Thursday, January 24, 2013

John Huston - Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)


John Huston had big ideas for this film in what at first seems like it will be a quiet film about infidelity, but instead it is full of bizarre surprises that drains the characters in every possible manner.  The film deserves to be brought out of the vaults and given a good dusting to allow for new audiences to appreciate the many qualities in this cinematic piece.  This is the type of film that can divide audiences with mixed opinions.

Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
The screenplay was carefully adapted from the novel by the same name written by American author Carson McCullers.  When the novel was first published in 1941, it was not well recieved.  Perhaps it was because of the wicked content of the novel that dealt with repressed homosexuality in the deep conservative south on an army base.  This is a subject of hush, hush as it was a huge taboo back then and it was not openly talked about.  After its publication the novel caused some embarrassment at Fort Benning (Columbus, Georgia) when people speculated about the source of McCullers' strange gothic tale.

Any good director will try to tackle a subject that provides juicy characters that are all but imperfect with many failures, obsessions, desires and secrets that are strictly taboo.   That is exactly what intrigued the legendary director as he journeyed into the dark creepy world of six central characters and began the story with music that sets the tone for the entire film in classic dramatic fashion.  The screenplay follows the original McCullers story faithfully and without compromise.

Marlon Brando & Elizabeth Taylor in
Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
The story begins with Major Penderton played by the great Marlon Brando and his wife Leonora played by Elizabeth Taylor.  They live their dreadful and bitter marriage on an army base in the deep south.  Their grotesque behavior towards one another is established almost immediatley.  Major Penderton is a repressed man hiding behind a façade of machismo.  He gives lectures about leadership and courage to the soldiers at the camp, while his repressed homosexuality begins to emerge.  His distorted speeches represent a twisted attempt to be what he is not.  His wife Leonora, a domineering, emasculating female bored to death of living on the camp and not getting any attention from her husband satisfies herself unapologetically with lovers.  So domineering is her character that the mere symbolism of her riding a white beautiful strong stallion and carrying a whip is enough to make anyone cringe at the sight of her craving for male attention in its most brutal form.

Other central characters are Lieutenant Colonel Morris Langdon (Brian Keith) and his neurotic, sick and fragile wife Alison (Julie Harris), the Langdon's effeminate Filipino houseboy Anacleto (Zorro David) and a mysterious soldier, Private Williams (Robert Forster).

Marlon Brando & Elizabeth Taylor in
Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
From the first scene with Leonora, the viewer is well aware of her extramarital affair with Langdon, as well as her strong bond with her horse, Firebird.  Private Williams also has a strong bond with all the horses on the stable and a perverse fixation on Leonora.  Such is his fixation that he is often seen peeping into her window at night or worse!  He is seen riding Leonora's horses naked and even sneaking into her bedroom while she is sleeping, going thru her feminine things and caressing her lingerie.

Leonora takes advantage of her husbands impotent, latent homosexual tendencies and never misses an opportunity to ridicule his masculine failings.  He displaces his hostility by one day taking Leonora's horse Firebird and riding wildly into the woods, but he falls off and is dragged a distance by the horse.  He then angrily and brutally beats the horse.  Williams, while out riding naked, finds the horse and brings it back to the stable to tend its wounds. Penderton becomes infatuated with Williams and starts to follow him around the camp. Upon finding out about her horse, Leonora in retaliation humiliates her husband by interrupting her own party and repeatedly striking him on the face with her riding whip.

In the closing scene of this bizarre tale, one night Penderton looks out of his window to find Williams outside his house. He thinks that Williams has picked up his subtle signals and is coming to see him, but instead watches Williams enter his wife's room. Penderton becomes jealous and angry that Williams is not there to see him and he decides to shoot him dead.
Legendary Film Director John Huston
Artistically, John Huston's original aim was to use a style of photography that mutes almost all of the color out of color film in the process, then finishing with a golden tone leaving in mostly reds and pinks and stark stand out colors of blue or green.  There are no dream sequences in the film but the entire film has a dream like quality.

"Reflections in a Golden Eye" transcends the southern gothic genre and offers the viewer a strange and perverse world of guarded inner torments and repressed passions.  The grotesque and misfit get no more sympathy than the bewildered healthy animals who live with them.  That's what makes this film work.  It is a bit on the psycho side yet amusing for all its dark, crazy, wicked characters.

Memorable Lines:

Brando: "I'll kill you! I swear I'll kill you!  Don't do it!"
Taylor: "Have you ever been collared and dragged out into the street and thrashed by a naked woman?"

Reflections in a Golden Eye was released in 1967

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