First Time Watch: Butterfield 8 (1960)

1/2

By Christian DiMartino

Elizabeth Taylor… man, what a woman.

Elizabeth Taylor was a stunner. The woman was utterly gorgeous and fabulous in every sense. Yet she had something that set her apart from every other Hollywood beauty: she was a rather incredible actress. Watching Butterfield 8, it really made me want to watch Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof again- both of which, in my opinion, solidify the greatness of Elizabeth Taylor. Don’t get me wrong, Butterfield 8 does too, but in terms of the movie itself, the other two are vastly superior.

Taylor won her first Oscar here, and it’s easy to see why. It is also easy to see why it didn’t gain much other Oscar traction. I know what you must be thinking: how can you reward a terrible movie like Bloodsport a higher rating than this? Well, because I knew my stance on that film. As a movie, it’s crap, but it’s purely enjoyable crap. Butterfield 8, as I sit here typing, has me truly indifferent.  I like the film for the performance, and it is also an interesting story that held my attention throughout. Yet in the back of my mind, I knew where its conclusion had to go the entire time, and by the time it was reached, I could not help but wonder… well, what was the point of that?

Taylor plays Gloria, a prostitute with a heart of gold. When we meet Gloria, we get the sense that she is kind of tired of playing around. The premise is in the same vein as something like Magic Mike, but with a female prostitute. Oh yeah, and it’s more dramatic. Anyways, Gloria strikes up a relationship with a socialite named Weston (Laurence Harvey), and the two of them spend a week together. Weston happens to be a married man.

In a series of other scenes, we see the friends and family of Gloria and Weston wondering where they are. These scenes felt, to me at least, a little unnecessary. The relationship between Gloria and Weston leads to an interesting revelation for the both of them. Gloria, through spending time with Weston, realizes that she wants more from a man than a quick lay. She wants something deeper and more meaningful, and she wants out of the life she’s currently leading. Weston, through spending time with Gloria, realizes that he is a bad person and that he needs to end his marriage… yet not much of a lesson is learned for him because, despite a harsh resistance towards Gloria, he is still madly in love with her.

Harvey is charming, but by the end comes across as more smarmy than anything, which I imagine was the intent. Taylor, however, kills, and is the reason to watch the movie. This role, like her best work, displays why she was as magnetic as she was. Here she is perhaps at her most gorgeous- whatever she was charging probably wasn’t enough- but yet there is a lot of emotional range to this performance too. She is the movie- not just the beating heart, but the reason to see it.

What has me torn though is what it all builds up to. I saw it coming a mile away (if only Gloria had too. If you see the film, you’ll know what I mean), and something about it just didn’t quite feel right. Anyone who knows my taste knows that I am usually on board with a finale like this, but here it felt somewhat unearned. To discuss it would be to spoil it. Typically, my rule is that you have 10 years to see a movie, and then the spoiler alert is removed. Chances are, you’ll also be able to predict its conclusion, and you’ll also be left wondering just who exactly this story is intended for. The lessons that are being taught are also undone, and it ultimately leaves the film, despite its merits, feeling a little cheap…

That Liz Taylor though. Wowsers.

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