"Though I'm only giving it two stars, this is not as bad a film as you'd think. And considering the price, I really shouldn't be complaining at all. After shining in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" and "Suddenly Last Summer," Elizabeth Taylor should be justified in claiming the crown as the quintessential Tennessee Williams actress. In one sense, she was a perfect choice to play the aging actress hiding behind the identity of the "Princess Kosmonopolis" in SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH. But Taylor is an actor who needs strong direction (think of what she an Mike Nichols accomplished in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF). What could have been every bit as good as the performance Geraldine Page turned in for Richard Brooks in the 1962 film is, in fact, something of a campfest--more of an Elizabeth Taylor impersonation than a true dramatic performance. (But then, is there a non-campy way to deliver the line, "Stupid, beautiful young man, that's my hash"?) As best as I could tell, this made-for-tv version of the play is closer to what Williams wrote than Brooks' theatrical release. (Back then, theater took more risks than movies ever did.) Although the Taylor movie is set in the 1950s the same as the play, it doesn't capture the mood of that period very well. In fact, when the Princess's traveling companion Chance Wayne (played by Mark Harmon) tries to blackmail her into giving him a movie contract (by tape recording her confessions about her drug use), the act seems downright implausible. When Paul Newman did the same in Brooks's film, it struck me more as a pathetic and ineffectual act, one that revealed Chance's boyish naivite and charm. In general, the remake is a conglomeration of unexplored nuances andd missed opportunities. Much of the film is shot in close-up and softened amber tones, giving it the feel of a daytime drama. (Tennessee Williams's plays are already dangerously close to being soap operas; they don't need an extra push.)As for the play itself, I consider it to be the best of the second-tier Williams plays (the first tier consisting of THE GLASS MENAGERIE, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, and THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA). Many of the great Williams themes are here: abuse of power, the predatory nature of sexuality, the human fascination with youth and beauty, and the delicate nature of society's outcasts. What I find interesting about this play is how when the play opens we are exposed to the Princess's obsessive concern about growing old and losing her physical attractiveness, but by the end of the play this obsession has been transferred to the male lead, to Chance. The Princess is the steely survivor, Chance is the one who suffers and is destroyed (like Blanche DuBois before him) by his inability to adapt and move on. This play is definitely worth seeing. My hope is that Richard Brooks' superior (but not perfect) film will be made available on DVD (with extras!)."
Vincent Vitollo | Los Angeles, CA United States | 06/22/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You have to really get the mood set to be an adapt actor for a Tennessee Williams production. I have seen Elizabeth Taylor do a couple of his works. In Sweet Bird of Youth she is just not Elizabeth Taylor but the ageing actress the way Williams would have wanted it. I believe Mark Harmon gave a good performan much different from Paul Newman. As I was watching it kept me interested. Individuals could learn much from this film if they just listen. Tennesse Williams had a message and it sure comes accross."
Shawn La | Chicago, IL United States | 03/18/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Elizabeth Taylor had some of her best roles playing Tennessee Williams heroines in films such as "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958), "Suddenly, Last Summer" (1959), and the bizarre, campy, yet underrated "Boom!" (1968). In this 1989 TV film version of Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth," Taylor had another great role, giving an excellent, incisive performance as fading, sad, fabulous, ultimately triumphant actress Alexandra Del Lago, aka, The Princess Kosmonopolis. Directed by Nicholas Roeg, Taylor made this film at a point in her career when she had pretty much forgone both acting and Hollywood, yet ironically gives the somewhat desperate, youth and career obsessed Alexandra an air of strength and dignity. Mark Harmon, portraying the young stud Chance Wayne with whom Alexandra hooks up when she temporarily flees Hollywood, also gives a very good performance, although Aiden Quinn would have been a more inspired, sexier choice for this role, a part originally played by Paul Newman in the original 1959 Broadway production as well as Richard Brooks' 1962 film version.Watching Taylor's performance as Alexandra, one realizes how gifted and talented an actress she is, and wishes she would return to acting, finding another great role like Alexandra. Bravo, Elizabeth! We miss you."
"A Kind Of Magnificence."
H. F. Corbin | ATLANTA, GA USA | 05/20/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This 1989 film version of SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH based on the play by Tennessee Williams stars Elizabeth Taylor and Mark Harmon. She is a fading movie actress (Alexandra Del Lago) while he (Chance Wayne) is her driver/escort/confidante/gigolo/actor-want-to-be. The plot is classic Williams: the vulnerable, beautiful woman cast opposite the sexy stud but with a twist since Alexandra has a steeliness reminiscent of Maggie in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. Both characters use each other for a quid pro quo: sex for furthering one's acting career. Thrown in for good measure are old-style demagoguery of the 1950's politician, racism, segregation, abortion and adultery. Add to that The theme of the perils of growing old, particularly if one has accomplished little (Chance); and you have quite a lot going on and a plot that does not always work.
Ms. Taylor remains tremendously beautiful here even with big hair and the essential lavender costumes. She plays again the role that she has done many times before, the exotic (often Southern but not always) woman (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, RAINTREE COUNTY, et cetera). At times she seems to be playing Elizabeth Taylor; on the other hand, it's great to watch her do only that. A character in the film describes Alexandra as having a "kind of magnificence." I have no words better to describe this screen legend.
Although by no means a perfect film, SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH is certainly worth watching."
TAYLOR AND TENNESSEE TOGETHER AGAIN!
Michael C. Smith | San Francisco, CA United States | 09/15/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the original film version of "Sweet Bird of Youth" Geraldine Page made the role famous opposite the stunningly cast Paul Newman. It was a great film of a great Broadway hit. Why make it again many may wonder? How could you top that gem in the MGM lexicon of late 50's Tennessee Williams filmed versions of his master works.
Cut to the 1980's and Elizabeth Taylor who in many ways at the time was not so big a movie star as she had been but was much in demand on television. Slimmed down and revitalized after the 1970's age of fat she was in her final bloom of beauty and at the top of her talent. A woman playing a star who really understood more than anyone alive what being a star of mega wattage meant. She had lived it, survived it and was triumphing over it. She was the anti Alexandra Delago who nearly had become Alexandra Delago but somehow managed to swerve and avoid that porcupine in the road of fame and live to tell about it. She was perfect casting for this T.V. movie of the play. And she had an understanding of Williams' poetry having done, "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof", "Suddenly Last Summer" and "Boom".
The supporting cast turns in some fine performances. In particular, Rip Torn, and Valerie Perrine shine in their roles. Mark Harman is just the right age to play Chance Wayne a gigolo on the edge of losing his looks and too obsessed with the past to take the one last opportunity Alexandra offers him to become what he thinks he wants to be, a star.
But it is Taylor's movie all the way. From her incredible early close-ups at the beach cabana to her final scene she commands the role as no other actress of her generation could. She inhabits the roll with a worldly understanding that under the monster that Alexandra has become there is still a human being who can reach out to help another even if it is too little too late. She also brings to the film a reality from her real life that no other actress, even the best method actresses around could muster. This adds a glittering and chilling edge to the performance. It is brilliant work in a lesser medium by a star and actress who was the master of blending fact and fiction as no one else quite can. "