Elizabeth Taylor 1960s Films: Campy, Trampy and Vampy

Liz Taylor had quite a film decade. Starring in the most costly film ever made (at the time), meeting her future husband Richard Burton, receiving two Academy Awards, and becoming probably the most photographed women in the world – that’s crazy.

As you look at the films below, notice the swing between glamour and slutty roles; dignified ladies and loud, vulgar wenches; acclaimed, high profile films and stinkers. Taylor worked a lot, often with Burton, and earned high salaries for most of these roles.

Taylor was not yet 40 by the end of the 1960s, dazzlingly beautiful, with a tabloid cover life. Burton was husband number four and their hot, torrid relationship kept the world entertained.

About half of her films in this decade are worth viewing, the other half, not so much. Even the lousy ones reveal something about Taylor.

Scent of Mystery (aka Holiday in Spain) (1960) Uncredited; Cameo appearance

BUtterfield 8 (1960) – Taylor plays Gloria Wandrous, a model who sleeps around, has a difficult relationship with her mother. She sees a psychiatrist and dates a married man.

Maybe it was her tragic death at the end that impressed voters, but for some indescribable reason, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, plus was mentioned for others (Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance (2nd place); Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama; Nominated—Bambi Award for Best International Actress).

If you enjoy a big helping of melodrama with a side order of adult content, this is your ticket. Taylor looks exquisite but has a trampy quality that gives her character that wannabe sophistication, yet her sluttiness cannot be denied. A good popcorn movie.

Cleopatra (1963) – Who else could have played Cleopatra as well as appearing on tabloids around the world while making this film. She was breaking marriages, bankrupting a movie studio, hobbling careers and making a ton of movie doing it. Actually these things weren’t entirely her fault, but every drama needs a center.

Rex Harrison, Taylor and Richard Burton

Whether she was right or wrong for the role, and whether this bloated melodrama is a decent film, you can’t take your eyes off of Taylor as Cleopatra.

Taylor began an affair with Richard Burton on the set. Both were married, but the attraction was volcanic.

The V.I.P.s (aka Hotel International) (1963) Taylor plays Frances Andros, one of numerous passengers stuck waiting for the weather to improve so her plane can depart. She is leaving with her lover, but the delay allows her husband (Burton) time to show up and attempt to change her mind.

This is an all-star cast film, each with a story or a problem caused by the fog. As a soap opera, the eccentric characters is entertaining, but hardly memorable. This film was the first teaming of Taylor and Burton since their affair during Cleopatra.

Taylor and Burton, VIPs

The Sandpiper (1965) Taylor plays Laura Reynolds, a free-spirited artist and single mother, who falls for the married headmaster of a religious school where her son attends. Burton plays the headmaster who has a torrid affair with Laura.

Taylor was in her early 30s at the time and was playing a character very earthy, with an unconventional lifestyle, but she comes across as a movie star.

Taylor and Burton were married shortly before the start of production. The earned a healthy profit but very negative reviews.

Taylor and Burton in The Sandpiper.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) – Taylor inhabited the role of Martha, the alcoholic and turbulent wife of college professor George (Richard Burton). Easily, Taylor’s best role and performance of the decade. As opposed to her more elegant and vibrant roles, Martha is frumpy, mean and spits fire. Essentially a four-person stage play, the acting and taught direction are showcased in the stark black and white cinematography.

Sadly, Taylor would not work with directors like Mike Nichols again who challenged her and brought such energy to her films.

Director Mike Nichols, Taylor and Burton

Taylor’s accolades: Academy Award for Best Actress; BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role; Bambi Award for Best International Actress; Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress; Laurel Award for Top Female Dramatic Performance; National Board of Review Award for Best Actress; New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress (tied with Lynn Redgrave for Georgy Girl); Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama

The Taming of the Shrew (1967) – Based on the Shakespeare play and directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Burton plays Petruchio who woos the shrew Katharina (Taylor). A battle of wits and dueling wills. This is quite fun and a comic flip side of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Of all the Taylor-Burton films, the most enjoyable.

Burton and Taylor

Accolades for Taylor: David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Actress (tied with Julie Christie for Doctor Zhivago); Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.

Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) – Taylor is Leonora Penderton, an army wife in the late 1940s, on a base in the South. Full of lusty melodrama and repressed sexual undertones. It might have been daring then, just strange and overblown now. Taylor of course, is in her element and gives the material a sexual charge.

Taylor and Marlon Brando

This story was better on the page than the big screen. From the Carson McCullers novel, a misfire for director John Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The African Queen).

Doctor Faustus (1967) – This is Burton’s film, he stars and co-directs this stage play-film. Taylor has a small part as Helen of Troy.

Taylor and Burton

Dr. Faustus trades his soul to the Devil in exchange for knowledge and hedonism. The film had savage reviews and not even the alluring Taylor could stimulate an audience.

The Comedians (1967) – An all-star cast in a script based on the Graham Greene novel of the same name, directed by Peter Glenville (Beckett). Taylor is Martha Pineda, the German wife of an ambassador who is bonking the central character Brown (Burton).

The story takes place in Hati, where corruption and intrigue are the usual business. What may work in a political-thriller, comes off as stagy and tedious. There are moments, but not nearly enough of them to make this worth viewing. A huge waste of money and talent.

Boom! (1968) – Taylor’s second film with director Joseph Losey, this film was written by Tennessee Williams. Taylor plays Flora “Sissy” Goforth, a bit of an eccentric and recluse. This is a talky, ponderous film based on a Williams play. I’m searching for something redeeming about this film…nope.

Taylor and Noel Coward in Boom!

Secret Ceremony (1968) – Taylor seems attracted to playing naughty women. Leonora is a prostitute that gets wrapped up with a young woman (Mia Farrow) and her creepy stepfather father (Robert Mitchum).

Taylor and Mia Farrow

This is a rather perverse film with disturbing themes. Taylor was squandering her box office appeal and productive years on trashy, melodramatic misfires. Subjects that might have been more suitable for the stage did not adapt well, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Taming of the Shrew were exception.

Anne of the Thousand Days (1969) – Masked Lady at Court (Uncredited) This was Burton’s film, Taylor just took a cameo role.

Taylor behind the mask

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