Friday, 9 September 2011

Friday Night Film: Boom

Joseph Losey made some interesting films in Hollywood up until the McCarthy witch hunts of the mid fifties when, as a card carrying communist, he found himself at the top of the blacklist. Relocating to Britain, Losey restarted his career (initially under a pseudonym) with a number of thoughtful, enigmatic films (including the superlative cold war sci fi horror hybrid 'The Damned'), before embarking on a run of baroque melodramas including 'The Servant', 'Accident' and the utterly ridiculous 'Boom'

Cissy goes forth

If only he'd taken the hint

'Boom' is quite often cited as one of the worst films ever made. I wouldn't go that far, but it is pretty poor. For me, the main problem is that despite, or perhaps because of, the sheer volume of talent involved, it's a self-indulgent, unengaging, pretentious mess. Liz Taylor plays foul mouthed Cissy Goforth, the richest woman in the world, who lives at the top of a mountain on a private island with only a large staff and the occasional visits of decadent socialite The Witch Of Capri (Noel Coward) for company. Hustler / Poet Christopher Flanders (Richard Burton) turns up one day and inveigles his way into the house. Flanders has earned the sobriquet 'The Angel Of Death' because of his habit of being the last lover of a number of wealthy women.

Head of Security

The Witch of Capri

The film takes advantage of the Burton / Taylor power axis, but is fundamentally miscast. Goforth should be an ancient, clearly dying woman, and Flanders a gilded, beautiful youth, and neither the plump, lively Taylor or the weary, pock marked Burton fit the bill. The script, by no less a hack than Tennessee Williams, is, God help us, allegorical - and utterly pathetic. Portentous and artificial, the cast make a bad thing worse by giving incredibly mannered performances. Taylor is terrible in her own slightly shrieky way but, as usual, Burton edges it, rolling the dialogue around with his cultured larynx, all the while wandering around in a kimono with a bad Beatle haircut, looking like a hungover extra from an amateur production of 'The Mikado'.

'What tracheotomy scar?'

Even Burton can't bear to watch, and he's in it

I'm not sure why, but I've watched this film several times. It sort of draws you in, like all the other Burton / Taylor car crashes. When Losey is on form, he's a great film maker - when he veers off course, it's great entertainment, so his films are always worth a look.   

As an aside, I've always wondered about the idea that the Taylor / Burton relationship was one of the 'great love stories'. The summary version (homewrecking alcoholics marry, divorce then remarry and divorce again over about a ten year period) seems more Jeremy Kyle than 'Romeo and Juliet', but then perhaps I'm being unfairly realistic about it. 

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