Joseph Losey’s Boom! (1968)

Joseph Losey’s Boom! (1968) is one of the most famously criticized and misunderstood films from the late sixties. Its original $3.9 million dollar budget ballooned into 10 million by the time shooting stopped and the money was mainly used to pay the million dollar salaries of the film’s two stars (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton) and dress Elizabeth Taylor in her amazing Tiziani costumes (many designed by Karl Lagerfeld) and Bulgari jewelery, build a fabulous set and keep the Bloody Marys’ and champagne flowing from dawn to dusk. Critics by and large despised Boom! and many viewers walked out of the theater before the film had ended utterly perplexed by what they had just seen. Boom! was an imaginative and wildly uneven European art film masquerading as a mainstream Hollywood movie and the general public just wasn’t interested. They wanted to see Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in more easily defined roles such as “tenacious slut” (Taylor) or “troubled saint” (Burton). And they longed for simpler drama with a basic narrative that was easy to follow. But by 1968 both Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had grown weary of the typical roles Hollywood was offering them and they wanted to make more challenging films together. Boom! would turn out to be one of the most challenging films that the actors ever worked on. But it would also receive the worst reviews of their careers and mark what many consider to be the decline of one of Hollywood’s most glamorous couples. A shared addiction to alcohol and Taylor’s growing reliance on prescription drugs was starting to take its toll on the two actors and their very public marriage. The couple’s wealth, fame and glamorous lifestyle made Taylor and Burton appear larger than life and at first glance unusual film projects like Doctor Faustus (1967) and Boom! appeared to be self-indulgent vanity projects made without much thought for the general movie-going audiences that had helped make them famous. Resentment seemed to be growing between the popular actors and their adoring fans. And critics were all too eager to take a swipe at Hollywood’s royal couple. Boom! became an easy target and it’s not too hard to see why. The film was based on one of Tennessee Williams’ least accessible and most esoteric plays called The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (originally published in 1963) and Williams was also responsible for the film’s script. After two failed Broadway runs of the play Universal Studios still thought they could turn The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore into a hit film starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Both actors had appeared in financially successful film versions of other Tennessee Williams’ plays individually including, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks; 1956), Suddenly Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz; 1959) and The Night of the Iguana (John Huston; 1964) so Universal assumed the couple could easily turn The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore into a hit with their double star power. Taylor and Burton gladly accepted the exorbitant salaries Universal Studios offered them to star in Boom! and they looked forward to working on the project with exiled American director Joseph Losey. Losey had been making smart and successful films in Britain for years and the director seemed capable of effortlessly moving between dark psychological dramas with noir overtones such as The Servant (1963) and entertaining pop art extravagances like Modesty Blaise (1966). If Losey had been able to successfully mix multiple elements of his earlier films, as well as better manage his actors, the final results of Boom! may have been more rewarding but I personally think it’s one of the director’s most fascinating and inspired efforts. Boom! focuses on the last two days in the life of Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth (Elizabeth Taylor). Mrs. Goforth is a wealthy, self-absorbed and terminally ill woman who has buried six husbands and is spending the summer at her isolated coastal villa dictating her sensational memoirs to her servant Miss Black (Johnna Simcus). Her health problems and tortured memories cause her to be in constant pain so she numbs herself with booze, pills, morphine and shots of vitamin B administrated by her doctor. With “Keep Off” signs surrounding her property and a pack of vicious attack dogs controlled by an aggressive dwarf (Michael Dunn), Sissy Goforth assumes she won’t be bothered. But her isolated existence comes to an end when a handsome stranger named Chris Flanders (Richard Burton) unexpectedly arrives by boat. Chris is a poet who also makes modern Alexander Calder-style mobiles out of metal. These mobiles are designed to symbolize freedom and Sissy Goforth soon finds out that Chris has come to the island to free her from her shackled existence. After inviting her only close friend known as “The Witch of Capri” (played by celebrated playwright Noel Coward) for an unusual dinner of boiled “sea monster” and roasted pig, The Witch uses his powers of divination to inform Sissy Goforth that Chris Flanders is also known as the “Angel of Death” due to his uncanny ability to arrive at the home of wealthy women just as they’re about to die and relieve them of their valuable possessions. Sissy Goforth is sexually attracted to Chris but she’s deeply disturbed when she hears this news. She hasn’t finished her memoirs yet and she has no desire to leave the world and “go forth” into the great unknown, so she refuses to feed Chris and spends her last hours verbally sparring with him (as the couple were prone to do in previous films such as The V.I.P.s, The Sandpiper, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Taming of the Shrew). This strange allegorical fable ends with Sissy Goforth drifting into oblivion as Chris guides her through her final moments and relieves her of her precious jewels, which he promptly throws into the sea. Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Tennessee William’s script for Boom! is very similar to his original play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore but the title was simplified by using a word that Richard Burton’s Angel of Death character utters every time he hears the waves crashing against the rocks below the cliff-side villa. He explains to Sissy Goforth at one point that “Boom!” is the sound of “the shock of each moment of still being alive” and it’s meant as a sort of wake up call to get her to appreciate her final hours on earth. In some ways Boom! rehashes many of the issues found in Tennessee William’s previous work such as A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which explored the lives of sexually frustrated and isolated individuals, alcoholism and terminal disease, a fear of death and an inability to let go of the past. But Boom! is more of a figurative fable that tackles Williams’ favorite themes in an abstract and metaphorical way. It was also inspired by Japanese kabuki theatre and the structure of the film resembles traditional kabuki plays as re-imagined by the American playwright.

