Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. USA, 1954. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Fay Kanin, Michael Kanin, adaptation by Ruth Goetz, Augustus Goetz, based on the novel by Henry Handel Richardson. Cinematography by Robert H. Planck, Harry Jackson. Produced by Lawrence Weingarten. Music by Johnny Green, Bronislau Kaper. Production Design by Cedric Gibbons, Paul Groesse. Costume Design by Helen Rose. Film Editing by John D. Dunning.
Elizabeth Taylor announces to her wealthy father Louis Calhern that her latest rebellion is to abandon her current studies and move to Switzerland to study at a music academy there. At her entrance exam she is immediately rejected and professor Michael Chekhov quickly gleans her real reason for wanting to attend the school: she has followed her boyfriend (Vittorio Gassman), a brilliant violinist, and wants to be near him as he prepares for his future. When Gassman goes from top flight student to wunderkind concert performer, he quickly puts Taylor low on his priorities while chasing the limelight, leaving her miserable and lonely until the affection of talented pianist John Ericson, who has no problem making her his focus, steps in and comforts her. Pretty soon she is married to her second choice but her heart’s fixation on her first is making her husband miserable, requiring her to step in and save him before he destroys himself, and then maybe along the way find out what she really wants out of life as well (which because it’s an old movie means picking one man or another). A ridiculously melodramatic plot is not lifted much above the mire by Charles Vidor’s direction, but the film provides two key pieces of information worth noting: first, that Taylor truly was a wonderful actor, performing with a kind of intensity in scenes when men break her heart that is magnificent to behold (Richard Burton later said she taught him how to be still on camera and that skill is on display here). Secondly, you get to see why Gassman could never fit into the mold of a Hollywood movie star, for despite a good enough command of the English language, a hunky body and a handsome face, it’s clear that he is an interesting, complex animal who shuts down at the prospect of having to be a bland leading man (witness Il Sorpasso for an example of him at his best). As a film it doesn’t stand out in any way from the other bland soap operas of its day, though it does have a great selection of classical music on its soundtrack and, sometimes, the actors fake playing it really well.