Thursday, November 14, 2013

Film Review: THE SANDPIPER (1965, Vincent Minnelli)

Stars:  2 of 5.
Running Time:  117 minutes.
Tag-line: "She gave men a taste of life that made them hunger for more!"
Notable Cast or Crew:  Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Eva Marie Saint, Charles Bronson.  Written by Martin Ransohoff (producer of THE FEARLESS VAMPIRE KILLERS, CATCH-22), Irene Kamp (THE BEGUILED), Louis Kamp (MR. QUILP), Michael Wilson (PLANET OF THE APES, THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI), and Dalton Trumbo (SPARTACUS, JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN).
Best One-liner:  "What would you do, in my shoes?"  –"Wear them!"

THE SANDPIPER is a mostly torpid romantic drama featuring star-crossed dipsomaniacs Liz Taylor and Richard Burton being directed by the legendary Technicolor dream-master Vincent Minnelli.  It's got some nice nature photography, but then again, so does ROBOT MONSTER.  So, here's a list of my favorite things that Charles Bronson does in it:

#1.  Bronson is real hip to your jive, daddy-o.  That's right:  Charles Bronson is playing a beatnik.  A loud-mouthed Bohemian-by-way-of-Big-Sur liberated artsy know-it-all.
And check it out, there– he's totally doing the arm motion from the "It's MY car!" scene in DEATH WISH 3!
It's MY car!

Talk about goin' through the rabbit hole:  Bronson's playing the sort of hilariously stereotyped youth-subculture ne'er-do-well that he'd later spend large chunks of the 1970s and 80s gunning down in the street!

#2.  Bronson the sculptor.  So Beatnik Bronson's artistic discipline happens to be sculpture.  And sculpt he does:  specifically, he sculpts a nude wooden Liz Taylor while Richard Burton (playing a lovestruck Reverend) paces around uncomfortably.
Given the context I'm used to seeing Bronson in, this is fairly bizarre and absolutely welcome.  Though it's worth noting that even Bronson's "sensitive artist" is a brawny guy who spends most of the film tangling with and harassing outsiders.

#3.  Bronson, the drug addict.  Being a bongo-n-beret-luvin' Beatnik with loose morals and declining character and grumble, grumble would you believe kids these days grumble, grumble:  Bronson naturally acts like a total dick to the Reverend Richard Burton and starting talking about heroin ("H", to use Bronson's parlance) like it's no big deal and

wondering if God lives inside his hypodermic.  Again, it's amazing in context– twenty years later, he'd be flinging a bag of crack in a dealer's face and saying "How many children have you killed with this shhhhhitttt!" while unleashing a hail of bullets.

#4.  Bronson, Liz Taylor smoocher.   As the film develops, Bronson briefly becomes a sort of romantic rival to Richard Burton, and even sneaks a smooch.
Later, they duke it out and Burton proceeds to kick Bronson's ass

but then Bronson gets back up to have the last word and knocks Burton out.

So there's your schoolyard hypothetical "what would happen if Bronson and Burton had a fistfight?" played out on screen.

#5.  Bronson, the man who leans on things.  If there's anything around to lean on, anything at all, Bronson makes the acting choice... to lean on it.

He is simply a man who leans on things.  I would like to believe that he wasn't just feeling lazy, and that in fact this was a conscious acting choice–  hell, maybe it's Bronson's take on the Beatnik generation:  too namby-pamby to stand up straight on their own, or something.  I don't know.  

Anyway, even all this Bronson greatness (in what amounts to three brief scenes in a nearly two hour movie) can't come close to savin' this weird-n'-jazzy, pre–"Summer of Love" snoozer.  Two stars.

–Sean Gill


GuyR said...

I'm pretty sure I've seen Bronson leaning on things before. It's enjoyable.
And it's always a pleasure to see his signature "it's my car!" pose.
Thanks for pointing those things out, you're a true Doctor in Bronsonism!

Sean Gill said...

Good to see you, Guy– thanks for the kind words. I think I have to print out some business cards now that say "Doctor in Bronsonism!"

Anonymous said...

Another great find from deep in the Bronson catalog! Definitely looks like a side of Bronson I never thought I'd see!

Sean Gill said...


Indeed– though I must advise you against actually watching this thing!

gweeps said...
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gweeps said...
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gweeps said...

(Sorry, I noticed some spelling errors when I posted earlier.)

Yeah, I only watched this one for Bronson. Didn't hate it, but, of course, if Bronson wasn't involved...

The sad thing is, once you've gone through all Bronson's notable films, (and yes that also means wonderful late career entries such as Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus, Act of Vengeance & The Indian Runner) you're left with oddness like this movie.

But don't fret! Soon after this he went European for a while!

Man, I gotta watch some Bronson classics again...

Sean Gill said...


Indeed there are plenty of mediocre oddities in the Bronson canon (though not in Bronson at Cannon, mind you!), but there's always something to appreciate in his performances, no matter the context. Also, I am ashamed to say I have not seen YES, VIRGINIA THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS– I think I have some holiday viewing to do!