Sunday 19 July 2015

Raintree County [1957]

RAINTREE COUNTY is an American drama that was directed by Edward Dmytryk and originally released by MGM in December 1957.  Adapted from Ross Lockridge’s novel by Millard Kaufman, it stars Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor and Eva Marie Saint.  Set before, during and after the American Civil War it follows the life of a mild-mannered teacher who is tricked into marrying a mercurial Southern belle thus creating a split with his high school sweetheart.

There are three main points to mention in any discussion of this film.  Firstly, it was during the production that Montgomery Clift suffered his near-fatal car crash which resulted in grievous facial injuries.  Production was shut down until he recovered but in the finished film the pre- and post-accident footage clearly does not match, with Clift looking markedly different.  Clift’s confidence was badly affected and, already drinking heavily and addicted to prescriptions drugs, his career began its decline, a steep slide which ended with his death in 1967 aged just 46.

Montgomery Clift as John Shawnessy

Second, the film was a conscious decision on the part of MGM, and particularly the studio’s head of development Dore Schary, to try to emulate the success of GONE WITH THE WIND [1939].  Both films are based on massive best-selling novels and combine tempestuous romance with Civil War drama, a mix which in the case of GONE WITH THE WIND rang the box office bell in a way that had never been seen before and, if the inflation-adjusted takings are to be believed, has never been seen since.

Romance in Indiana

Third, the film was the first film (and to date one of only ten) to use MGM’s new Camera 65 brand, which was based on Panavision’s anamorphic camera lenses that produced an aspect ratio of 2.76:1, comfortably the widest of widescreen technology at that time.  RAINTREE COUNTY has yet to receive a blu-ray release partly for this reason and partly because, as I understand it, significant restoration work would be required; however there is a campaign underway lobbying for this to happen.

What you don’t see so much is an evaluation of the film on its own merits so I’m happy to report that it is perfectly watchable, at times even gripping, but weighed down in the end by excessive sentimentality.  I think the fickle finger of failure points directly at director Edward Dmytryk who was a fine director of noir thrillers but lacked the lightness of touch required to deal with the love triangle at the heart of this film.  By all accounts he gave the cast very little in the way of performance direction being more concerned with the photography.  As a result there is at times some pretty ripe over-acting, particularly from Elizabeth Taylor and Nigel Patrick as the philandering college professor who tells his class the legend of the Rain Tree.

Montygomery Clift looking preoccupied
The Civil War sequences are comfortably the best parts of the film.  Clift and army buddy Lee Marvin coming upon an abandoned plantation and taking prisoner a Confederate officer are almost eerie in their stillness and the subsequent lethal fire-fight is genuinely moving.  The photography by Robert Surtees is excellent and no doubt when the restored film is released on blu-ray it will look sensational.  Ultra-wide widescreen was perfect for epics such as this and some sequences – the foot race between Clift and Lee Marvin, the visit to Windsor Ruins, Lincoln’s funeral train – utilise it fully.

Windsor Ruins in RAINTREE COUNTY

Abraham Lincoln's funeral train superbly photographed in MGM's Camera-65

Unsurprisingly, given the circumstances, Clift’s performance is uneven.  Clift was a trailblazer for a new style of acting and basically single-handed introduced the concept of the sensitive leading man into film-making.  Up until then lead actors had been like John Wayne, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn and so on, that is to say virile, tough, strong heroes.  In Clift’s début feature RED RIVER [1948] it is possible to see these two archetypes playing directly opposite each other.  In the post-war period Clift’s persona was much more reflective of the change in mood and he became the biggest male movie star of the day.

Montgomery Clift in the early 1950s

He was not strictly speaking a Method actor but he bridged the gap between the, shall we say, untutored style of the 30s and early 40s and the Method actors of the 50s.  In that sense he was and remains unique; acting has not seen such an important development since then – even the fine actors of the 70s, Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Gene Hackman, approached their craft in much the same way as Brando and Dean, who themselves took their lead from Clift.

