Monday, May 2, 2011

Reflections In A Golden Eye (1967)

Melodramatic and hokey, this mildly interesting soap opera involves the denizens of an army base, particularly a closeted homosexual Major, his philandering wife, her Lt. Col. lover, his repressed wife, and a broody, quiet private. Aside from the fact that no one actually, outright exposes the Major as a homosexual, there is very little subtlety on display here; the acting is typically loud and over-the-top, the scenarios are implausible and thoroughly preventable, and the whole film is glazed (by director John Huston's orders) with a golden-hued filter, lest you question for a second the nature of the film's title. The relationships are hokey and contrived, completely devoid of chemistry; most of the only genuine interactions occur between the Lt. Col.'s beleaguered wife and her manservant, Anacleto. For a John Huston movie, the scale is remarkably contained and, most disappointingly, cliched, with the occasional visual flourish (such as the closeups on *gasp* reflecting eyes!) coming off as extraneous and showy.

The cast is, simultaneously, a pro and a con for the film. On one hand, you have wonderful actors such as Elizabeth Taylor and Brian Keith floundering about in search of a character, throwing themselves at their overly revealing, thoroughly stagey dialogue at the expense of their integrity as actors. On the other hand, there is Robert Forster, killing it with his stoicism in his first major role as the creepy, stalkerish army recruit, Julie Harris, cutting a marvelously sympathetic and identifiable figure, and Marlon Brando, who, given the juiciest role in the show, manages to elevate the whole endeavor from more than a mere curiosity to a mildly interesting piece of work. Sidney Lumet, in his book Making Movies, mentions that in his prime, Brando would, on the first day of shooting, give the director two near-identical takes for a scene, one with his full, undivided attention, and the other, more of a throwaway mime of the scene. If the director could call out which take was the genuine article and which was the lemon, Brando would be devoted to the production, and hang on every word from the director. He did this for Lumet, and, given his work here, I am venturing that he did this for Huston. His character never, for a second, comes off as a screenwriter's invention. and without condescension allows the audience to FEEL, if not understand, the inner workings of this complicated, conflicted figure. It is Brando's work, rather than the screenwriter's, or any of the individual crewmembers, that creates a sense of tension and scope in the film, merely through his exhibition of his character's throughline. When the sensationalist ending finally comes, and he is at the mercy of the hokey script, the strength of his performance survives through it, and, unlike Taylor, he comes out the other end unfettered. It is one of the better, more encapsulating performances I have seen from Brando, up to par with anything he did in the '60s, and it is the only thing keeping this turgid, overcooked melodrama afloat.

Slightly Recommended for fans of soap opera-y marital dramas or Brando aficionados, who, gratefully, get one of the performances that he actually, truly, seemed to have given a hoot about perfecting.

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