lampoon’s 1965 Worst Movie of the Year.

For pure egregiousness, nothing quite matches Divorce His; Divorce Hers, the last screamer Liz and Dick would film together and it reconfirms how poisonous they were for each other. The movie was a deal with Britain’s Harlech TV, more as commitment to the Burtons’ investment in the company than any intended artistry, though John Frankenheimer had been tabbed as director (to be replaced by a young Waris Hussein) and, according to those who read it, John Osborne’s original script was a thoughtful anatomy of a marriage in decline. But his script was set and expected to be produced in London, which Liz couldn’t accept because she had to leave England after finishing Night Watch in order to legally escape enormous tax levies. John Hopkins rewrote the play to accommodate the millionaire gypsies who wanted Acapulco and the coast of south France as settings (so they could live on their yacht). Intervening were studio and casting availabilities, as well as tax-saving considerations, so while the setting was changed to Rome, almost all the filming was done in Munich. The press duly reported the Burtons’ unprofessional behavior, as did co-star Carrie Nye in Time magazine: willful tardiness and storming-off-the-set tantrums, booze-soaked lunches, loud sarcastic spats between Liz and Dick. Only a matter of time before the marriage went kaput. It shows: in a scene in which Dick, seated rather effeminately in a fur-covered chair, and Liz, sitting on the floor in a blouse flown in from a Vallarta mercado, are listening to classical music, he attempts to give her a loving smile, only to reveal a flash of contempt that sparks laughs from viewers. There are, between yawns, a lot of laughs: for example, Liz does a modified version of her shrew routine in a soon-to-open posh salon being financed by her current lover Gabriele Ferzetti—out of nowhere she says “I’m permanently adrift” as if buddy Tennessee Williams was off-camera to feed her a line from The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone—but it’s an anticlimax after the scene-stealing Nye wages against her. Arriving at Liz’s apartment one morning, sneaking a peek at the mail on the living room coffee table and checking out a label on a figurine, Nye drips with corrosive insincerity as she deliciously needles Liz about having slept with Dick. With puffy face and cloudy eyes and a bulging belly held in by several thin cords wrapped around a frumpy Edith Head nightgown, Liz fires back: “How could anyone have an affair with you? You’re not even beautiful!” It’s a low no one could recover from, especially Liz, whose generosity of spirit needed to veto the cheap shot. (If Dick looks like he’s missing flesh, his arms dangling skeletally, Liz is all flab-hiding costumes, dense rouge and denser hair, with shadows around her neck to keep the chins from overexposure.) Nye may not be the most attractive—in a flowing reddish pink chiffon-like number she’s the epitome of a drag queen—but she is the only thing worth seeing in DH; DH. Her gravel-coated voice and girlishly airy trot as walk were the ingredients to play the role she deserved a crack at saving: Goforth in The Milk Train Doesnt Stop Here Anymore.



Text COPYRIGHT © 2005 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.