Warner Bros/Seven Arts
Directed by John Huston
Produced by John Huston and Ray Stark
Written by Gladys Hill and Chapman Mortimer
Based on the novel by Carson McCullers
I never fail to be astonished, amazed and downright gobsmacked by the movies of the 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Those three decades produced movies of such astounding fearlessness and raw frankness in the subject matter they tackled with delirious glee. Subject matters that most major studio filmmakers today either stay away from or sugar coat. It’s been left up to television to give us nuanced characterization and mature exploration of adult subjects and themes. And to think that back in ‘70’s and ‘80’s most television programs were regarded as timewasting garbage.
Take REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE for instance. This is one truly weird movie made in 1967 about the darkest of damaged characters struggling with adultery, repressed homosexuality, self-mutilation, eroticism, voyeurism, suicide, perversion and depression. Try naming a movie made in the last ten years that can beat that for adult subject material. It’s a movie that’s worth seeing just for the performances of Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Brian Keith and Julie Harris alone. As well as for Robert Forster making his major motion picture debut. Forster doesn’t burn up the screen with his performance but he is the character that is the focus of attention for not only us but some of the movie’s main characters as well.
Major Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando) appears to be the perfect soldier, serving on an unnamed Army base somewhere in Georgia in the 1940’s. A highly decorated soldier with years of distinguished service, he’s a man quietly and slowly going insane due to his near inhuman emotional self-control that will not allow him to display his unhappiness with his life. Not only is he aware of the affair going on between his lusty, hyper-sexual wife Lenore (Elizabeth Taylor) and his friend/commanding officer Lt. Colonel Morris Langdon (Brian Keith) he’s struggling to control his awakening homosexual yearning for Private Williams (Robert Forster)
The effort of keeping all those repressed emotions inside of him is affecting Penderton’s work. He makes excuses for Williams to come over to his house to do busywork and has all his fuses blown when while out horse riding he spies Williams riding bareback and bucky-tail nekkid. Williams appears to have a special bond with all the horses in the stables. Williams also has a special bond with Lenora although it’s a one-sided one. Williams sneaks into the Penderton house at night to watch her sleep and fondle her negligees.
Next door, Langdon has his own problems dealing with his neurotic wife Alison (Julie Harris) who has been drowning in depression for three years since the death of their newborn child. How depressed is she? So depressed that she cut off her nipples with pruning shears.
Yeah, you read that right.
Alison is fully aware of the affair and has banished her husband to the guest bedroom permanently. Her only real friend is her openly and flamboyantly gay Filipino houseboy Anicleto (Zorro David) with whom she shares an elaborate fantasy life which infuriates Langdon to no end. All these characters have their lives intertwined into quite the snake pit and while I can’t say that REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE is a fun movie to watch it is immensely engaging and after about thirty minutes I had to keep watching just to see how this was all going to turn out as I couldn’t possibly imagine any scenario where this story could have a happy ending. And I was right. It doesn’t.
John Huston decided to film the entire bizarre movie in a golden hue as if we are indeed watching the events reflected in a golden eye that I’ve read movie audiences back then hated but certainly gives the movie a distinct look. Elizabeth Taylor flings herself into the character of Lenore with a reckless fearlessness that easily matches her performance in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Suddenly, Last Summer” where she also played damaged women whose sexual appetites and the darkness of their souls threaten to consume everybody around them. Marlon Brando does some interesting things with his character that kept me guessing as I was never quite sure at any point of the movie what Penderton was going to do next. Brian Keith does his usual dependable, solid acting and Julie Harris has some really good moments where she gets to explore the desperation of her character.
So should you see REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE? If you’re a fan of John Huston, Elizabeth Taylor and/or Marlon Brando I should certainly say so. This movie is considered to be one of John Huston’s lesser films and I can understand why even if I don’t agree with it. The movie isn’t exactly an enjoyable one to watch but if you want to watch a truly harrowing trip into the collective hearts of darkness of some really miserable, unhappy people acted and directed by real professionals, give REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE a viewing.