The talented set designer and artist Richard MacDonald was hired to design the lavish set for Boom! which was built in Italy on the beautiful Sardinian coast. McDonald had worked with Joseph Losey on many of his best films such as Eva (1962), The Servant (1963) and Modesty Blaise (1966) but his set design for Boom! would become one of his greatest an grandest creations. In a style that’s reminiscent of the magnificent modern structures designed by architect Le Corbusier, Richard MacDonald gave Sissy Goforth’s isolated summer home curving white walls, round windows and stark interiors framing numerous paintings and objects of art that were often meant to convey death. The structure is supposed to symbolically represent the transitional state that Sissy Goforth has found herself in and it’s surrounded by giant rock sculptures that are similar to the ones found on Easter Island. Losey and the brilliant cinematographer Douglas Slocombe shot the film in spectacular Panavison, which captured every lush detail of the expansive set and gave the film an other-worldly look. Losey has long been one of my favorite filmmakers and in Boom! he resurrects many of the elements that made his previous films so interesting while exploring some of his favorite themes involving alienation and the artificial superiority often caused by class distinctions. Losey is truly a master of framing and composition, and in Boom! these skills are used to great effect in order to show the isolation faced by all the characters in such an expansive, yet claustrophobic space. Characters are seen peering through round windows and shot in distorted mirrors, which can represent a reflective moment or the distorted view that individuals often have of themselves and the world around them. Losey also uses sound very creatively in his film by having Sissy Goforth dictate her memoirs through the villa’s elaborate intercom system so they can be heard by her entire staff. Additionally Sissy controls the music heard in the film by turning the sound system on or off depending on her mood. When the camera zooms in on the sun or an electric light you can often hear a strange shimmering or buzzing sound in the background. And the repetitive noise caused by the sea crashing against the rocks is obviously an important metaphor for the natural ebb and flow of life on the island, which could be seen as a small microcosm of the transitory world that we all live in. John Barry is responsible for the film’s impressive soundtrack and it’s one of the British composer’s most experimental scores. Barry worked closely with Losey on the film and the director made many suggestions that were incorporated into the soundtrack. Unfortunately, Losey’s focus on shooting the fabulous manufactured interiors designed for Boom! and perfectly framing all the drama and action made him somewhat neglectful of his actors. Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Johanna Shimkus and Michael Dunn are all talented thespians and Taylor and Burton are able to deliver truly great performances but in Boom! they often seem a bit lost and in need of direction. At least Noel Coward is very funny in his role and he may have been the only person on the set who completely understood the humor in William’s original script. It’s been assumed and confirmed by Losey himself that the cast and crew were often drunk from too much sea, sun, celebrity and booze during shooting and it’s a shame that the director wasn’t able to gain more control over his cast but I’m sure Taylor and Burton were not very easy to manage at the time. On the other hand, Johanna Shimkus and Michael Dunn don’t fare any better so I’m inclined to blame the uneven performances from all of the actors on Losey’s direction. It’s unfortunate that the dark humor found in Tennessee Williams’ original play seems as if it’s occasionally suffocating under all the artistry of the director’s elaborate production but at its best Boom! should make you laugh as well as think and the film does both at times. Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Boom (1968) Elizabeth Taylor is the undeniable star of Boom! and the film spends most of its 110 minute running time focused on her. Since she looks fabulous in the film it’s easy to understand why. Taylor gives a completely over-the-top and scene-chewing performance that must be seen to be believed. But it’s also a rather daring role for an actress who was much younger then the character in Tennessee Williams’ original play. In one of the movies most unforgettable moments Taylor has a five minute long coughing attack and you can’t help but assume that she’s actually choking to death on the set or attempting to throw up an unwanted lung. The role of Flora ‘Sissy’ Goforth struck a little too close to home for Taylor and she saw a lot of herself in the character. It’s worth pointing out that the script forced the actress to talk on and on about Sissy Goforth’s numerous dead husbands who were abusive and suffered from impotence (two things Taylor had supposedly experienced