Only Game in Town, The (1970): George Stevens Directs Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty

Though starring two of the hottest actors of the time, Warren Beatty and Elizabeth Taylor, The Only Game in Town is one of George Stevens’ weakest films.

Our Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

This was unfortunate as there was much anticipation for the reunion of Taylor with George Stevens, the estimable director responsible for two of her Taylor’s 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. Gilroy is better known for the better 1968 Oscar-winning movie, The Subject Was Roses, starring Patricia Neal and the young Martin Sheen.

Twentieth-century Fox paid a substantial amount for the screen 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 that the small-scale 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 Elizabeth Taylor were attached to co-star, 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.

However, 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, who likes his booze.

Surprisingly, the two stars, known for their egos and temperament, got along well on the set. Though there was not a particularly strong chemistry between them, both Beatty and Taylor render good, understated performances.

Stevens, perhaps too intimidated by the pedigree of the literary source and star caliber, services the material but no more.  He grants each star close-ups and mega close-ups.

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, Elizabeth Taylor, fresh off from her second Oscar (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”) might have been more interested in her passionate marriage to Burton than in her acting career per se, though she is never less than adequate.

In the end, The Only Game in Town serves as a footnote–and very last feature–in the otherwise illustrious career of director Stevens