Boom! (1968): Joseph Losey Directs Tennessee Williams Play Starring Liz Taylor

Joseph Losey’s drama, Boom, based on Tennessee Williams play, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, sharply divided critics and was a commercial flop when initially released. However, over the years, it has developed a small cult following.

Elizabeth Taylor, in post Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? mode, stars as Flora (Sissi) Goforth, a foul-mouthed, booze-swilling, pill-popping, middle-aged woman nearing death.

Flora is living with a coterie of servants in a large mansion on a secluded island (the film was shot in Sardinia, Italy).

She spends her time abusing the servants and claiming, but not really believing, that she looks forward to the end of it all.

Things change when she meets the poet Chris Flanders (Richard Burton, then Taylor’s husband) comes to her island home. Known in literary circles as the “angel of death,” the poet gives the dying woman some comfort, while treating himself to her liquor and her jewelry.

She is occasionally visited by the Witch of Capri (Noel Coward, better known as playwright), a gossip-minded gay man who seems to be Flora’s only friend.

The interaction between Goforth and Flanders is defined by lines of dialogue that are meant to bear allegorical and symbolic significance.

Williams initially wrote the screenplay for an older actress that Taylor, which must have worked more effectively as a theater piece.

Williams was disappointed with the critics who charged his narrative as misanthropic, claiming that he actually meant to examine how flawed, terminally ill characters can enlist and redirect their fading erotic drive into other causes.

Though well directed by Losey, and well shot by Douglas Slocombe, the feature was met with not just poor but outright nasty reviews.  My “favorite” dismissal is that by Richard Schickel, who wrote in Life Magazine: “That title could not be more apt, it is precisely the sound of a bomb exploding.”

The movie’s weak commercial appeal, which did not even cover the modest budget, did little for the careers of Burton and Taylor.  Fortunately, in the same years, the royal couple made Zeffirelli’s popular Shakespearean version, “The Taming of the Shrew,” which was a critical and commercial success.

Cast

Elizabeth Taylor – Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth
Richard Burton – Chris Flanders
Noël Coward – The Witch of Capri
Joanna Shimkus – Miss Black
Michael Dunn – Rudi

Credits:

MPAA: R

Running time: 112 minutes.

Directed By: Joseph Losey

Written by Tennessee Williams

DVD: October 31, 2000