herself) as well as her “one true love” who was an adventurous mountain climber that fell to his death. As much as Elizabeth Taylor passionately loved Richard Burton, she was also still troubled by the unexpected death of her previous husband, Mike Todd. Todd had been an adventurous man himself who was killed in a terrible plane crash years earlier but his death still deeply bothered the actress. Many of Taylor’s monologues in the film were supposed to be humorous but when the director tried to get Taylor to lighten up and have more fun with her role she would often become withdrawn or overact. Richard Burton told Joseph Losey later that Elizabeth had been haunted on the set of Boom! by the specter of Mike Todd, which could possibly explain the uncomfortable distance between Burton and Taylor that seems strangely apparent in the film at times. Richard Burton’s part was a lot less demanding and in many ways it resembled the phantasm-like role that Taylor previously played in Burton’s own film version of Doctor Faustus. His character was actually a much younger man in the original play and Burton expressed concern about taking the role but he managed to make the most out of his part and the actor actually gives a very measured performance in the film. Burton’s Angel of Death doesn’t speak often but when he does his words are carefully chosen, even when he’s arguing with Sissy Goforth. One of Burton’s greatest gifts was his voice and it’s smartly used in Boom! as a tool to seduce Taylor’s character with. As mentioned above, Burton’s Angel of Death also repeats the phrase “Boom!” over and over again, and in the end it is his booming voice that guides Sissy Goforth towards her death and into the great unknown. Besides providing some unforgettable eye-candy, the elaborate costumes in Boom! add an important element to the film. Since the structure of the script and the original play resemble a modern take on traditional Japanese kabuki plays, Burton’s Angel of Death is dressed in a black kimono throughout the movie. But instead of carrying a scythe, he carries a Japanese samurai sword. Elizabeth Taylor insisted that her own character be dressed in white and black flowing costumes throughout the film, which were supposed to represent death shrouds. Taylor is also seen wearing an elaborate kabuki inspired costume during her memorable dinner scene with Noel Coward and she additionally pretends to act out a bit of kabuki theater after she’s had a few too many cocktails. Even though Boom! has suffered from negative criticism since its original release, the film does have a few noteworthy defenders. Richard Burton believed that Elizabeth Taylor delivered one of her greatest performances in Boom! and Tennessee Williams thought that Boom! was “an artistic success” and he hoped that eventually it would “be received with acclaim.” The critic Andrew Sarris criticized what he thought were the film’s “metaphysical posturing and pretenses,” and the “tendency for nothing much to happen for the longest stretches” but he also complemented Joseph Losey’s skilled use of mise en scène and his ability to create “glamorous fantasy.” Boom! also happens to be director John Waters’ favorite film and he has even championed it at universities. Waters’ considers Boom! to be the ultimate “failed art film” from the sixties. But even with its failings I think there is a lot to enjoy. If you’re not interested in contemplating the larger ideas that Joseph Losey and his cast and crew were trying to communicate with Boom! you can still appreciate the film purely for Elizabeth Taylor’s show-stopping performance, John Barry’s experimental score, Richard MacDonald’s stunning set designs or Taylor’s jaw-dropping wardrobe. Many people consider Boom! to be a “camp classic” and if the original humor of Williams’ script is lost on you, you might still discover plenty of unintentional laughs in Losey’s film. Boom! is currently only available in widescreen on a PAL Region 2 DVD from the Dutch company De Filmfreak Distributie and it currently sells at Amazon for $28.99. You can also still find copies of the original Universal Studios video of Boom! selling at Amazon for ridiculous prices. Hopefully a Region 1 DVD of Boom! will be released in the future. If you’d like to see a clip from the film you can view one at the official De Filmfreak Distributie site linked below: Clip from Boom! It’s taking me much longer than expected to write about some of my favorite Elizabeth Taylor films due to real world responsibilities and lack of free time, so my small Tribute to Taylor will be ongoing for at least another week. There are still some other Taylor films I’d like to cover here. In the meantime, I’ve just learned that Elizabeth Taylor is currently in the hospital and not doing very well. Hopefully she’ll recover quickly since she seems to have an extremely strong constitution that has saved her from numerous brushes with death in the past. NOTE: This text was published as part of the soundtrack notes for the official CD release of John Bary’s score for Boom!.

