– Elizabeth Taylor, “Butterfield 8” (1960)
“The most desirable girl in town is the easiest to find.
Just call Butterfield 8.”
Original New York Times Review – 17 November 1960
Elizabeth Taylor @ Butterfield 8 – based on the O’Hara Novel
It is always a cause for some amazement – and, oftentimes, even delight – to discover what a whale of a difference a lot of money makes. It may not be all-important in purchasing happiness, but it sure can be highly helpful in the production of a certain type of film.
Here, in Fandro S. Berman’s new picture, “Butterfield 8,” which acknowledges derivation from John O’Hara’s 25-year-old novel of the same name, we have the ancient, hackneyed story of the tinseled but tarnished prostitute who thinks she has finally discovered the silver lining for her life in Mr. Right.
But, of course, there are serious complications. For one thing, he has a wife, a generous and understanding woman who weighs upon his conscience heavily. For another, he tends, in jealous rages, to remind his light of love of what she’s been. For a third, she also is unable, in the stillness of the night, to forget. And so there is really no hope for her; she can never find happiness. She is trapped in a jurisdictional battle and must pay the wages of sin.
That is the fable they are repeating in Mr. Berman’s “Butterfield 8,” which arrived yesterday at the Capitol. By the odds, it should be a bomb. But a bomb it is not, let us tell you. At least, it is not the sort of thing to set you to yawning and squirming, unless Elizabeth Taylor leaves you cold.
In the first place, it has Miss Taylor, playing the florid role of the lady of easy virtue, and that’s about a million dollars right there. “I was the slut of all time,” she tells her mother in one of those searing scenes wherein the subdued, repentant playgirl, thinking she has found happiness, bares her soul. But you can take it from us, at no point does she look like one of those things. She looks like a million dollars, in mink or in negligée.
(Why was Elizabeth Taylor working hard to cover herself up, with what looks like a bed sheet, when she was alone in her apartment?)
When she sits at a bar with Laurence Harvey, who is not just any Joe but a millionaire with a ten-room Fifth Avenue apartment and “caves all over town,” and she lets her eyes travel up and down him, measuring not the bulge of his pocketbook but the bulge of his heart – well, all we can say is that Miss Taylor lends a certain fascination to the film.
Then, too, it offers admission to such an assortment of apartments, high-class bars, Fifth Avenue shops and speedy sports cars, all in color and CinemaScope, that it should make the most moral status seeker feel a little disposed toward a life of sin. Brandy, martinis and brittle dialogue flow like water all over the place. Figure another million has been spent on consummate chic.
We also have to say this: they have recruited themselves a cast, in addition to Miss Taylor, that keeps you interested in what is going on. Mr. Harvey may be a little ponderous, may be inclined to pause and gulp too much in delivering a line such as this one: “I only did what I did last night because you were so much in my heart I exploded.” But Mr. Harvey does all right. He makes his slightly dimwitted Yale man disagreeable and almost credible.
Mildred Dunnock is excellent as the mother of Miss Taylor. So is Betty Field as the mother’s friend. When these two cut up Baby, the film is livelier than it has a right to be. Dina Merrill is lovely and simple as Mr. Harvey’s wife. Only Eddie Fisher, as a boyhood friend of the frantic playgirl, seems like something dragged in from left field. He plays a music writer who lives in a dark room in Greenwich Village and acts as if he wishes they would all go away and leave him alone. Kay Medford makes an amusing operator of what is obviously a tolerant motel.
The dialogue is rough. Let’s say O’Harrowing. And the ending is absurd. But so is most of it for that matter. It’s the living it up that gets you in this film.
Bosley Crother – New York Times
Elizabeth Taylor is quite right when she says the film is a piece of trash. But it is the best kind of trash because it is so completely trashy: Butterfield 8 doesn’t just dive into the trash pile, it wallows in it with considerable conviction.”
Miss Taylor was dead set against playing Gloria Wandrous. She felt was a deliberate ploy by MGM to capitalize on her recent notoriety in the LIZ-EDDIE-DEBBIE SCANDAL
Also, she was anxious to move on to her first ever million-dollar role in Fox’s Cleopatra. She was told by MGM that if she did not fulfill her contractual obligation to her home studio for one final film on her 18-year contract that she would be kept off the screen for two years and miss making Cleopatra all together. She swore to the producer Pandro S Berman that she would not learn her lines, not be prepared and in fact not give anything more and a walk through.
Mr. Berman knew her better than she suspected. In the end Elizabeth Taylor turned in a professional, classic old style Hollywood performance that ranks at the top with the best of her work. She brings a savage rage to live to her searing portrait of a lost girl soaked through with sex and gin. A woman hoping against all hope to find salvation in yet one last man”. – Michael C Smith
“Under director Daniel Mann’s guidance it is an extremely sexy and intimate film, but the intimacy is only skin deep, the sex only a dominating behavior pattern. It is the tragic tale of a young woman (Elizabeth Taylor) tormented by the contradictory impulses of flesh and conscience.
Victim of traumatic childhood experiences, a fatherless youth, a mother’s refusal to face facts and, most of all, her own moral irresponsibility, she drifts from one illicit affair to another until passion suddenly blossoms into love on a six-day sex spree with Laurence Harvey, who’s got the sort of ‘problems’ (loving, devoted wife, oodles of money via marriage, soft, respectable job) non-neurotic men might envy.
The picture’s major asset is Taylor. It is a torrid, stinging portrayal with one or two brilliantly executed passages within. Harvey seems ill-at-ease and has a tendency to exaggerate facial reactions. Eddie Fisher, as Taylor’s long-time friend and father image, cannot unbend and get any warmth into the role. Dina Merrill’s portrayal of the society wife is without animation or depth. But there is better work from Mildred Dunnock as Taylor’s mother and Susan Oliver as Fisher’s impatient girlfriend.” – Variety
Taylor and Fisher play a scene together in “Butterfield 8”.
Win: Best Actress – Elizabeth Taylor – 1960 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science
Nomination: Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama – Elizabeth Taylor – 1960 Hollywood Foreign Press Association
Best Color Cinematography – Charles Harten – 1960 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science
Best Color Cinematography – Joseph Ruttenberg – 1960 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science