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"Only one film in this set, IMO, is a classic, and that's WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOLF, and it receives a nice two-disc special edition. You can get it separately, and I can't complain too loudly if you go that route. But 2 of the other films, the Haitian-based, Graham-Greene written THE COMEDIANS, and the glossy soap-opera THE VIPS are both very much worth seeing, relics of a long-gone widescreen full-colored, full-bodied era. VIPS has a great credit sequence, and if you like airports like I do, the great cast and highly competent production will make it a winner, although it certainly isn't a 100-best flick of any sort. Same with the COMEDIANS; a great cast and international-intrigue atmosphere, plus good widescreen photography make it one I'll return to, even if it isn't THE THIRD MAN.
That leaves THE SANDPIPERS, which Pauline Kael called a classic; yes, she meant a classic of bad cinema, but a classic of bad cinema is not the same as lousy cinema, and any film directed by Vincent Minelli, starring Burton, Taylor and Charles Bronson as a sculpter (!) is worth a look. It's not good, but it's not one you'll regret seeing if you think you're curious, with typical glossy Hollywood production values and good Big Sur footage.
So one great, two good (and rewatchable) and one compelling turkey. And I like the slimline cases, I have no room as it is; more box sets, Warner -- a Vincente Minelli set of the many MGM flicks he made with Sinatra, Douglas, Mitchum, etc. would be welcome."
MISSING LIZ MOVIES ON DVD
B. BURNETT | South Africa | 10/18/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The movie BOOM was obviously not included as it is a Universal release, whereas the 4 titles are Warners and MGM[library owned by Warners]. My big gripe is the fact that Elizabeth Taylor's MGM movies from the '50s are still not available on DVD: Beau Brummell, Rhapsody, a decent transfer of The Last Time I Saw Paris, Raintree County, The Girl Who had Everything. These are now owned by Warners, and it's a disgrace that they have never been released on DVD. Hopefully, with the new Liz/Burton collection, someone at Warners is paying attention. A gem in the new collection is THE VIP's - made after Cleopatra and rushed into release before Cleo hit the screens, to capitalise on the red-hot duo, the movie is glossy, all-star fun."
GREAT BUT DIFFICULT VIEWING
Terry D. Robertson | Asheville, NC USA | 06/18/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Author Graham Greene wrote the screenplay for THE COMEDIANS based on his intricate novel. To translate it to the screen would have been impossible with another writer--it would fizzle out. Granted, the movie is uneven, but it is extremely watchable thanks to great location backdrops and some fine performances by an all star cast.
The story of common last-named people set against the backdrop of the tumultous reign of terror under Papa Doc in Haiti is the setting for this relatively long movie. "The Comedians", is anything but comedy. It is the mask everyone wears to conceal their true selves. People have affairs but are not in love. They play parlor games to amuse themselves, but never get to the truth of the matter. Some are frauds, and others cynics.
Richard Burton is quite good as the hotel owner who believes in nothing. Elizabeth Taylor plays a diplomat's wife who is having an off/on affair with Burton. She is the weakest link in the movie. Her German accent is atrocious and her character completely unbelievable. However, Alex Guiness and Peter Ustinov are outstanding, as are Lillian Gish and Paul Ford as pacifistic vegetarians. Also look for early performances by James Earl Jones, and Cicely Tyson (in a bit part).
This movie has been transferred in Widescreen to DVD and is clean. The soundtack drops a bit now and then, but overall, the quality is excellent. It is housed in a "slimline jewel case" which many may assume is a bootleg. But it is an official Warner Brothers release.
This is not a movie to watch leisurely. It requires your complete attentiion in order to understand the characters. The violence of Papa Doc's Tontons Macoute is at times vividly graphic. The movie contains a voodoo scene that is not for the squeamish (it was performed by a real Haitian voodoo priest).
The movie runs 152 minutes and can be found on the "Burton/Taylor" 5 disc film collection. It is difficult to find separately, but well worth the look.
When they were good...they were very, very good....
Kenneth M. Pizzi | San Mateo, CA United States | 05/11/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As a great admirer of Richard Burton's filmwork, I snatched this set up immediately. All the films, save for Vicente Minnelli's "The Sandpiper" held my interest throughout, with "Virginia Woolf" and "The Comedians" (based on the Graham Greene novel) taking top honors.