26 thoughts on “Joseph Losey’s Boom! (1968)

  1. Jonathan Lapper says:

    Kimberly – Great write up of a forgotten movie. When I was doing my senior seminar for theatre in college we were required to pick a figure in the theatre and present a lecture on them to the class. I chose Tennessee Williams and before, at the time and since have found him to be a fascinating person. As I researched his life it was this period that was the most interesting in many ways and the saddest. He spent time in and out of depression and heavily medicated and it’s not hard to see the Taylor character as including elements of himself. After his partner Frank Merlo died in 63 (within a year of Milk Train’s failed run in Italy and New York) it just got worse.

    So the point of why I’m going on and on about this (aside from a great, great admiration for Williams’ writing) is that while I view his later works as inferior to his earlier works they are still vital in that they document his decay indirectly on stage and screen and Boom! does just that. Gore Vidal helped adapt the script due to Williams’ unreliability at the time but it still remains a Williams’ piece through and through. His later works became more blunt in their portrayal of a hallucinatory reality that many people (including those working on them and viewing them) didn’t understand. And as always, his films were severely edited and censored due to societal norms at the time. The filmed versions of Streetcar, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly Last Summer are virtually different stories in that their endings are different and homosexuality is written out of them altering their intent. Boom! does not suffer from this fortunately.

    It has the right look and feel for what Williams was, for better or worse, exploring in his later years. One could watch it for Taylor and Burton, for the art direction or simply as an artifact of Williams’ mind. However one chooses to view it it’s worth a look, if only for it’s time capsule capturing of the things mentioned above. I figured no one but no one cared about or remebered this adaptation of Williams but I should have known better than to underestimate you Kimberly.

  2. StinkyLulu says:

    I just saw this a couple weeks ago and, as an impassioned student of both Tennessee Williams and John Waters, it marked the end of a long quest to do so. Thankfully, I also was able to see it as an after-hours, invitation-only screening at an actual moviehouse (though the Dutch dvd was what was projected).

    I don’t know that I agree with Jonathan that the later Tennessee works “document his decay,” as I find much to value in them. (My basic argument on this is that the later works mark a clear return to the more experimental — especially the surrealist/expressionist — aspects of his early plays and short fiction, aspects which were never entire gone from even Tennessee’s “golden age” work but which were instead shrouded in the banality of naturalism following his problematic/homophobic collaborations with Kazan.) Indeed, I feel strongly that BOOM! marks yet another instance in which folks in the 1960s and 1970s tried very very hard to interpret “new” Tennessee as though it were “old” Tennessee. And from an acting/directing standpoint that’s what’s so off/odd about BOOM! — everybody seems fundamentally confused about what they’re doing/talking about. Moreover, Losey seems not to care that each of his main actors are working in distinctly different acting styles. (Shimkus is in a horror flick, Coward’s in a comedy of manners, Burton’s doing Shakespeare, and Taylor’s doing the sequel to Sweet Bird of Youth.)