Not only was a ground-breaking actor but he was also a handsome devil and the combination proved irresistible at the box office.  And therein lay the seeds of his demise: he was a cultured, intelligent and sensitive young man who found the excesses and adulation that went with stardom to be burdensome.  He was also a closeted homosexual – or, depending on which biographies you read, bisexual – and had a difficult, complex relationship with his mother.
Even before the car crash he had been exhibiting erratic behaviour; since FROM HERE TO ETERNITY [1954], arguably his finest couple of hours, he had been away from the screen for three years.  He had been living off loans from his management company MCA and rejecting script after script after script.  Eventually he realised he had to go back to work and chose RAINTREE COUNTY; despite what he thought was an ordinary script – he described it as “just good enough” – he was keen to work again with Elizabeth Taylor, one of his closest friends.  They had of course starred together in A PLACE IN THE SUN [1951] and no doubt MGM were banking on a hit of similar proportions.

Clift and Elizabeth Taylor c. A PLACE IN THE SUN
There is enough pre-accident footage of Clift in the film (and it is the only moving-picture colour footage of pre-accident Clift) to suggest that had the car crash not happened the film would have been significantly better.  He doesn’t look as ripped as he did in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY but then again he’s playing a teacher, not a soldier.  His voice is strong and confident and he gives off that alluring light which I suppose can be called star quality.

A still of pre-accident Montgomery Clift...

...and a post-accident Montgomery Clift.  Note how puffy and swollen the right side of his face looks and how rigid the left is.

Sadly the accident, which resulted in his lower jaw being broken off on both sides, a deep laceration on his cheek, a hole in his top lip, a broken nose and teeth being knocked out, destroyed his self-confidence.  After much surgery, including wiring his jaw, but not as is supposed plastic surgery he eventually returned to work – against the advice of his closest friends – and got the film finished.  Afterwards by his own admission he thought he’d never work again. 

His post-accident performance is frankly hard to witness.  The left side of his face was immobilised which meant that his right profile was used almost exclusively.  When you see front on his face looks puffy and kind of slanted.  He somehow looks ten years older and his voice too is croaky; he looks frail and a broken man.  If the film had been shot in sequence his new appearnce might have perversely suited the post-Civil War sequences in which his character really is damaged but films are rarely shot that way. The whole experience of watching someone whose face changes significantly over the course of three hours is bizarre and unsettling and, knowing what we know about the rest of Clift’s life and career, heartbreaking.

Elizabeth Taylor as Susannah Drake

Elizabeth Taylor as regular readers will know is someone Cinema Delirium has come to admire over the last two or three years.  For a mega-star, which she unquestionably was, she made some interesting and unusual films, particularly from the mid-60s onwards.  She played more than her fair share of Southern ladies and did eventually get the accent just right but unfortunately that didn’t happen in time for RAINTREE COUNTY.  Moreover, her character Susannah Drake is a paranoid schizophrenic and without any firm direction from Dmytryk she, by her own admission, really chewed the scenery.  Having said that she’s the most interesting character in marked contrast to the frankly rather wet John Shawnessy (Montgomery Clift) and Nell Gaither (Eva Marie Saint).

Eva Marie Saint as Nell Gaither

Eva Marie Saint is a fine actress whose feature film career is surprisingly short, considering she made her debut in 1954.  It really lasted for just over 15 years although she did continue to work a lot in TV.  However, her CV includes two stone cold classics in Elia (Boo!  Hiss!) Kazan’s ON THE WATERFRONT [1954] and Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST [1959].  She’s also in a good true crime TV movie called FATAL VISION [1984] about the murderer Jeffrey R. MacDonald.  Not much delirious stuff though.

Lee Marvin (R) in his sprint race against Monty

In the supporting cast are Lee Marvin and Rod Taylor.  Lee Marvin was an actor who got typecast as bad guys in his early career but who managed to break out into lead parts as he got older, a bit like Charles Bronson.  Marvin was far more talented than Bronson though and had a wider range.  More than that though he was a remarkable man whose early life is in sharp contrast to modern day actors.  These days actors seem to enter film business either from modelling, television presenting or professional sport.  Marvin was a US Marine during WW2.  As an actor, and no doubt as a man, he had an imposing physique and voice which obviously prevented him getting romantic leads but got him lots of work in tough action pictures.  He even won an Oscar for his performance in a comedy / musical / western – CAT BALLOU [1965].  The list of directors who employed him is unbelievable: Ford, Boetticher, Aldrich, Siegel, Curtiz, Boorman, Hathaway, Brooks (Richard not Mel), Fleischer.  Quite a guy.

