By today's standards, Reflections In A Golden Eye seems repressed, even humorous at times. But major Hollywood figures such as Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and director John Huston risked damage to their legendary careers to bring this story of repressed homosexuality and sexual dysfunction to movie theaters in 1967. And that deserves respect.
Reflections stars Brando as a closeted southern military officer named Weldon Penderton. You can imagine how difficult if would be to imitate his voice in this role. Elizabeth Taylor plays Leonora Penderton, his cheating southern belle wife, and she sinks her teeth deeply into this Tennessee Williams-style role, nude scenes and all. Added to this is local hero Robert Forester in his first major film appearance. His mesmerizing portrayal of a gay private, the focus of Penderton's obsession, is not to be missed.
When not on duty, Private Williams spends his time flirting with Brando, sneaking into his house to smell Mrs. Penderton's undergarments, and horseback riding in the nude. Leonora is cheating with the neighboring colonel, played slyly by Brian Keith. The colonel is Penderton's friend and superior officer, but that doesn't stop his encounters with Leonora. The colonel's wife, played with great passion by Julie Harris, is aware of the affair and vents her frustrations through self-mutilation. Her only comfort is listening to the stories of her openly homosexual houseboy. David Zorro plays Anacleto, the annoying, overly flamboyant servant who is often incomprehensible.
Obviously, there's a lot going on here. It just takes forever to get there. Huston's pacing, at least when compared to the frenetic pacing of today's films, is as languid and well-mannered as Brando's southern drawl. But when things heat up between Penderton and Williams --- as in one moment when Penderton finds Williams alone in the woods during one of the private's bareback rides --- the scene cuts out and we miss the encounter.
Focusing on the film's cultural and cinematic significance ignores the fact that Reflections In A Golden Eye contains many endearing and entertaining moments. The characters are skillfully portrayed by legendary actors, and the last half-hour of the film brings forth several tense and dramatic moments. Huston shows his greatness during an action scene in which Brando loses control of his horse. The master director delivers the moment in a way that tops any modern action director.
The central story, Penderton's slowly burning passion for the young private, seems as relevant and realistic as any contemporary movie on the same subject. The problem facing the film is that the filmmakers couldn't take that story anywhere. Everything remains subverted until the ending scene. I won't give it away, but Huston's choice of camera movement on the final shot makes the ending almost laughable.
Reflections in a Golden Eye screens Monday, October 11, in the Dryden Theatre, 7 p.m. Info: 271-2640, www.imageout.org.
--- Matthew Ehlers