Though starring two of the hottest actors of the time, Warren Beatty and Liz Taylor, The Only Game in Town is one of George Stevens’ weakest films.
This was unfortunate as there was much anticipation for the reunion of Taylor with George Stevens, the estimable director responsible for two of her very best features: “A Place in the Sun” in 1951 and “Giant” in 1956.
To begin with the source material is not particularly interesting. Frank Gilroy adapted to the screen his Broadway play, which was a failure, running only 16 times, with Tammy Grimes and Barry Nelson in the leads.
Twentieth-century Fox paid a substantial amount for the rights, about $500,000, and then compensated Liz Taylor with a salary of $1.25 million and Warren Beatty with $750,000. Under these circumstances, with an escalating budget of $10 million, there was no way the picture could even recoup its expense.
The film’s dismal performance at the box-office, when it was released in March 1970, generating a gross of less than $2 million, not to mention the dismissive reviews.
There were delays after delays in the production. Initially, back in 1968, Frank Sinatra and Liz Taylor were attached to co-star, but then, due to Taylor’s medical problems (the old disc problem, the new uterine surgery, overweight). The movie finally began shooting in October 1968 for what was meant to be an 86-day on location shoot.
Taylor insisted that the movie be shot in Paris, because she wanted to be close to Richard Burton, who was then working on the gay-themed drama, “Staircase,” with Rex Harrison, in the City of Lights. This made the already problematic production all the more troubled and expensive.
And then there’s the slender, insignificant story, which only emphasized the fact that both Taylor and Beatty were vastly miscast and then misdirected by Stevens.
Taylor plays Fran, a forlorn, wistful showgirl in Vegas, waiting around for a married man to divorce his wife. Beatty was cast as Joe Grady, a compulsive gambler.
Surprisingly, the two stars, known for their egos and temperament, got along well on the set, but there was not a particularly strong chemistry between them, and Stevens’ plodding and ponderous direction made things worse.
In later years, neither Taylor nor Beatty wished to talk about their joint effort—despite their great admiration for George Stevens.
Fortunately, this flop did not really damage either star’s career. Beatty followed up this film with a great appearance in Altman’s powerful Western, “McCabe and Mrs. Miller.”
For her part, Liz Taylor was more interested in her passionate marriage to Burton than in her acting career per se. In the end, The Only Game in Town serves as a minor footnote in the otherwise illustrious careers of both director Stevens and his actors.