Rod Taylor as Garwood B. Jones (L) and Lee Marvin as Flash Perkins (R)

Rod Taylor was an Australian actor who died earlier this year.  He too had a great physicality about him but unlike Marvin he could do the softer romantic stuff too.  He never quite became a major star but he certainly made some fine films.  There’s Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS [1963] of course and GIANT [1956] but also some lesser-known stuff like THE DEADLY TRACKERS [1973] in which he plays against type as a charming but sadistic villain whom Richard Harris is hunting down, and a curious TV movie called CRY OF THE INNOCENTS [1980], an Irish / American co-production about an ex-Green Beret digging into the circumstances surrounding the death of his wife in a place crash.  Neither of those two films is perfect but I’d recommend them over some of his more mainstream fare.  Naturally Quentin Tarantino couldn’t resist getting his grubby mitts all over Taylor and dragged him out of retirement into INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS [2009].  He was unrecognisable however so you have to wonder why Tarantino bothered.

Nigel Patrick as Professor Jerusalem Stiles

British actor Nigel Patrick has a prominent role as Shawnessy’s roguish college professor.  Quite how Patrick got cast in such a massive American production – as an American - is a mystery to me: both before and after RAINTREE COUNTY he worked almost exclusively in British films.  I know him best from a segment in one of my beloved anthology horror films TALES FROM THE CRYPT [1972], where he plays a callous retired colonel type who takes over the running of a home for the blind.  Ideally suited for the role too, having reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during WW2.

DeForest Kelley as the Confederate officer

One or two other cast members to mention: first there’s DeForest Kelley, a household name as Dr Bones McCoy in STAR TREK.  Second there’s Michael Dante about whom I wrote in my review of Charles B. Pierce’s WINTERHAWK [1975] (which you can read ).  And finally there’s Agnes Moorhead, here playing Montgomery Clift’s mother but most famous of course for playing Orson Welles’s mother in CITIZEN KANE [1941].

Edward Dmytryk: I'm not sure this is a still of him giving or not giving evidence
Director Edward Dmytryk is someone about whom I can never make up my mind.  On the one hand he directed some terrific films, including FAREWELL, MY LOVELY [1944] and CROSSFIRE [1947], but on the other hand he ratted out his former friends to HUAC during the McCarthy witch-hunt era.  As one of the ‘Hollywood Ten’ he had originally refused to testify and ultimately was jailed for it; however, he had a change of heart while inside and spilled the beans in 1951.  This meant he was free to resume his career while others were not.  He was the only member of the original ten who turned on his colleagues.  Unforgivable in my view and while Dmytryk himself maintained that he had no regrets it has been said that some of his post-HUAC films prominently featured self-loathing characters which spoke to his real feelings.  Naturally enough his erstwhile comrades have less than postive views about him.

Cinematographer Robert Surtees had a long and distinguished career behind the camera particularly during the 50s and 60s when he worked on some very big projects.  He was nominated umpteen times for an Oscar and won three.  He was particularly adept at widescreen photography which is probably why his career highs came when they did.  His son Bruce was also a cinemtographer, noted for dark interiors, and for a long time was the preferred choice of Clint Eastwood, working with him a dozen times.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Voodoo Island [1957]

VOODOO ISLAND is an American horror / adventure film that was directed by Reginal Le Borg for Bel-Air Productions.  It was released in February 1957 by United Artists.  It stars Boris Karloff, Beverly Tyler, Rhodes Reason and Murvyn Vye.  Karloff plays Phillip Knight, a TV myth-buster, who is hired by a property developer to disprove claims that an island he has bought in the South Pacific is cursed.

There is something about island movies which really appeals to me.  I think it is because they are self-contained: the real world doesn’t intrude, there is no traffic, no general public, nothing to distract you from the fantasy unfolding in front of you – the exploration and discovery.  KING KONG [1933] is rightly one of the most famous films of all time but, speaking personally, it loses something for me when they get back to the US from Skull Island for precisely those reasons.

