Monday 28 October 2013

Movie Review: Reflections In A Golden Eye (1967)

A train wreck of weird characters behaving badly, Reflections In A Golden Eye goes off the rails early and never recovers. The story of suppressed homosexuality on an army base teaming with lust and madness spirals into self-imposed chaos.

Major Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando) commands a US army base in the south. He is stiff, unhappy, suppressed and not interested in sleeping with his wife Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor). She enjoys riding her horse Firebird, and finds sexual satisfaction with willing neighbour Lieutenant Colonel Morris Langdon (Brian Keith). Langdon's wife Alison (Julie Harris) is deeply depressed following the death three years earlier of her newborn child. Alison is only happy in the company of the effeminate and extroverted Filipino houseboy Anacleto (Zorro David).

Also on the base, Private Williams (Robert Forster) looks after cleaning the horses and stables, and has the habit of riding horses in the nude. Penderton starts to get attracted to Williams, who in turn starts stalking the the Penderton household, and invading Leonora's room while she sleeps. With Alison's condition worsening, Penderton growing ever more enamoured with Williams, and Williams developing the unhealthy habit of sniffing Leonora's underwear, the boiling emotions finally erupt.

Based on a 1941 novel by Carson McCullers, Reflections In A Golden Eye is just too close to an unintended comedy. Five of the main characters belong in a mental asylum, rather than a military base, and without a sensible core to hold the film together, it resembles more of a farce than a drama.

Penderton is dour, preens at himself in the mirror, mumbles his incomprehensible military teachings to the bewilderment of his students, gets into a fight with a horse, and stalks his men around the base. Leonora is wild-eyed, over-sexed, and happy to humiliate her man, including whipping him across the face at a swanky party. Alison is deep into depression, operating at the edge of reason, while Williams is a voyeur, an intruder, a lingerie-sniffer, and rides horses while naked. And finally there is Anacleto, floating, dancing, singing and smiling for his own entertainment in an astonishing display of flightiness.

The performances match the characters in a theatrical display of exaggeration. Brando mutters, rambles and stares, while Taylor sticks either her rear end or her cleavage in Brando's face at every opportunity. Harris mostly just looks into the non-existent distance, and Forster, in his debut, wears a single fixed look of anguish and hardly says anything. Zorro David, in his first and mercifully last movie appearance, is in a world on his own, doing something that on a bad day may resemble acting, but even that is debatable. Brian Keith is left with the only semi-rational character, and he is naturally overwhelmed.

It is all supposed to represent suppression and lust, but director John Huston never finds the fine line where normal behaviour is strained by unresolved internal conflict, and settles instead for a large serving of outright battiness. Huston adds to the air of melodrama-run-amok by tinting the movie with a golden hue, creating a gold-and-black film with just the odd object per frame maintaining its colour. According to the peerless Anacleto, it's all supposed to represent the reflection of what a golden peacock's eye can see, but the effect is that of basic nausea. After the film bombed, normal colour was restored to later prints, but the film's awfulness is most appreciated with the original pee-coloured vision.

Forget the military base: Reflections In A Golden Eye is a certifiable cuckoo's nest.

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