Tennessee’s Last Waltz

Deservedly or not, Ishtar and Heaven’s Gate routinely top the Hollywood bomb list. Apparently no one remembers the 1968 Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton vehicle, Boom!, based on Tennessee Williams’ Broadway flop The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. The lush (in both senses) actress had received Oscar nominations for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer, but her third time starring in a Williams screen adaptation was anything but a charm. Under the direction of Joseph Losey (The Servant), Taylor plays filthy rich, oft-widowed diva Flora “Sissy” Goforth, who whiles away the hours on her Mediterranean island spilling her memoirs into a tape recorder. The Angel of Death shows up in the guise of a dissolute young poet — Burton, at 42, was generally slagged as too old for the role — to guide Sissy to the next world. Noël Coward pops in for a caustic cameo as Sissy’s friend and poison-tongued gossip, the Witch of Capri. The movie cost $5 million and grossed less than $1.5 million; one imagines headlines gloating, “Boom! Goes Bust!” But one era’s earnest excess is another’s camp cavalcade, and no less a figure than John Waters cites Boom! as pivotal to his aesthetic development. Take that as a recommendation, or a warning. The film screens in conjunction with the exhibit “Star Quality: The World of Noël Coward.”
Wed., Aug. 12, 7 p.m., 2009

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