A not terribly impressive shot of the Voodoo Island

I also like ship movies (and for that matter train movies and hotel movies) which share this feeling of self-containment – a world within a world if you like.  And of course with island movies you often get a slice of ship movie too.  A good, if utterly barking, example is Hammer’s THE LOST CONTINENT [1968] which is yer proverbial movie of two halves: ship, then island.  In fact a lot of those adventure movies from my childhood – the Sinbad / Harryhausen, JACK THE GIANT KILLER [1962], WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS [1978] – have that irresistible blend of voyage, isolation and discovery.

Landfall!  The adventure begins!

VOODOO ISLAND isn’t in that class.  It’s a cheap production (c. $150,000 apparently) and looks it.  There is only one monster – a carnivorous plant – which is on the same level as the famously inert octopus Bela Lugosi has to grapple with in Edward D. Wood Jr’s BRIDE OF THE MONSTER [1955].  In fact by the time our heroes set foot on the island the film is past the halfway point which means that the producers could shoot the majority of the footage in the studio.  When you've called your film VOODOO ISLAND and you’re resorting to tricks like that it’s a measure of the general laziness and cynicism behind the project.

Jean Engstrom as Claire Winter...

...about to go the same way as Bela Lugosi
It’s a pity actually because the island footage was shot on location in Kauai and looks good enough; I can only assume the shooting schedule was so tight that they only had time (or money) for two or three days of location photography.  Le Borg chucks in as much adventuring as he can – camping, hacking through the jungle, skinny dipping, rope bridges – but the problem is that these are at the lower end of the excitement scale.  What the film lacks is genuine action between these moments; it’s like a thrilling jungle adventure movie from which all the thrilling bits have been removed.  Having said that I did enjoy the sly opening credits sequence which tracks over a jungle scene which is quite obviously a cheap model; and then the camera pulls back to reveal... it is a model, of the hotel the property developer wants to build.  Nice.

I was thinking at this point, 'What a cruddy model'...

...but I was hoodwinked.  It *is* a cruddy model.
It does have a good cast though.  Karloff is Karloff: lisping and intoning and generally being the sort of man you’d find at the end of a search for voodoo, rather than at the beginning.  He has great presence of course, the closest thing the film has to star quality, but in comparison to the rest of the cast his acting style seems old fashioned.  Which, in his defence, it was: he first started acting in the very early part of the 1900s and consequently had been at it for almost 50 years when he made VOODOO ISLAND.  

L-R:  Boris Karloff as Phillip Knight and Glenn Dixon as Vickers, the zombie

His career was so long that it spanned several different eras of film acting but his approach to the craft didn’t appear to change much in that time.  His co-stars in this film act in a much more natural, if slightly hard boiled, style which began to appear after WW2 and Karloff’s stagey manner suffers by comparison.  One other thing about him is that although the film’s in black and white Karloff really doesn't look very well, his skin a very unhealthy dark colour.

Love interest:  Rhodes Reason as Gunn and Beverley Tyler as Adams

The romantic leads – and there is a rather tiresome sub-plot to further dilute the adventuring – are ordinary but there are a few interesting supporting faces.  Foremost among them is an old Cinema Delirium favourite, Elisha Cook Jr.  

The shifty neurotic's shifty neurotic: Elisha Cook Jr

I've written about him several times, partly because he appears in so many films, but mainly because he was the ultimate character actor.  It’s difficult to express what it is he does so well because at times he doesn't appear to be doing anything; he seems indivisible from the role he is playing.  But there’s a moment in this film where – and you’ll have seen such a sequence in countless adventure movies – where our heroes are hacking their way through the jungle, single file.  Most of the cast amble past the camera in desultory fashion but bringing up the rear is Cook, slapping the back of his neck, grimacing, and replacing his floppy hat on his sweaty head.  I guess it’s the attention to detail that sets him apart, the awareness that a character can be built by adding tiny moments such as these. 

And here he is being the consummate craftsman...

