May 8, 2011

Queer Review: Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)

Reflections in a Golden Eye
Director: John Huston
Writers: Chapman Mortimer and Gladys Hill. Based on the novel by Carson McCullers.
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Brian Keith, Robert Forster, Julie Harris, Zorro David

Sexual obsession, longing, and perversion come together in this tale about a repressed gay military officer, Weldon Penderton (Marlon Brando).

Major Weldon Penderton is an effeminate officer, whose wife Leonora Penderton (Elizabeth Taylor) is having an affair with Lt. Col. Morris Langdon (Brian Keith). Landon's wife Allison (Julie Harris), on the other hand, is suffering from a mental illness that keeps her indoors where she finds solace in the antics of another effeminate male, her servant Anacleto (Zorro David). When Major Weldon Penderton spots Pvt. L.G. Williams (Robert Forster) outside doing some naked horseback riding, Penderton becomes obsessed with him, while at the same time, Williams is also becoming obsessed with Lenora and begins to stalk her.

The Queering
Honestly, I am not sure what to make of this movie. There is a lot going on beneath the surface of each character, but I did not find myself enthralled trying to figure out the boiling emotions that must be going on deep down within each of them. While I have come across a few reviewers who have referred to Reflections in a Golden Eye as a classic, I have to say that it appears to me that it must not have aged well over the years.

It is clear to me that the filmmakers were trying to make a more mature/adult film and for the time period, Reflections probably was. However, to me, much of what the film was trying to say felt facile. I get that the Hays Code, which was on it's last legs at the time that Reflections was released, would have prevented open acknowledgement of Penderton's sexual orientation, but the film still treats being gay as a pathological disease. There is something unsettling about Penderton's obsession with Pvt. Williams and the character comes across as a creepy lowlife. I was somewhat shocked that Penderton was not killed off at the end, which is what the Hays Code would have dictated. I can only assume that the lack of punishment at the end for Penderton, was a sign of the Hays Code's waning influence.

Now supposedly Marlon Brando was the greatest actor of his generation, so it's unfortunate that he does nothing to show that here. Rather, in Reflections in a Golden Eye, Brando tend s to come across as an overlarge ham. Elizabeth Taylor fares a little better as a superficial army brat and I would say she gives the best performance of the film. No one else does that badly but, other than Taylor, there are no stand out performances.

On the whole, the movie appears more concerned with shallow gimmicks than with trying to make any kind of interesting insight into human nature. The golden infused cinematography is one example of this. In the end there is very little to keep me from labeling Reflections in a Golden Eye as both deadly boring and highly pretentious. Keeping the eyes open so they can continue to reflect the golden imagery will ultimately be a chore for most people.

Recommended only for those with a strong interest in older movies with queer subtexts, there is not much here for anybody else.

The Rating


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  1. 1. John Huston considered this one of his best films. 2. Brando's performance is one of his three best. 3. Pauline Kael loved it. 4. Look up Roger Ebert's review of it. 5. The sentence "While I have come across a few reviewers who have referred to 'Reflections in a Golden Eye,' I have to say that it appears to me that it must not have aged well over the years" is unreadable at first glance and idiotic at second.

  2. Anonymous,

    Why does the opinion of those involved and other critics have to have any bearing on what my opinion should be?

    Second, the sentence was a mistake, yes. I've now corrected it to mean what I originally meant to say.


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