BUTTERFIELD 8 (Daniel Mann, 1960)

Updated to the present, Daniel Mann’s sleek though plodding film based on John O’Hara’s 1935 novel, BUtterfield 8, secured a third look from me owing to the sad news today that one of its principal players, Eddie Fisher, died as a result, I gather, of hip surgery. As a singer, Fisher, although more than competent, was never to my taste. As an actor, at least in this film, he is certainly better than I remembered. He plays the platonic confidante of model/call girl Gloria Wandrous and was cast in the part because he was married at the time to the film’s star, Elizabeth Taylor. However, his character’s name was changed from Eddie Brunner to Steve Carpenter, presumably to suppress the potentially distracting coincidence of one marginally employed Eddie playing another. The psychological crux of the character is this: long friendship has made Steve keenly protective of Gloria, whom he also possibly loves (his girlfriend, Norma, certainly thinks this is the case), but he struggles to suppress such feelings, likely because he unconsciously feels they are somehow incestuous, given the brotherly-sisterly nature of their relationship since childhood. This is fairly complicated stuff, and Fisher fills in each shade and stress. It is a decent performance—a far better one than either Laurence Harvey’s as Weston Liggett, the man with whom Gloria falls in love, or Dina Merrill’s, as Liggett’s rich, patient wife.
     Taylor, who hated the film and her own work in it, won her first Oscar; Gloria vividly evidences vulnerability and self-loathing, erupting, cracking up a brash surface.
     Somewhat unexpectedly, Charles Schnee and John Michael Hayes’s script bypasses O’Hara’s time-scheme, which includes flashbacks and flash-forwards. The extraction of the Great Depression isn’t especially damaging because soap opera is self-contextualizing.
     Bad film; but I’ve seen worse.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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