Alterations made on John O’Hara’s 1935 novel by the scenarists (among other things, they have updated it from the Prohibition era, spectacularized the ending and refined some of the dialog) have given Butterfield 8 the form and pace it needs, but the story itself remains a weak one, the behavior and motivations of its characters no more tangible than in the original work.
Under director Daniel Mann’s guidance it is an extremely sexy and intimate film, but the intimacy is only skin deep, the sex only a dominating behavior pattern.
It is the tragic tale of a young woman (Elizabeth Taylor) tormented by the contradictory impulses of flesh and conscience.
Victim of traumatic childhood experiences, a fatherless youth, a mother’s refusal to face facts and, most of all, her own moral irresponsibility, she drifts from one illicit affair to another until passion suddenly blossoms into love on a six-day sex spree with Laurence Harvey, who’s got the sort of ‘problems’ (loving, devoted wife, oodles of money via marriage, soft, respectable job) non-neurotic men might envy.
The picture’s major asset is Taylor. It is a torrid, stinging portrayal with one or two brilliantly executed passages within. Harvey seems ill-at-ease and has a tendency to exaggerate facial reactions. Eddie Fisher, as Taylor’s long-time friend and father image, cannot unbend and get any warmth into the role. Dina Merrill’s portrayal of the society wife is without animation or depth. But there is better work from Mildred Dunnock as Taylor’s mother and Susan Oliver as Fisher’s impatient girl friend.
1960: Best Actress (Elizabeth Taylor).
Nomination: Best Color Cinematography