Saturday 19 August 2017

Movie Review: The Sandpiper (1965)

A romantic drama, The Sandpiper sets out to examine the mid 1960s generational divide but is excessively talky, stodgy and melodramatic.

In the Big Sur coastal area of California, Laura Reynolds (Elizabeth Taylor) is a free-spirited artist and single mom homeschooling her 9 year old son Danny. When the child's innocent mischievousness gets him into trouble with the law, Judge Thompson (Torin Thatcher) orders him into a religious boarding school run by Dr. Edward Hewitt (Richard Burton) and his wife Claire (Eva Marie Saint), despite Laura's protests.

Edward and Laura immediately clash about morals, values and perspectives on life, but gradually an attraction develops. Edward starts to find excuses to pass by Laura's beachside house, where he tangles with her friend, outspoken sculptor Cos Erickson (Charles Bronson). A full fledged passionate extramarital affair blossoms between Edward and Laura, causing him enormous feelings of guilt. The reemergence of Ward Hendricks (Robert Webber), one of Laura's former lovers, further complicates matters.

Featuring the celebrity couple of the era at the peak of their fame, The Sandpiper has good intentions to explore the shifting sands of society. Director Vincente Minnelli and a team of writers including Dalton Trumbo deserve credit for attempting to craft a cerebral love story, where the dialogue skips past the inane and engages weightier topics of guilt, personal freedom, and the movement away from traditional, religiously-dictated values and towards personally-defined beliefs.

But the problems are many and start with Taylor and Burton unable to convince in their roles or help the premise succeed. Taylor as a hippie who has turned her back on societal norms just does not wash. The actress is too glamorous for the role, and apart from delivering the lines written for her she never captures what it means to be a free spirit, neither in mannerisms nor looks. Too often Taylor appears in stunning outfits, hair made-up, full make-up on, hat sitting just so, a superstar awkwardly playing at being a hippie.

Meanwhile Burton is reserved and one-dimensional, Edward professing his love for Laura through clenched teeth. As a real life couple rocking the world with their love affair, it is remarkable how little of that chemistry makes it to the screen.

Charles Bronson as a beach artist is miscast, and Eva Marie Saint as the suffering wife is underused.

Minnelli does well to capture the jagged beauty of Big Sur, but otherwise allows the film to drag on for two hours. The plot, from a story written specifically for Taylor and Burton by producer Martin Ransohoff, is simply not strong enough to sustain the running length, and scene after scene of endless gab slow the drama down to a sleepwalking pace. Ironically the film perks up the most in a scene unrelated to the romance, when Edward confronts his professional life and admits that he is a sell-out who has strayed far from his principles.

The Sandpiper is a love story without the requisite passion, the momentum of the ocean crashing onto rocks far surpassing the energy of the central romance.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We welcome reader comments about this post.