Written by / 9/10/2016 / No comments / , , , , , , , , ,

ELIZABETH TAYLOR 'THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN' WARREN BEATTY

Loneliness together in Las Vegas circa 1970
Director George Stevens was great at telling a relatively simple story in an epic, grandiose fashion, burying the hidden lead till the conclusion without it being a letdown, or the audience feeling like they've been taken for a long, misleading ride...

Import Poster Art
His most popular movie, and the famous collaboration with Taylor is the giant GIANT featuring a posthumous James Dean, which fit its title in scope, but the Texas saga, with all the wide sets and splendid milieu, ends with a quick fist fight in a small cafe, and is actually — throughout what's a lifetime of a decade-spanning melodramatic canvas — the underline morality tale on Whites towards Mexican racism...

And it's arguably Stevens's greatest achievement, starred one of the loveliest ingenues at that time who, in 1956, was a much better suited to be a showgirl, like in the director's final film fourteen years later, THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN... And while what happens in Las Vegas stays there, what happens when someone takes a picture only showing their best features as Taylor's top-half is shown, twice during a fifteen second segment of a musical number on an immense Casino stage, inserted in a contrived, phony and downright hilarious fashion...

Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty
But don't let this campy "cheat" moment fool you. TOWN isn't a howler, and could have been embarrassing had Taylor not played the role with her usual dignity and finesse – even though a touch of STREETCAR Blanche Dubois might've intensified the character, who, with a high-pitched, pretty doll voice contrasting to a world-weary expression and a few extra pounds, doesn't seem oblivious enough to her own reality...

She's contented, though, living in a small apartment, opening her curtains to reveal either the ghost bones of a pallid Vegas at dawn or those famous neon lights at night, spending afternoons watching Bogart, Cagney or whatever B&W classic happens to be on...  Eventually, when this adapted stage play gathers momentum, aided by a sometimes blaring other times reposeful Maurice Jarre jazz score, she effectively glides her way through an intentionally dry and unfeeling romance with Warren Beatty, who's either too young for her, or vice versa...

Warren Beatty & Elizabeth Taylor on wide poster
And yet, as the youthful male lead, Warren does a good enough job as a glib barroom piano player with a gambling addiction that turns him from a grinning "thousandaire" to being pocket lint poor. Meanwhile, he and Liz share a convenient and talkative relationship in her apartment that Stevens, along with French New Wave cinematographer Henri DecaĆ«, make seem like a world all its own.

Betting on Warren Beatty
According to trivia, since Liz wanted to be near her husband Richard Burton, who was filming a movie in England, most of the interiors were shot overseas, or medium-shot street scenes where Vegas was expensively recreated finished with an eleven-day quick-shoot in Sin City, which obviously included tons of b-roll/actual footage...

The Only Game in Town poster clip
Either way, with the exception of a distracting fake backdrop in a fishing boat sequence (albeit with a "classic movie" look befitting Stevens's heyday)...

It all seems real enough as the characters mean more than their surroundings... Despite being owned by a town neither can escape from, and only one really wants to: Poor Joe, the epitome of unlucky, keeps needing enough money to split while Taylor, eventually hiding his tip-cash in a "Tough Love" fashion, had been previously waiting around for her married lover, whose picture's set proudly on on her bed-stand table, turning into a punchline of several Beatty quips about "beady eyes."

Only Score in Town: ***1/2
An important symbolic device is the sound of...ringing: from a random payphone outside Joe's work-bar before Liz first enters and both meet, to a call she just-misses at her own pad after being with him most of that first night, representing her "Ship Coming In," which, as her relationship builds, seems far in the horizon – yet it does eventually dock...

Elizabeth Taylor gets to the point
This rather conventional turning point, when Charles Braswell's business-minded everyman asks her hand in marriage, showing hardcopy proof he finally landed a divorce, veers into soap operatic territory...

In one memorable, awkward moment, right before Liz and Warren's first night of lovemaking, she wisps back her dark hair helmet, and says with the soft, sexy voice of a former young ingenue, "Carry me to bed – I like being carried," which doesn't dissolve to the next scene quickly enough — you can almost hear skinny Beatty nervously clear his throat for such an arduous task. And yet, somehow, these two solo artists, who really have no place being in a movie together, wind up making some pretty nice music together — although, Robert Altman would really nail the gambling addiction five years later in CALIFORNIA SPLIT.
Warren Beatty figuring the score in THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN
Twilight Time Blu Ray Booklet w/ Orig artwork: Only Three Thousand made, so you BET you should buy it...
Warren Beatty and Elizabeth Taylor not in Vegas in Vegas in THE ONLY GAME IN TOWN
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