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Movie Marathon Idea: Elizabeth Taylor Tribute

June 29, 2011

The passing of Elizabeth Taylor on March 23rd  left a gaping void in the realm of true, living Hollywood icons.  Taylor was well-known for many reasons, the least of which (unfortunately) was her film canon.  Starting in the early 1960s, her personal life sadly tended to overshadow her stunning beauty and on-screen presence.  She was an incredible philanthropist, mother, celebrity and actress, the likes of whom is unlikely to ever grace the film scene again.

For this month’s Movie Marathon Idea, here are three of her “unmissable” films.

1.) A Place in the Sun (1951)

Based on the classic novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, this epic film about class structure and the perils of ambition was a showcase for young up and coming actor Montgomery Clift, but it was Elizabeth Taylor’s glowing Angela Vickers who stole the show.  Representing the brass ring for working class boys everywhere, her subtle powerhouse of a performance launched her from child star to full-on heart breaker.  She also gained a life-long friend in the troubled, moody actor Clift, even saving his life a few years later, when she bravely cleared his airway of his own broken teeth after he crashed his car on an L.A. hillside not far from her mansion.

2.) Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)

In her personal life, Liz had just suffered the disastrous loss of the love of her life, third husband Michael Todd. After Todd’s sudden death in a plane crash, Liz channeled all of her despair and anger into a stunning performance as Maggie, the long-suffering wife of  aging jock Brick.  Liz is a stunner as a woman who won’t be ignored, and she claws and spits her way through Tennessee Williams’ dialogue as if she were born to it.  She would earn an Academy Award nomination for the film, but wouldn’t win her first coveted Oscar until the much inferior Butterfield 8 in 1960.

3.) Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

Rightly considered to be Liz’s best performance, she here stars in the film adaptation of Edward Albee’s ode to a drunken, abusive couple whose world revolves around a child that doesn’t even exist.  Acclaimed director Mike Nichols steers Liz towards a performance that in a less-capable actress’s hands could have been pure camp.  Here, Taylor mesmerizes as Martha, a woman with tragic but poignant emotion and wit.  Starring with her then husband, the equally great actor Richard Burton, Liz’s portrayal would win her a much-deserved Academy Award and would forever silence the claims that she was nothing more than a stunning face.

For more about Lovely Liz, read the incredible book (part biography, part analysis of the Hollywood system) How to Be a Movie Star:  Elizabeth Taylor in Hollywood, by William J. Mann

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