THE SANDPIPER is one of those ‘orphan’ movies that no-one but the public seems to have wanted and no reviewer wants to be left out of slamming. With a haul of $16,700,000, it came in at a strong #13 for 1965’s box-office, as the hype surrounding recently-married stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton was still at the fever pitch lit a few years before with Cleopatra‘s on & off-screen affairs. Liz, Dick and director Vincente Minnelli all dissed it, before, during and after, and it’s nearly impossible to find anything positive written about it beyond praise for the Johnny Mandel theme music, “The Shadow of Your Smile”, which netted an Oscar for Best Song.
Simultaneously old-fashioned (illicit affair between morally conflicted decent guy and scandalous woman) and contemporary (artsy beatniks morphing into hippies), it’s really not all that bad, even if some of the situations and sketching are unlikely and ponderous.
It’s a professional, watchable snapshot of its time without adding up to much more than that. How did free-spirit artist Liz get that amazing beach house? Though she does have one good scene, how much more bland could they make Eva Marie Saint’s character? Who would believe Burton would fight Charles Bronson, let alone be able to knock him down? Charlie plays a sculptor, morosely carving away at a celebrated redwood bust (in more ways than one) of Taylor: the actual prop, much ballyhooed in the press, was eventually consumed by termites and a fire; the ravages of time dueling with fame.
Liz was starting to get just a wee plump (a new kid named Raquel Welch doubled her in some beach scenes), but was still sexpot enough to do some risque semi-nude scenes. Burton gives it what he can, though it’s yet another of his ‘anguished’ roles, minus any of the fun from the previous years The Night of the Iguana.
Colorful but unconvincing interiors (shot in France per the star couples tax issues) clash with cinematographer Milton Krasner’s beautiful location shots of Big Sur (the opening credits are gorgeous).
Robert Webber excels playing another in his career-load of bastards. The title theme is haunting, albeit a bit over-used in the ultimately draggy 117 minutes of screen time. The main culprits are the writers: Dalton Trumbo and Michael Wilson trudge more than trot.
With James Edwards (pretentious), Torin Thatcher (pompous), Tom Drake (thankless), and unfortunately, Morgan Mason, the ten year old son of James & Pamela Mason. His awkward delivery makes your ears ache, none of his famous papa’s celebrated diction passed on.