    I still have no idea what I actually think about the film. Seems part document (of Broadway/Hollywood’s dissipation toward the end of the 60s), and part disaster (in the Waters sense) — with a dash or two of genius as well as some of the most heartstoppingly extraordinary camp I’ve ever experienced (KABUKU!).

    Thanks for the elegant write-up, Kimberly.

  3. Jonathan Lapper says:

    StinkyLulu – I find enormous value in his later works as well. When I said “documenting his decay” I didn’t mean as a writer, I meant emotionally. As he became more afraid of suffering the same fate of his sister (he was terrified of being committed) and suffering the loss of Merlo and feeling alienated from Audrey Wood who he so adored he began to write in the experimental surrealist/expressionist style as you wrote. I felt by this period he was laying himself bare, so to speak, and that’s why I feel it’s a vital period of study for Williams enthusiasts.

  4. cinebeats says:

    Thanks a lot for the feedback Jonathan & Brian (stinkylulu)! It’s tough to write about a film that is generally loathed or laughed at, but I honestly think it’s a fascinating movie and one of Losey’s most interesting & unusual efforts. Of course, I’m sure I’m a bit biased since I can find something worthwhile in all of his films that I’ve been able to see.

    I really like Williams’ later work myself because as Brian pointed out, it has an experimental quality and a surrealism that is extremely appealing to me personally. I’ll take a failed piece of art filled with big ideas and beautiful prose over a more simplistic and naturalistic piece of work even if it’s successfully executed any day of the week.

    Jonathan – I didn’t know that Gore Vidal had helped with the script for Boom! so many thanks for sharing that bit of info. I know the original running time seemed to have had an extra 10 minutes or so but I’ve only seen the 108 min. version of the film. And you’re very right about Taylor’s character Sissy Goforth being based on William’s himself, as were most of his female heroines I believe.

    stinkylulu – I’ve only seen Boom! on my TV so that must been a wonderful way to experience the film for the first time. I just read your thoughts on the film in your own blog and you made me laugh out loud! It can really be enjoyed simply for its incredible look and camp value alone. 😉 I also think you’re dead on about the acting problems with the film. I really don’t think Losey cared much about what his actors were doing in Boom! since they do all seem like they’re in a different film. It makes the whole thing a very strange experience to watch since the viewer isn’t sure what character and what film they’re supposed to be associating with. I think approaching the film as a somewhat experimental mess – but an amazing mess! – is probably the best way to view it.

    Lastly, since you both seem to be well-read on Tennessee Williams, I was wondering if you might know where I can find more information about his partner Frank Merlo? I’ve only read a bit about him some 15 years ago in a book about Williams I borrowed from the library and in Kazan’s biography, but from what I’ve read he was an Italian man who’s family was originally from Santa Barbara, CA and he had been in the Navy. My maiden name is Merlo (legal full last name is Merlo-Lindbergs but I like the ring of “Kimberly Lindbergs” so I use it). I’m also a part of the dark-sheep side of the very large Merlo family of Santa Barbara, which is also very Italian and very Catholic. The men in the family have always been Navy men as well. I’ve tried asking family members about a “Frank Merlo” in the past and wondered many times if I was somehow related to him, but I haven’t been able to get any answers and since then many family members have passed away (cancer is a problem in the family as well and I believe Frank Merlo died from cancer too). Because Frank Merlo was gay, there is a good chance that the old-world Catholic family would have ostracized him. Of course I may be totally wrong about Frank Merlo’s background, but I would love to learn more about him anyway since I’m a curious bird.

  5. robert says:

    This is certainly the most thorough and thoughtful analysis I have read of this film. I haven’t seen the film in over 30 years but I did see it repeatedly on television in the early 70s and found it original, wonderfully bizarre and entertaining. IT’s kind of a metaphysical romp by all involved. A multi million dollar art film with the most famous actors in the world colloborating with the great American writer lavishly mounted by Losey and co. I especially like the way you call attention to the contributions of MacDondald, Slocombe and the avant garde look and feel of the film. It also seems like a kind of post LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD played by Hollywood royalty at fever pitch. Btw, Karl Lagerfeld also designed Janine Reynaud’s pop-art fashions for NECORONOMICON, which also has some similariities to this film. I like the fact that it’s deliberately esoteric, symbolist, surrealist in nature and Losey’s mise en scene finds visual representations of William’s dense prose. There also seems to be a sophisticated sense of humor about it. I just wish I could find a way to see it again. Thanks for the terrific overview.

