Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
“In the loosest sense he is her husband. . .and in the loosest way she is his wife!”
Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
Director: John Huston
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Brian Keith
Synopsis: Bizarre tale of sex, betrayal, and perversion at a military post.
Upon hearing that John Huston is on record as stating that Reflections in a Golden Eye was his favourite of all his movies, I couldn’t help wondering whether the old rascal wasn’t having a laugh at his interviewer’s expense. After all, this is the man who directed such classics as The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The African Queen. Is it really possible that he could favour this deliriously trashy, overwrought mess over such acknowledged classics?
Marlon Brando (On the Waterfront, The Godfather) mumbles his lines in a prissy, near-unintelligible Southern accent as Weldon Penderton, a closet homosexual who has succeeded in repressing his urges while rising to the rank of Major in the Army. But the lie that Penderton is living is starting to weigh heavily upon him. His perceived weakness is one that would see his career destroyed and his life ruined if it were uncovered but, despite this, Penderton finds himself drawn to the strange, withdrawn Private Williams (Robert Forster – The Descendants). Like a lovesick schoolboy, he sometimes follows the unlisted man, and even retrieves and stores in a box in his study the crumpled sweet wrapper the Private once carelessly threw away. Brando suffers immaculately in the role, and delivers a performance – that accent aside – that is head and shoulders above any other in the movie. He leaves us in no doubt that here is a man at a crossroads in his life, a man who has grown accustomed over the years to living behind a mask that is now finally beginning to slip.
He’s married to Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor – Jane Eyre, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), the kind of ball-breaker gay men adore and straight men secretly wish to tame. Elizabeth Taylor’s youthful beauty was beginning to sour a little by the time she reached her mid-thirties, and she has a coldness about her that suits Leonora down to the ground. She and Weldon occupy separate bedrooms, and there’s a suggestion of impotence. Weldon is a timid, inept horseman. He struggles to keep up with Leonora on her fiery white stallion and Lt. Col Morris Langdon (Brian Keith – 5 Against the House, Young Guns), who not only outranks Weldon in their chosen careers, but in Leonora’s sexual affections. Langdon’s own marriage is also in difficulties since his psychologically fragile wife, Alison (Julie Harris – East of Eden) snipped off her own nipples with a pair of garden shears. Meanwhile, the Private with whom Weldon has become so enamoured has taken to slipping into the Penderton household at night to watch Leonora as she sleeps…
In a way, movies like Reflection in a Golden Eye were inevitable in the wake of the removal of censorious restraints following the release – and runaway success – of Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, but quite why an experienced filmmaker like Huston should fall prey to committing to celluloid the kind of trashy, near-camp excess on display in this movie is a mystery. Perhaps he thought he was pushing back borders, blazing a trail, and in a way he was, but the path he helped to clear was the kind of artistic dead end for which most moviemakers would rather not be remembered. The psychological pressures on a man forced to conform to social codes and disciplines that are in direct conflict with his intuitive senses is a theme ripe for intelligent exploration, but Reflections in a Golden Eye lacks the necessary subtlety, choosing instead to opt for the kind of cheap red-top tabloid sensationalism that most thinking adults avoid.
(Reviewed 22nd August 2015)