I once read a story about Steve McQueen when he was shooting John Sturges’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN [1960], the film which of course propelled him to mega stardom.  Obviously it was an ensemble film so the opportunities for an ambitious young actor to stand out; what McQueen did was to ensure that whenever he was in a scene with one or more other actors he could be seen fiddling with his hat or his gun or some other prop so that your eye would be drawn to him first.  It isn't something I can claim to have been aware of but watching it since it’s quite right.  

Werner Herzog says something similar about Klaus Kinski in MY BEST FIEND [1999].
“When you enter the frame from the side, showing your profile and then face the camera, there is no tension, so whenever there was a reason for it, Kinski would make his appearance from directly behind the camera.  Say Kinski wanted to spin into frame from the left.  He would position himself next to the camera, with his left foot next to the tripod. script conference.  Then he would step over the tripod with the right leg, twisting the foot inward.  The whole body would organically unwind before the camera, allowing him to smoothly spin into frame. It really did create a mysterious and disturbing tension.”

Forgive the digression but I love to hear of these technical tricks that the good actors employ.  I think it explains why you notice some actors a lot – as with Elisha Cook Jr – and countless others not.  There are loads of character actors whose names I recognise as the credits role but it takes a long time for me to get to a point where I recognise their faces too.  Not so with Cook.

The brilliantly-named Rhodes Reason who plays the hunky hero Gunn was mainly a TV actor who nevertheless appeared in some Cinema Delirium-approved bits and pieces, including THE TIME TUNNEL, STAR TREK and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE as well as a rare feature role in KING KONG ESCAPES [1967] the barking Japanese sci-fi movie.  He – Rhodes Reason, not King Kong – died last year aged 84.

Friedrich von Ledebur

In a small role at the very end of the film is the enigmatic Friedrich von Ledebur.  He made only fifty-odd movies over the course of a forty year career but, like Elisha Cook Jr, you always notice him.  That’s not because of acting tricks, at least none that I've spotted, but because he’s a very tall, imposing-looking man who looks like he’s been fashioned out of teak.  He’s got a genuinely delirious CV which somehow goes from MR BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE [1948] to William Friedkin’s SORCERER [1977], an excellent remake of THE WAGES OF FEAR.  I first became aware of him when I was still a kid and I saw him as Queequeg in John Huston’s MOBY DICK [1956]; he’s great in it and almost uniquely suited for the role, despite being an Austrian playing a South Sea islander.  Ledebur became something of a Huston favourite actually, appearing in four other films by the great man.  Have a look at his CV: you’ll find it chock full of properly good films and although he may only play uncredited bit parts he’s there in all of them – like a real-life Zelig.

Adam West (L)

Speaking of uncredited parts, I can’t not mention Adam West who makes his feature film début as a conscientious wireless operator.  West is of course instantly familiar to those of us who can remember Batman before Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Christian Bale and, er, Ben Affleck.

Director Reginad Le Borg began his career in the 1930s but never graduated beyond B-movies.  To be frank VOODOO ISLAND is as good as it needs to be and not a jot more, which point to it being the work of a hack.  I've only seen one other movie by him and that isn't very good either: THE MUMMY’S GHOST [1944] one of the increasingly dismal belated sequels to Universal’s THE MUMMY [1932] which starred, of course, Boris Karloff.  As with so many lower grade directors, Le Borg moved into TV in the 1950s but did make a return to features right at the end of his career, most of which are candidates for future Cinema Delirium posts, including THE EYES OF ANNIE JONES [1964] which features the oddest of odd couples in Richard Conte and Francesca Annis.

Screenwriter Richard Landau collaborated with Le Borg five times and has an interesting CV which, while it includes mediocre stuff like this one, also includes THE FLANAGAN BOY [1953] (which stars Barbara Payton), THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT [1955] and THE GLASS CAGE [1955], all Hammer productions, BACK TO BATAAN [1945] the not very good sequel to one of my favourite WW2 movies, Tay Garnett’s BATAAN [1943], and the original story for an underrated sci-fi movie THE BLACK HOLE [1979].

Thursday 9 July 2015

Boom! [1968]

BOOM! Is a British black comedy / drama that was directed by Joseph Losey and premiered in the US in May 1968.  It stars the then-married Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton along with Joanna Shimkus and Noel Coward.  Adapted by Tennessee Williams from his own play ‘The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore’ it tells of a fabulously wealthy but seriously ill recluse who is visited on her private island by an itinerant poet who has the reputation of being an angel of death.

