FILM PHONICS: “BUTTERFIELD 8″

* * *

Director: Daniel Mann

Writers: Charles Schnee & John Michael Hayes

Producer: Pandro S. Berman

Starring: Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher, Laurence Harvey, Dina Merrill, Mildred Dunnock, and Susan Oliver et al.

1960

Keep The Mink: Butterfield 8

Up against the options of “heaven,” “taboo,” “mighty,” and “winter,” the word “butter” received the highest number of votes, winning Week 17 of Film Phonics. Since I have never seen an Elizabeth Taylor film in its entirety, I thought I would watch “Butterfield 8” (Daniel Mann, 1960), for which Ms. Taylor won an Academy Award in the category of Best Actress. “Butterfield 8” is based on John O’ Hara’s novel and centers around Gloria Wandrous (Taylor), a call girl whose world turns 180 degrees after spending the night with a married man named Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey).

Living with a mother (Mildred Dunnock) who thinks she is a model and bonding with an old friend (Eddie Fisher) whose girlfriend (Susan Oliver) doesn’t grasp the concept of a platonic relationship, Ms. Wandrous actually appears to be on top of everything (excluding the part about seeing a psychiatrist who knows her deepest, darkest secrets). Approximately half-way through this 109 minute-long film, the brunette protagonist falls in love with Mr. Liggett, and what starts as a cheerful third act ends in tragedy.

The issue of Gloria’s desire to quit her “job,” to find something more meaningful in men than a meal ticket and an outlet for passion, enables a reading of “Butterfield 8” alongside “Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Blake Edwards, 1961). Gloria Wandrous and Holly Golightly are essentially in the same line of work—the main difference is that Gloria is open to falling in love as it has redemptive powers, but Holly is afraid of it for its perceived imprisoning effect. To Ms. Wandrous’s detriment, however, love can be fickle and unreliable.

“Butterfield 8” focuses on the ways in which Gloria’s interactions affect her and of how she develops as a character. Getting to know her involves observing her as well as watching scenes of other characters talking about her. For instance, Gloria’s mother confides in her friend Fanny (Betty Field) that if Gloria’s father hadn’t died, she may have grown up on the right track, indicating that Mrs. Wandrous knows that “model” is but a euphemism. Gloria does a fine job of psychoanalyzing herself near the film’s end when she tells her friend Steve what happened to her when she was thirteen years-old.

The pacing in “Butterfield 8” is steady, only skimming the edge of slow when Elizabeth Taylor is not on screen. In this respect, it helps to know when the next scene will begin. Like a TV sitcom where the locations of commercial breaks can be foreseen, after about twenty minutes of “Butterfield 8,” you can predict when a transition will conclude a scene. Editor Ralph E. Winters employs nothing but transitions. If there was a straight cut between sequences, it wasn’t memorable. I will not forget the car chase at the end, though. Comprised of actual filming of cars speeding down the highway from New York City to Boston as well as what must have been matte shots, this sequence is unexpected and highlights Elizabeth Taylor’s ability to convey emotions by simply glancing or gesturing.

In case there is any doubt as to how the film’s final moments should or could impact your impression of its main character; in case you haven’t figured Gloria Wandrous out, Mr. Liggett will offer his opinion. He tells his wife (Dina Merrill), while facing the camera with his back to her, that on the surface Gloria was all about “sex and devil-may-care,” but in the inside she was “struggling towards respectability” and never stopped trying to attain it.




Posted on June 20, 2006 in Features by
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