Thursday, February 21, 2019

Thursday Movie Picks - Starring Real Life Couples

Written as part of the weekly blogathon hosted by Wandering Through the Shelves. Join in the fun by picking three movies that fit the week's theme and writing a bit about them!

I'm getting to this VERY late in the day, so I'll make this short and sweet: I know there are lots of other movie stars who have been in movies together while they've been dating/married, but when I think of couples who shared the screen together, there's really only one that matters. All the rest are pale imitations.

I speak, of course, of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Cleopatra (Joseph L. Makiewicz, 1963) Yes, it's Cleopatra! Life Magazine's "Most Talked-About Movie Ever Made!" The film that nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox! And the film that everybody wanted to see, for the scandal of Burton and Taylor's affair, which began during shooting. Cleopatra was the biggest box office hit of the year in America, and won four Oscars from nine nominations, but talk of the stars' extramarital affair so dominated the headlines that Fox tried to sue them for causing damage to the film with their actions. And, well... there's a lot wrong with Cleopatra, but it's not necessary Burton and Taylor's fault (although Taylor is FAR from her best). It's a slog of an epic that buckles under the weight of its beyond-opulent sets and costumes. It looks fantastic, but the story and the telling of it leave a whole hell of a lot to be desired.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Mike Nichols, 1966) I know it's almost impossible to believe, but this MASTERPIECE was director Mike Nichols's FIRST MOVIE. You'd never know it from watching this, though. Of course, the source material of Edward Albee's Tony Award-winning play offers a pretty great starting point, but Nichols effortlessly transfers the thing to film, helped in no small part by Burton and Taylor, each doing the best work of their careers. Supporting players George Segal and Sandy Dennis are no slouches either, but perhaps Nichols owes his biggest debt to cinematographer Haskell Wexler, who provides some of the most stunning black & white cinematography in the history of the medium.

The Taming of the Shrew (Franco Zefferelli, 1967) Yes, it's true. Burton and Taylor were indeed made to fight onscreen. Indeed, their aggression was usually more compelling than their love! Taylor had never done Shakespeare before, and it shows a bit, but there's no denying that this slapstick-heavy version of one of The Bard's most controversial plays is still super entertaining. And Burton is a hoot as Petruchio, the Man's Man set to the task of subduing the fiery "shrew" Katherine as he makes her his bride. Yes, the ending lacks all but the slightest trace of irony that has become the standard - and that was even present in the silent version from 1929 starring Mary Pickford - but the sumptuous look and fun staging make this an enjoyable romp until that point.


  1. I need to rewatch Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, I really liked that. I haven't seen the other two and I know I should have by now.

  2. Love your Burton/Taylor theme! They were quite thenhoot offscreen with the diamonds and boozing ways. That clip from Cleopaterer is almost as long as the movie. I believe this is when Taylor almost died from pneumonia too. It’s quite the slog of a film but love the grandeur of it. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is their best work and Burton should have won the Oscar. They show people you neve4 want to go out to dinner with. I still need to see your last pick but it is a perfect pairing.

  3. LOVE the theme within the theme and its one I briefly considered but I'd used my favorite of their films together, The V.I.P.S (I said favorite not best), before but did retain one for mine.

    Cleopatra is opulent beyond all sense but egads is it a struggle to get through! Both of the stars are a trifle off their game but good enough for the pageant they are participating in. Roddy McDowell however is excellent.

    Everybody loves Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? more than me. I respect the artistry of it (though I hate Sandy Dennis's performance) and agree that the Burtons are very fine but I don't like the film.

    We match!!! Liz & Dick are having a hell of a good time in Taming of the Shrew and it spreads to the audience. Probably the second best film they made together.

    I also did a theme within the theme, adaptations of Shakespeare comedies with married couples in the leads.

    The Boys from Syracuse (1940)-In the town of Ephesus in ancient Asia Minor two boys from Syracuse, Anthipholus (Allan Jones) and his servant Dromio (Joe Penner), search for their long-lost twins who, for reason of plot confusion, are also named Anthipholus and Dromio. Problems arise when the wife of the Ephesians, Adriana (Irene Hervey) and her servant Luce (Martha Raye), mistake the two strangers for their husbands. Complications and comedy ensue. Loosely based on Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. Leads Jones and Hervey were married for over 20 years, their son vocalist Jack Jones is most well-known for singing the theme for The Love Boat.

    The Taming of the Shrew (1967)-Wealthy Padua merchant, Baptista (Michael Hordern), has two daughters-the fiery Katherina called Kate (Elizabeth Taylor) and younger sister Bianca (Natasha Pyne). Bianca loves Lucentio (Michael York), and wants to marry but can’t until the thorny Kate does which she shows no inclination to do. On the scene comes the raucous and magnetic Petruchio (Richard Burton) who sees Kate as a challenge and when her father forces them to marry the real combat begins. The infamously battling Burtons are perfectly cast as the warring lead couple.

    Much Ado About Nothing (1993)-After a successful campaign against his rebellious brother, Don John (Keanu Reeves), Don Pedro (Denzel Washington) visits the governor of Messina. With him are Benedick (Kenneth Branagh) and Claudio (Robert Sean Leonard). While there, Claudio falls for the governor's daughter, Hero (Kate Beckinsale), while Benedick engages in a war of words with Beatrice (Emma Thompson), the governor's niece. While Don Pedro tries to trick Benedick and Beatrice into falling in love, Don John tries to tear Claudio and Hero apart. Aside from married (at the time) couple Branagh & Thompson and the aforementioned stars the cast also includes Michael Keaton, Imelda Staunton and Emma’s mother Phyllida Law.

    The Taming of the Shrew (1929)-Same basic story as the Liz & Dick version above but with substantial cuts (and additional dialogue by Sam Taylor-???? WHY) served as a wrong-headed early sound vehicle for two of the biggest stars of the silent era, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. who had notoriously left they spouses to marry each other (but whose own marriage was foundering by this point) in an echoing of the whole Brad Pitt Angelina Jolie episode of later years. Static and dated with both stars nearing the ends of their careers (Mary made 3 more films, Doug 4 before retirement) Pickford considered it one of her worst performances (she’s right) but Fairbanks, full of brio is suited to Petruchio and emerges okay. Still you’re missing nothing if you give it the skip.

  4. I've only seen Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff, and those two burn the screen up in the best of ways. ImI still working up the courage to try sitting through Cleopatra. Everything I know about it feels like a bloated mess. I'll get over it and find out for sure one of these days.

  5. I don’t know if you watch the Oscars...I’m assuming you do but I made my question list for The Oscars and hope you can give your feedback Tuesday afternoon when I post my results

  6. I've only seen Cleopatra. Not having seen the rest, I didn't know they were costars again.

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  8. The word LEGEND was made for the pair! These two were tremendous together and apart...two of my all time favorites (actually, if I had to, gun to head, choose my favorite actor and actress it would be Taylor and Burton). Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf is...just flawless (Sandy Dennis aside, because...she's awful, but Taylor and especially Burton are SO GOOD that it more than makes up for her shrillness). I'm one of Cleopatra's champions. It's somewhat messy, but GORGEOUS, and Taylor, Burton and especially Harrison (who was SUPPORTING and should have coasted to a win there) definitely make it worth watching.