Monday, August 24, 2009

Elizabeth Taylor, in Raintree County
approximately 54 minutes and 52 seconds
33.5% of the film

The film

A graduating poet/teacher falls in love with a Southern woman, and then the Civil War and her past create problems.

You can find my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

To quote from what I wrote there: Unfortunately the film (…) is a huge flop and for most part a waste of time, camera work and potential. It's not an epic, but a badly acted, directed, written film lacking the fluidity it needs to put some sense into the story.

Elizabeth Taylor as Susanna Drake

I’ve always lived under the impression that Elizabeth Taylor’s star persona, beauty & personal life were way above her acting and her body of work. She’s a movie star if there’s even been one. Unfortunately, her Raintree County performance confirms my theory and taunts me in believing that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was her only undeniable & brilliant achievement. There’s no doubt she had the potential for great acting, but her regular efforts were way too inconsistent. Raintree County is also her first Oscar nomination, and from what I can tell it’s quite an undeserved one.

Liz plays Susanna Drake, a Southern belle with a bit of a troubled past and lots of unresolved trauma, who falls in love with a Yankee and tricks him into marrying her. But as she approaches motherhood, her mental state starts to decline more and more and a tragic ending for her seems unavoidable. As you can tell, the role is very baity, even though she’s not the leading character of the movie, just the wife; a crazy wife, that is. At times, the role’s too much for Liz to handle and more often the messy screenplay doesn’t live up to the potential of the character.

There aren’t many good things about this performance. Sure, Liz looks great and the more seductive, mean girl role fits her. However, she’s at her most annoying when she’s playing nice, overdoing it. Her Southern charms are often overcooked, and I’m not referring to the accent, but to the loud talking and all the mannerism she brings to the performance and the falseness she defines Susanna by.

Some of her confrontation scenes just don’t work. Either she doesn’t understand the character (to be honest, the screenplay doesn’t help her at all) or she doesn’t have the experience at playing this much of a challenging, mature role (yeah, she was a child actor, but that’s a different ball game). Every time she’s in crisis, she puts on the despair, Alzheimerish look that works only once or twice. And her final scenes, right at the ending, feel boring, uncreative and I got the sense I didn’t like (nor found believable) the direction she decided for the character.

There are, however, two good elements/moments about this performance. First is when, during their boat trip after the wedding, Susanna transforms into this racist Southern bitch for a couple of minutes. As I am condemning the character, Liz showed us a bit of her speciality: playing hard bitches and nasty women. It wouldn’t have harmed the performance had she had more cruel scenes in her acting. The second is the madhouse scene, where we see a Susanna that’s beaten down and that has given up on a chance of a normal life. She’s more approachable and it’s probably for the first (and only) time we feel for the character. Not spectacular, but worthy of mentioning.

This is not a performance I liked. I didn’t hate it, nor did I find something terribly wrong, but it has it’s weak parts and a lot of mediocrity. In all fairness, the direction and the screenplay are shit, but sometimes a performance can rise above the material. Liz does it, but not enough. I hesitated on the rating. I’m gonna go with , even though it’s really a 1.5 and this is officially the least satisfying (another word for bad) performance I’ve written about ever since the birth of the blog.


Encore Entertainment said...

It's been a while since I saw this so I can't be sure, but I always thought that all Susanna's behaviours were supposed to be so over the top and're probably right Eliza was great, I think, in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW.

Glad to see you're back...and can you head over to my blog and vote in the new polls I have!!! Thankee.

Alex in Movieland said...

you know it's never easy to tell the difference between an actress's mistake or bad acting choice AND something that's meant to be faithful to the character. I talked about it before.
But in the end I check if I liked the result or not so much. I never think I'm right; it's just my subjective take on it. :)

I've seen Taming of the Shrew long long time ago when I was almost a teenager. I remember enjoying the film. And it has Oscar nominations, so I'll probably see it in the future for the other blog :D

well, my Best Actress posting period is between 7 and 14 days :) it's been 13 this time.

A french lector said...

First : I hope you could understand my bad english.
Second : many thanks for your blogs (both) which are a real pleasure to read.
I think you are a little grueling (I’m not sure at all it is the right word) about Taylor when you say “that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was her only undeniable & brilliant achievement”. Raintry is, of course, the weakest of her Oscar nominated performance’s, except, for me, that she has an interesting mix of violence and vulnerability.
But she was quite good in Cat and glorious in Suddenly last summer : what a monologue she gives at the end of the movie. What a voice, My God !
In other roles, far long from being goods roles, she shines however. Everyone says she was “that” bad in Butterfly 8. Ok she is over the top and vulgar: but that exactly what the role (and the film) is asking for ! And, for example, in a little picture like Charles Vidor’s Rhapsody, she was so right the personage she doesn’t play at all.
About 1957 I’m very agreeing with you concerning Woodward. My favorite is Turner but for bad reasons (I love her, I love the movie, I love the way she acts, however I know is not good or “artistic”). The “Brean’s” favorite is, may be, Kerr, so subtle and intelligent as ever, and romantic as the part is. Magnani overplays one or two scenes but she’s brilliant, even in English.
About the non “nominated”, Dietrich (and I don’t like her very much) is very good, with a beautiful “tour de force” but I prefer the comic’s performances of the years, the two Golden Globes stars, Audrey Hepburn (so really funny and lovable in Ariane) and of course the extraordinary Kay Kendall in The Girls, which I could describe with world but who is laughable to death !
I hope read another article soon !

Alex in Movieland said...

thank you for the kind words :)

I have to be a bit harsh sometimes, because I can't give 4 or 5 stars to all of them :)
I didn't enjoy her that much in Suddenly Last Summer, but I did think she was rather good (but not great) in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Lana Turner's is the one I'm doing next, but I don't have that much of a positive view on her performance. :) but we'll see next week

augie said...

The movie has its faults, but it is beautiful to look at and Taylor, I thought, gave a fasinating performance with a lot of range and well deserved her nomination. I remember seeing this movie in the theaters when I was 18 and loving the Civil War aspect of it and Taylor slowing slipping into madness.

Alex in Movieland said...

the slipping might have been slow, but was it believable? and same for the recovery.

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