This depressingly dull, largely incoherent musical derives, by way of a stage musical, from one of Ingmar Bergman’s beauties: Smiles on a Summer Night (1955), a Shakespearean comedy that submits romance to mortality’s clock as couples change partners during a weekend visit to the country. To judge from the film, Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics are uninspired, however, except for the one famous killer-song, “Send in the Clowns.”
Len Cariou (en route to becoming Broadway’s Sweeney Todd), Diana Rigg, Hermione Gingold: these and other members of the cast are atrocious. But the principal cause of the film’s lifelessness is stage director Harold Prince, who hasn’t a clue what to do. His efforts have resulted in a film that is scarcely better than Mame (Gene Saks, 1974).
Is there any reason to see the film, then? Well, yes: Elizabeth Taylor. As a stage actress who brushes against the ache of her mortal awareness, Taylor is luscious (yet again she is beautiful beyond belief), elegant, sharp, witty, subtle. I have read that her singing is dubbed; but how can this be? Perhaps someone else supplies a few high notes, but Taylor’s “singing” voice is inimically hers. Taylor doesn’t really sing; she talk-sings: another reason why I doubt that she was extensively dubbed. Indeed, she struggles through “Send in the Clowns” (no Judy Collins, she), carefully sculpting and shading the gorgeous song in short phrases, a few notes at a time. The overall effect is mesmerizing and melancholy—and haunting.
For the record, I have named Eva Dahlbeck 1955’s best actress for her performance in this role in Bergman’s film.
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