Saturday Mini-Review: Butterfield 8

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Personally, I've never felt the appeal of Elizabeth Taylor. Admittedly, she's got something in Cleopatra (an excellent classic by the way). Worth losing an empire for? No, but something. Here, despite her role as a high-priced call-girl, that is to say as a woman who is a priori sexy, the appeal is nonetheless almost entirely lost on me. Apparently she's supposed to be some sort of Manhattan-based dominatrix whose out-of-the-mold approach—in sharp contrast to the prim and proper wives waiting patiently back in Connecticut—drives New York businessmen wild. Exactly what it is she's supposed to offer is all extremely murky, almost nonexistent, though, because in keeping with the mores of the bygone era of the early Sixties, such things are simply not discussed. The sex-appeal is stated rather than shown or felt. At least not felt by this reviewer. Maybe I'm gay?

Elizabeth Taylor meets Mr. Right (the utterly insipid Laurence Harvey) and chooses to "go right" by abandoning her sinful ways, but alas she ends up dead in an utterly predictable but oh-so-dramatic accident, evidently punished in Hays-Code-style retribution for her sins. As she tells her childhood friend, "I took money! You know what that makes me!?" The horror. Or rather, The! Horror!

Don't buy this movie. An infinitely superior movie mining the same vein is the nearly contemporaneous classic Breakfast at Tiffany's. (And just what is it about Hollywood making the same movie three times at once, never to return to the subject again? And why does Newsweek often have the same cover as Time? Must be a deep flaw of capitalism.) If it happens to come on, Butterfield 8 is worth watching for its anthropological value. It is a portal into a foreign country, a country which views sex as a matter of the gravest importance, yet a country in which the language and even the place names are the same as ours. In such a country it is difficult to imagine that sex can ever occur except by "lying back and thinking of the Queen". Today's Manhattan seems much closer to the polar opposite Sex and the City, in which the most intimate of human acts is treated as a banal, rather dull affair: "I should redo my nails. Or maybe go screw with that cute guy walking past? Er, I think I'll just order a salad. With carrots or tomatoes?" But Butterfield 8 presents sex as High! Drama! Which! Is! Utterly! Important! And! Meaningful! In this foreign country sex can't be fun and it certainly can't be done for money or gifts. Surely the truth is somewhere in between? A pox on both their houses.


terrye said...

Elizabeth Taylor has to be one of the most beautiful women in the world.

But Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was better than Butterfiel 8. And so was Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

truepeers said...

Yet the truth about sex is mostly not inherent in the act; it's a question of what we make of it, which is in good part about how we make it.

MeaninglessHotAir said...


You're right, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wollf is terrific. And she is good-looking, but good-looking isn't the same as attractive, not by a long chalk. She's petulant and bratty and selfish. Why would that be attractive?

Buddy Larsen said...

She never thrilled me, either. Impossible to imagine doing "it" with her Highness. The one from that era that got me going was Natalie Wood. A gal imagination could cope with.

MeaninglessHotAir said...


Yep, Natalie all the way. I've been on a Natalie kick lately so maybe I'll write a Natalie review for next Saturday.

loner said...
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loner said...

Get thee a copy of A Place In The Sun and REPENT! And then there is Giant.

Butterfield 8 was uninteresting junk 46 years ago (so I was told long before I saw it) and time has done nothing to improve it. The Academy, after failing to nominate Liz for her performances in the movies previously mentioned and then nominating her in consecutive years for her roles in the movie adaptations of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer, finally gave her the award for this when they could have given it to Deborah Kerr for The Sundowners and still given it to her for her second greatest performance (Sun is iconic) in Virginia Woolf.

I'm in Washington.