Williams is such a towering figure in American literature that I tend to think of him as having died a long time ago but actually he lived until 1983; indeed he was most prolific during the 1950s so he’s very much a modern writer.  He was also a friend of Taylor and Burton’s who, despite the media circus which surrounded them, were intelligent, literate and cultured people.  Between them they appeared in four films based on Williams plays, the last of which was BOOM!

The play was written and first performed in 1963 and was not a success: it is now considered by some to represent the beginning of the decline in Williams’ work.  On the stage the characters Flora ‘Cissy’ Goforth and Christopher Flanders are much older and much younger, respectively, than the characters in the film; in Tony Richardson’s original production the parts were played by Tallulah Bankhead and Tab Hunter – an age gap of 29 years.  When BOOM! was made Richard Burton was actually seven years older than Elizabeth Taylor.

Taylor and Burton in BOOM!
This is an important aspect because generational conflict, particularly between genders, is a key theme in Williams’ work.  Cissy Goforth in the play is a tyrannical older woman, raging against the dying of the light who sees in handsome young Flanders a last opportunity to define herself in terms of allure, beauty and desirability.  Obviously when the parts are played by Burton and Taylor this element is almost entirely obscured.

A typically elegant interior by Richard Macdonald
As in a number of his plays, and films of his plays, certain themes – particularly homosexuality – had to be soft pedalled or disguised completely.  In SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (my review of which can be found here) the character Sebastian’s homosexuality is barely mentioned but is the key which explains the text.  Similarly, in ‘The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Any More’, if one reads the central relationship as a homosexual one, in other words considers Cissy as an elderly homosexual man, then the play – and consequently the film - opens itself up. 

A beautiful composition by Douglas Slocombe
There are autobiographical elements in the character of Cissy.  Williams stood at a crossroads in his career, beginning to doubt his creative power and afraid that his imagination was running dry.  He was torn, much as Cissy is, between looking back at what can never be recaptured and looking forward in fear.  Over dinner one night Cissy talks about the shock of each living moment and the realisation that what happened even a single second ago is now unreachable history.  There is some interesting symbolism on display too:  Cissy’s emblem is the griffin which apparently was a nod to the Williams family’s own coat of arms which was a fighting lion above a peacock.

The griffin emblem

And again
It’s a shame that BOOM! has long been considered an impenetrable, hilarious failure because if the characters are re-interpreted then it makes much more sense.  The Burton-Taylor circus mitigated against the film being taken seriously almost from the get go but because the real point is buried beneath these two layers of obfuscation critical reaction to it was merciless.  They lambasted the histrionics and the camp atmosphere presumably without realising that if you tweaked your perception of the characters then these elements made much more sense.  I mean, Noel Coward plays a (typically waspish) character called the Witch of Capri, for goodness’ sake: the clues are there.

Noel Coward as Mr Bridger.  Pardon me, as the Witch of Capri
I get the impression that critics thought this was just a Burton-Taylor vanity project and to be fair it does look it at first glance.  It’s a virtual two-hander, set in a glorious designer cliff-top mansion in Sardinia, Taylor swans about in a jaw-dropping collection of gowns and jewellery bitching like it’s going out of fashion, while Burton recites poetry dressed in a Japanese robe with matching samurai sword.  Writing that now it sounds ridiculous even to me.  But think of it this way: ignore the surface and think about the content and then ask yourself ‘Would Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, or Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz make a film like this?’  To me it’s unthinkable that a modern Hollywood couple would choose to star in an adaptation of a pretty obscure play by a renowned contemporary playwright?  I mean, Hollywood doesn't really make stage adaptations any more, apart from the odd musical, and its showbiz couples – when they act together at all – make bad thrillers or romcoms. 