  6. Jonathan Lapper says:

    I’m afraid I don’t know much about Merlo outside of what’s been covered here. There’s not much written about him in books about Williams except that he was with Williams. That would be quite amazing if you ended up being related to him though. If I come across anything at all I’ll let you know.

  7. Vanwall says:

    Damn! You’re swingin’ for the fences, and that’s pretty fearless – I agree with Robert, this is a marvelous analysis of an almost forgotten Losey film. I would honestly add nothing to it, except to mention there was time in the mid-70’s when a lot of the least-desirable films by a lot of actors – directors were hardly considered by the TV programmers, I think – were being dumped onto the tube, and “Boom!” was on three times on three different stations over one weekend. I usually read the TV Guide ahead of time and marked the movies I wanted to see, and twice the stations subbed “Boom!” unannounced for what I had marked. Must’ve gotten a deal on it. The first time was a WTF moment, I just missed the titles so I just watched the beginning and switched to something else. The second time, I pulled out my Judith Crist (!!) and looked it up. As I mentioned, I often used her as a reverse-look-up movie finder, and as I remember she wasn’t impressed, so I watched it then, and I also noticed it was a late-night offering on another station after that! I always liked Taylor and Burton, and mostly I focused on their performances, but the costuming and staging was so over the top, I found it difficult to follow the film for any real resolution as to what the hell was going on. Coward’s work was the damnedest thing. That was the one and only time I saw it, and it was certainly Not Like The Others. I’d like to see it again, if for no other reason than it’s a Williams story, no matter how weak.

  8. Keith says:

    Wow! Kimberly, I’ve never seen this film before. I definitely wouldn’t mind giving it a shot. Your recent blogging on Burton and Taylor really has me wanting to see some of their films, those that were successful and not so successful as well. It is always intriguing when a hot Hollywood couple will do something that is different from what the public wants to see. Sometimes their gamble pays off and sometimes it doesn’t.

  9. Tim Lucas says:

    A really fine piece indeed, Kimberly — you almost make me want to finish watching it. BOOM!, I fear (for me, anyway), is a film better read about than experienced directly. It was shown recently on one of the cable networks (Sundance?) in letterboxed format and Douglas Slocombe’s photography was absolutely grand, but neither Donna nor I had the stamina, after an hour or so, to stay a minute longer in Sissy Goforth’s tedious company. It’s rare that we give up on a movie once we’re halfway through, even rarer when I don’t steal some private time to get back to it myself, but we hit a common epiphany of resistance and, upon checking, discovered that we were barely halfway through. It was one of those classic “life’s too short” moments, and me, I’ll watch anything by Andy Milligan! In fact, I retaliated to the extent of dumping SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER (something I’d wanted to see for awhile but could never find the right time for) from my hard drive unviewed, though I may come back to it someday. BOOM! I’m less likely to bother with again in a lifetime where there are so many great books I’ve ignored, but I found your essay very appealing. For the record, I agreed entirely with your assessment of DOCTOR FAUSTUS.

  10. AR says:

    Sounds weird and interesting. There’s nothing better than a giant noble failure of a film. I’ve honestly never heard of this, though I recognize the title of the original play. This post actually does the double-service of reminding me that I really should make an effort to read more Tennessee Williams, something I always meant to do.

    Enjoying this series, looking forward to more entries as you post them!

  11. Campaspe says:

    Amazing defense of a much-maligned film. The stills seem to back you up — it looks worthwhile for the visuals alone. There have been several movies I’ve seen over the years that were supposed to be catastrophic, but I didn’t think were bad — Heaven’s Gate most prominently. It certainly sounds like there’s enough meat here to keep the critical minds busy.

    I am sorry to hear Taylor is in the hospital. May she recover soon.

