BUtterfield 8 (1960)
MGM knew what they were doing when they forced Elizabeth Taylor to make this loose adaptation of John O’Hara’s novel about a call girl who falls in love. At the time, Taylor was the queen of the scandal sheets after she allegedly “stole” Eddie Fisher from his wife, Debbie Reynolds. With one film left on her contract before she was free to accept $1 million to make Cleopatra (1963), they dusted off a property they hadn’t been able to get past the censors previously. Taylor hated the script, calling it “pornographic,” but the start date for Cleopatra was looming, so she had to do it.
Unlike the Gloria Wandrous in O’Hara’s book, Taylor’s character is not a prostitute. She’s a model who gets paid to wear dresses to public places. But she also likes to sleep around. When she finds herself falling for married executive Laurence Harvey, she tries to change her ways, but can she do it at the expense of another woman’s marriage?
Taylor hated working on BUtterfield 8 so much she refused even to speak to director Daniel Mann, and when she saw the rough cut, she threw her shoes at the screen. But she was too much of a pro not to give her all to the performance, and even critics who hated the film had to acknowledge she’d brought a surprising level of depth to the role. The film was a big hit and brought her a fourth consecutive Oscar nomination. Industry pundits expected the award to go to Shirley MacLaine for The Apartment or Deborah Kerr for The Sundowners (both 1960). Then Taylor caught pneumonia on the set of Cleopatra and almost died as people were marking their ballots. Suddenly most of the competition decided to stay home that night, and Taylor won her first of two Academy Awards for the role while sporting a scar from an emergency tracheotomy. She still hated the film, but at least she had an Oscar to show for it.
d. Daniel Mann, 109 minutes, 35mm
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Classics and Park Circus LLC