"The VIPs" was a pleasant surprise as I was completely unfamilar with this Burton/Taylor venture. Supporting cast is excellent with Rod Taylor, Louis Jourdan (as Tayor's lover), and the unmistakably impressive Orson Welles, in a semi-comedic role opposite Elsa Martinelli.
Melodrama to be sure, but done with class, wit, and an engaging storyline that holds one's interest throughout its entire 119 minutes. It is amazing how some actors, like Burton and Taylor can take a relatively bit of fluff from Terrence Rattigan's screenplay, and transform it into something absorbing and grand.
What makes these films work? One would have to argue that the chemistry between Burton and Taylor in so many of their films was unmistakable; certainly Mike Nichol's "Virginia Woolf" is a masterpiece, but these are performers who have a intrinsic quality that is rarely seen in actors today--I think we would call it PRESENCE--players ultimately in command of their material and the roles they play who make acting seem effortless and entirely convincing. Burton is a master of roles. He can play the burnt-out professor in "Virginia Woolf" as well as a conflicted, upstanding minister and school headmaster whose life, contrained as his clerical collar, tempts an extramarital affair with the free-spirited mother (Taylor) of one of his students in "The Sandpiper."
The commentaries and extras on "Virginia Woolf" are both ample and exemplary, while shedding a new critical light on this classic play."
The Burton's Slide into Box Office Poison
the masked reviewer | Boston, MA | 12/25/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Grahame Greene's THE COMEDIANS proved to be the first Richard Burton - Elizabeth Taylor collaboration that lost money at the box office. Much was made of the fact that Burton received top-billing for the first time, and that Taylor took half her usual one million dollar salary to stay with Burton. (Understandably, due to Richard's notorious womanizing, Taylor was a tad nervous about letting original choice Sophia Loren take the role).
Greene didn't write much of a woman's role into his novel but that changed fast when the Burtons bought the property. The lady in the book is the mistress of a broken-down Haitian hotel owner who broods about politics and religion and, (mostly), his mistress. This is because he hardly ever gets to see her. But in the movie he (Burton, that is) sees a lot more of her because, baby, when you're paying Liz Taylor's salary you really use her in your movie.
But both Burton and Taylor are quite lost in all of the plot's skullduggery. Taylor, supposedly playing a German (We defy anyone to place that accent before she identifies it), exists in the film only to provide torment for Burton. In the novel, the mistress is important mainly in the man's own mind. She represents his last chance at love, and it's pretty clear she's not going to make it much of a chance. She's married to German ambassador Peter Ustinov, has a son she loves and is also rather attracted to Major Alec Guinness, a dashing mercenary soldier and arms peddler. Burton fares slightly better, but he's largely enervated, developing that patented far-off stare that he would use increasingly in his later movies (perhaps the result of his increasing alcoholism). In the novel, the hotel owner broods and broods. In the movie, he broods a lot but it's harder to understand why, since Liz pops up every 10 minutes or so and he can hardly find time most days to get his brooding properly brooded. The mistress' role has been expanded in the movie without exactly being deepened; most of the Taylor-Burton scenes consist of Taylor looking ravishing while Burton broods and whispers things to his tie knot. (Who knows what he's whispering? Maybe it's dialog.) These scenes are alternated with long, very wordy discussions about corrupt politics in Haiti, held by various combinations of Burton, Miss Taylor, Ustinov, Guinness and revolutionary Haitian doctor James Earl Jones. Sometimes Liz gets tired of talking and plays cards with Guinness. It's gin rummy, which Brian Keith taught her to play in REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE while Marlon Brando was mumbling into his tie knot. (You have to pass the time somehow.)
Fortunately, there are some hilarious scenes involving Vegetarian candidate for U.S. President Paul Ford and his wife (a brilliant Lillian Gish). And the atmosphere of the Caribbean is invoked convincingly, if to no particular purpose. Still, if scientists are ever looking for a way to manage time -- not just to travel through it, but to really s-l-o-w it down -- all they have to do is thread up a reel of THE COMEDIANS and watch astonished as the minutes become millennia. As for the Burtons, they would go on to make several more films together, each one making less money than the last until they finished off the decade largely considered unemployable as a screen team. "