  12. Rick says:

    The thing I like about blogs and blogging is the chance to hear about a movie like this, forgotten by the “mainstream” press. Great review, Kimberly. I’m gonna search it out.

  13. cinebeats says:

    Robert – Your comment that Boom! could be seen as “a kind of post LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD played by Hollywood royalty at fever pitch.” does hold some weight in my opinion and while watching it again recently I was reminded of a lot of Franco’s films actually. Especially Necronomicon! I realize that the excessive budget and big name stars make it easy to dismiss Boom! but I’m fascinated by the film since everyone involved was clearly trying to tackle some really big ideas while they were also obviously wrestling with personal demons. The fact that Universal Studios financed it is amazing. Something like Boom! could never get made today.

    Jonathan – It does seem like Frank Merlo is only a footnote in the Tennessee Williams biographies, which is sort of strange since he was with Williams for a long time. I have no expectations of being related to him in anyway, but I would like to know more about the guy. The Merlo clan of Santa Barbara used to be pretty clan-like and it seemed like every Merlo in the area was related in some way.

    Vanwall – “swingin’ for the fences” might be one of the best responses I’ve ever gotten at Cinebeats. Many thanks! Noel Coward is really something in Boom! I love his entrance when he’s carried to dinner on the shoulders of some hunky muscular man. Fantastic! Even if you find the film’s script weak it’s really worth a second look. I personally love how Williams was able to condense all of the ideas that he had explored in his other more mainstream work into one amazing metaphysical fantasy that completely flew over the heads of most people who saw it in the sixties.

    Keith – Thanks! I hope you get a chance to see it sometime. I suspect that you would really enjoy the fashions and setting, even if you didn’t find the film completely engaging.

    Tim – Thank you. Sissy Goforth is not an easy character to stomach and she can be very shrill at times. Taylor was not very interested in being likable at that point in her career so unless you’re a fan or can enjoy her as she is, I would imagine it could be hard to watch. I hope you give the film a second chance. It might help if you read the original play first and that way you might be able to enjoy the dark humor in Taylor’s role more. I’m sure I’m a bit biased since I would probably enjoy watching Elizabeth Taylor read the phonebook.

    AR – Thanks a lot AR. I think you’d find some of the film really interesting or at very least you might enjoy William’s original play. I have to agree that “There’s nothing better than a giant noble failure of a film” since I tend to find similar films really fascinating and I usually never agree with the critics. David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter as well as Heaven Gate (mentioned below) are great examples of similar films that just seemed to rub critics and audiences the wrong way when they were first released, but when I look at them now they seem 10 times more interesting then 75% of the award winning films being produced today.

    Campaspe – The amazing sets, costumes and jewelry really do make Boom! delicious eye-candy if nothing else. I think you would just get a kick out of seeing Taylor getting a blood transfusion while she’s wearing real diamonds. Heaven’s Gate is another film I like a lot as well as Ryan’s Daughter, and they’re both supposed to be terrible epic failures. I really believe at this point in Taylor’s career she was often giving the finger to the studios. She enjoyed herself when a film ran over budget. It seems like it was some sort of revenge at that point for her having to grow up in the studio system and feeling like she was totally controlled and under paid in her early years.

    Rick – I agree! I’m always happy when I come across reviews or write-ups for films that I’ve never heard of on a blog. During the sixties and seventies critics really had power and they could sink a film before the public had the chance to make up there minds about it. Thankfully things have changed somewhat due to the internet, etc.

    Thombeau – It is fabulous! 😉

  14. Michael Blanton says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your piece on BOOM!, which I never seen before, but am a big fan of Losey; MR. KLEIN, THE SERVANT, MODESTY BLAISE, THESE ARE THE DAMNED, EVA, SECRET CEREMONY, ACCIDENT, THE CRIMINAL and was lucky enough to see the new print of THE PROWLER, which Eddie Mueller was on hand to introduce at the most recent Seattle version of NOIR CITY.

    Just thought I’d let you know that after reading your take on BOOM!, I’ve ordered a copy of the Dutch DVD from Xploited Cinema, located in Ohio, for $20.95 plus shipping.

    http://xploitedcinema.com/catalog/boom-joseph-losey-p-11945.html

    They also have a letter-boxed, non-anamorphic (unfortunately), R2 PAL version of SECRET CEREMONY, also $20.95.

