Elizabeth Taylor truly was the last movie star. Her star burned brightly for so long and her legacy remains not only the celluloid classics but the fiery brilliance of the star system that ended with her death. She reveled in her role as a “movie star.” And from a very young age she worked at the image she projected. She was raised in the Hollywood studio system and she lived her life as a star of the Hollywood screen.
Some of the movies that are mentioned in connection with Taylor are true classics. “National Velvet” was certainly an early foreshadowing of her great screen presence. It was not only her exceptional beauty but the quality of breathy eagerness and the energy and excitement in her voice when she spoke of the Piebald horse she rode that belies the notion that it was only her looks that led her to great heights.
Elizabeth Taylor had “it”, that indefinable something that makes up the batter equaling a movie star. When asked to name her greatest works, almost everyone mentions “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “A Place in the Sun.” These are very good movies, but in my opinion, probably not her best.
She was, as another critic pointed out, probably at her best in “National Velvet” as a young, untrained actress. Her later films that would definitely be on my “must see” list for any Elizabeth Taylor retrospective would include:
“Ivanhoe”: She plays a young Jewish girl who is enamored with the knight Ivanhoe, played by Robert Taylor. She is filmed all in white at one point and the camera truly falls in love with her presence. She is never lovelier as a young ingénue than in this film,
“Cleopatra”: This film was so controversial at the time. This early sixties film had cost over-runs and scandals and affairs attached to it that gave it an instant notoriety. It is a rather campy film in a Cecil B. DeMille-style kind of way. But ironically, the early scenes between Taylor and Rex Harrison have a kind of humor and chemistry that is lost in the later love scenes between her and Richard Burton
“The Taming of the Shrew”: This is, in my opinion, the best of the Taylor-Burton collaborations. Richard Burton’s stage presence and Shakespearean training lend itself to this production directed by Franco Zefferelli. The costumes and cinematography are unique to the era and there is a touch of humor that is somehow lacking in many of their other collaborations.
“Father of the Bride”: Elizabeth Taylor is showcased as the young bride playing alongside the great and incomparable Spencer Tracy. The pairing of the two was well played here and there is also a lightheartedness to this fifties film that waxes nostalgic and wears rather well in the modern era.