You don't often see Angelina Jolie imitating Kabuki theatre.  Or dressed like this.
Actually there is a function to this scene because in his introduction to the text of 'The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore' Tennessee Williams stipulates the addition to the cast of two stage assistants whom he says "function in a way that's between the Kabuki Theatre of Japan and the chorus of Greek theatre".  He goes on to say that in Japan these performers also serve as stagehands and if you look closely in the background you can see two of Cissy's staff doing exactly that.
Burton and Taylor made 11 films together and almost all of them are interesting, and some of those genuinely intriguing.  Can you imagine Will Smith and Jada Pinkett in WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? or Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in THE TAMING OF THE SHREW?  Burton and Taylor got, and still get, an awful lot of flak for their high profile celebrity status – and they deserved most of it – but the least that can be said of them is that they worked hard on interesting projects.  Now you might argue that the likes of Pitt & Jolie weren't put on this earth to star in adaptations of works by important playwrights and that their function is to appear in mega-budget blockbusters.  And you’d have a point but let’s not forget that in its day CLEOPATRA [1963] was exactly that so Burton & Taylor proved that you could do both.  Of course they got accused of pretentiousness when they did their more interesting stuff so they couldn't win either way.

Cissy's amazing cliff-top home
It probably helps if you've read the play first but there’s plenty to enjoy about BOOM!  The location is absolutely stunning – the film’s title refers to the ocean waves thundering on to the rocky coastline – and I know that can be said about virtually any film ever made but it genuinely is an awesome sight.  Cissy Goforth’s palatial residence is a designer’s dream and her astronomical wealth is similarly awesome.  The extraordinarily lavish meals she ignores or dismisses are hilarious and after a while her monstrous treatment of her employees becomes amusing too.  Taylor has great fun in a larger-than-life part which she uses to send up her public image.  Burton enjoys himself too: Flanders is a smooth-talking seducer, not a man of action, and that suits his skills perfectly for Burton was, as I've written before, wooden physically but blessed with one of the great speaking voices.  So despite what you may read elsewhere it is entertaining and makes, or at least attempts to make, some profound observations about important themes.

Elizabeth Taylor as Flora 'Cissy' Goforth

Richard Burton as Christopher Flanders
Joanna Shimkus who plays Cissy's put-upon secretary Blackie had a brief film career in the late 60s and early 70s and more or less retired from the screen after she married Sidney Poitier in 1976.  As far as I can determine she became an interior decorator / designer and no doubt picked up a few pointers from Richard Macdonald (see below).

Joanna Shimkus as Blackie
Michael Dunn who plays Cissy's put-upon security chief Rudi was a diminutive character actor who had a decent career that was sadly cut short by his death at the age of 38.  Obviously he was never going to get starring roles but he nevertheless made an impression and even picked up an Oscar nomination for his performance in Stanley Kramer's SHIP OF FOOLS [1965].  There are a number of properly delirious films on his CV some, all or none of which may or may not appear on these pages in the future, particularly the tacky British horror movie THE MUTATIONS [1974].

Michael Dunn as Rudi
Romolo Valli plays Cissy's put-upon personal physician, a part which can only be described as tiny.  A waste really because he was a terrific actor, most memorably as the put-upon (he must have had one of those faces) Father Pirrone in Luchino Visconti's masterpiece THE LEOPARD / IL GATTOPARDO [1963], one of the greatest films of them all.

Romolo Valli as Dcotor Luilo
Joseph Losey was an American director who was forced out of his country because of the anti-Communist witch hunts of the 1950s.  Unlike Elia Kazan who chucked former friends and colleagues under the proverbial bus to maintain his own Hollywood career, Losey refused to testify before HUAC and exiled himself to Britain.  Here he made a number of terrific, jaundiced films that were deeply critical of our society – particularly class – in a way that only a non-British director could.  There are too many films to list here but I would suggest you at least try to see THE SERVANT [1963] and KING & COUNTRY [1964] the latter of which I saw recently and was very impressed by.  His 70s output was a mixed bag but they are always intelligent, challenging pictures.  No doubt Losey would have appreciated the irony of an American outcast collaborating with one of the great men of American literature on BOOM!

A final word about the technical credits.  The Panavasion anamorphic photography is by Douglas Slocombe, one of the very best in his field.  The production designer, Richard Macdonald, was Losey's preferred designer and worked with him many times.  The composer was John Barry whose score is typically elegant and deceptively simply.