    Thanks, again for the insightful review. Love your groovy blog!

  15. cinebeats says:

    Thanks Michael! I hope you’ll enjoy the film when once you see it, or at the very least find some elements of it interesting. I have Secret Ceremony on video, but I’d like to get the DVD of it as well so thanks for the tip.

    It must have been wonderful to see The Prowler in a theater. I really want to see These Are the Damned myself, but I haven’t had the opportunity to yet.

  16. booksteve says:

    A marvelous reevaluation of this film! Thank you. Although I don’t consider BOOM! a good film, I find myself drawn to it every time it surfaces. Never a fan of Taylor or Losey, I enjoy Burton’s mellifluous scenery-chewing and Noel Coward (although he seems amazingly out of place) walks away with the picture in my opinion. I saw it most recently just a few months back and it still holds my attention for some reason.

  17. Justine Smith says:

    I’m surprised I’ve managed to avoid so many Burton/Elizabeth collaborations since I’m such a huge fan of their work individually. While I’ll probably check out all the films you review (I’m enticed!), this one strikes me particularly. Not only the unique visuals, but the fact it’s based on a Tennessee Williams work… he’s my favourite playwright. Again I’m surprised I haven’t even heard of this one. Thank you for bringing these films to my attention, I always like to encounter something new.

  18. Turquoise Children says:

    I’ve always loved the play! And sadly saw this movie only once and a long time ago… I wish it was out on DVD in my country.
    It’s nice to see stills from it, thank you! ~

  19. lol says:

    i love Elizabeth Taylor she is one of my fave actresses
    (beside Audrey Hepburn) and i love this movie. . .okay fine i dont know who the hell Elizabeth Taylor is only that she wore that huge diamond but audrey is my favourite actress

  20. Paul says:

    As fans of John Waters’ early works, we’ve frequently noticed the large poster for “BOOM!” on the wall beside the staircase in the home of Connie and Raymond Marble in “Pink Flamingos”. The few minutes of BOOM! that we’ve been able to find on youtube were riveting. We’d often heard that Divine was a huge Liz fan and we enjoy watching Liz in the BOOM! snippets that we’ve seen as a role model for the bitchy dismissive characters that Divine often created. Wonderful blog to read, too. Thanks!
    Paul

  21. Chuck says:

    This is Nirvana: finding someone devoted to BOOM!, and able to present its (admittedly specialized) pleasures so well. Several months ago I wrote to Criterion, suggesting that they issue freshly minted DVD issues of both BOOM! and SECRET CEREMONY. Judging from Kimberly’s reasoned evaluation, and the enthusiastic responses, I think it’s high time this amazing piece of work became widely available. As for the sense that the actors in BOOM! are all working out of strictly private notions of what she or he is doing, I find this to be also true of MODESTY BLAISE. Granted, MODESTY doesn’t aspire to the metaphysical concerns of Williams’s play and script, but it too seems a motley (if fascinating) conglomeration of highly talented people whom Losey couldn’t finally seem to harness. But like Williams even in his later life and late, problematic works, Losey’s work is always compelling and refreshingly challenging. As for Brian’s “some of the most heartstoppingly extraordinary camp I’ve ever experienced,” BOOM! has only to be seen to conform every syllable.

  22. Chuck says:

    The last three words of my posting from yesterday should read “confirm every syllable” (regarding Brian’s comment).
    Chuck

  23. Kimberly Lindbergs says:

    Thanks so much for the nice words, Chuck! I’m glad you enjoyed the review and I agree with you about Modesty Blaise which is another Losey film I love even if it has some flaws. I’d love to see Criterion release some of Losey’s films so I hope they take your suggestion to heart.

  24. Renato says:

    Boom has been played in Sardinia, near Capo Caccia. The location is now a resort for Vips. Boom is an unforgettable movie of the Sixties! Elizabeth Taylor dressed a scene costume during a Carnival party in Venice, I remeber some photos of the star near Grace Kelly and other celebrities at palazzo Cicogna (maybe)

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