FRUITCAKES DELUXE

For most of us, a good 60% of Marlon Brando’s utterances in Reflections in a Golden Eye are lost through his inexcusable mumbling. Considering the fruitcake material, maybe it doesn’t matter: unless the purpose of Carson McCullers’s gothic is to caution about the dangers of sexual repression, there’s really no other reason for a movie than to set up a chain reaction of audience mockery. But who would have expected director John Huston to help guarantee the howls? With Brando’s hissy fits, Elizabeth Taylor’s flabby ass bitchery and excessive lip-smacking, Julie Harris’ astounding nipple-shearing seriousness, Robert Forster riding horses in the nude and Zorro David’s nauseous swishiness all preserved in a sleepy goldish amber milieu, you do wonder if Huston subversively made a taxidermied campfest. With Scottish writer Chapman Mortimer coalescing from six previous scripts, including treatments by Christopher Isherwood and Francis Ford Coppola, there’s legitimate suspicion that a cult movie was intended and perhaps accomplished. When released in 1967, only the more sophisticated found elements to praise, but now, forty six years later, irrespective of how it’s indulgent psychosex drama in dated drag, there are things to salute: Brando provides piercing flashes of communication with his eyes and character idiosyncrasies—in spite of his muttering, he’s great; Taylor shows her often hidden gift for comedy (she’s almost a revelation when penning misspelled invites to a party); Brian Keith’s sanity; the Italian Technicolor Lab’s months-long experiments to get the right spectral complexion. Always thought the movie would have been better (and better received) with a more controlled final scene. Huston’s direction of a climax has seldom been less efficacious, permitting Taylor’s unconvincing screams, permitting Aldo Tonti’s camera to shift without fluidity, allowing the audience to absorb not the shock of the finale but the shock of the botch. Condemned by the Catholic Church, the movie is so surprisingly free of overt flagrancy that even TCM airs it uncut. Taylor wanted to make this movie with Monty Clift. One of the questions I’d have asked her: did she hope the material would free her beloved friend from his torturous closet? My hunch is that Monty’s own fears about the part, how it would have caused an exposure of his private life that he wasn’t emotionally ready to publicly tackle, is what helped kill him.

COMPANION PIECE: The theatrical expressionism and poetic sap of Jean Genet’s addiction to masturbation is quite evident in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s movie adaptation of Genet’s Querelle de Brest. (And it was evident in Tony Richardson’s version of Genet’s Mademoiselle: you know for what purpose that Italian hunk was used.) Fassbinder, who died of a drug overdose not long after completing Querelle, did what he could to druggishly titillate and compel us to watch in a way Genet might have approved: everything is jaundiced brothellian. Except for the hyped chanting of a male chorus and a few Germanic tangos, the droggy mess may remind you of Huston’s equally sluggy Reflections in a Golden Eye, in that Franco Nero, basically in a reprise of Marlon Brando’s Major Penderton, acts as the narrator and unrequited lover of the military stud Querelle, played by stone-faced American Brad Davis. Nero orgasmically spurts lines like “Do I have the charms with which to conquer?” and “Is love like a killer’s den?” Don’t ask me to explain what goes on—Querelle is just a dumb, humorless piece of homoeroticism. 

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.