BUtterfield 8 is a portrait of two people eager to start their lives over again. Elizabeth Taylor plays Gloria Wanderous, a model with a reputation for being, as she so succinctly puts it, “the slut of all time.” Laurence Harvey plays Weston Liggett, a wealthy man who has been forced into working for his wife’s family’s company in a position that’s all title, no work. Weston channels his frustration into alcohol and women, which leads him to Gloria. One night, while his wife is out of town, Weston meets Gloria and they spend a drunken night together. When Gloria wakes up in the morning, she finds her dress torn and that Weston has left $250 for her. Insulted that he left her money, she refuses to take it and simply borrows his wife’s mink coat so she doesn’t have to go home in her slip. When she leaves Liggett’s apartment, she visits her best friend Steve Carpenter (Eddie Fisher) to ask him to get his girlfriend to loan her a dress. He agrees, but isn’t happy about it. His girlfriend is very jealous of Gloria and tells Steve that either Gloria goes or she does. Steve is also tired of Gloria showing up at his place “boozed up, burnt out, and ugly,” but he sees her as a sister figure and has a difficult time saying no to her.
The next night, Gloria and Weston meet up again and the two of them begin to fall in love with each other. They run off for a few days and spend the time getting to know each other better, and when they return, they are indeed in love with each other. Gloria is eager to tell everyone that she is a changed woman, including her mother, who has been in deep denial about her daughter’s life. When she stops by Steve’s place, she realizes she left the mink coat there and had to return it immediately because she knew his wife was returning that day. She gets to Weston’s apartment building just in time to see his wife walking inside. Meanwhile, Weston has been seeing a friend of his about getting a new job. When he returns, he finds his wife has noticed her mink is missing and he immediately goes in search of Gloria. In the process, he becomes extremely drunk and realizes just how big Gloria’s reputation is. When he finally does find her, he publicly insults her. Eventually, Gloria drives Weston home and tries to return the coat, but he says he wouldn’t give his wife something that has been handled by such a tramp. His wife witnesses the whole encounter from their apartment window.
The next day, when Weston wakes up, he asks his wife for a divorce. He explains to his wife that he loves Gloria so much that it was the thought of her leaving him that drove him into a rage. However, Gloria is too scarred by his words and decides to pick up and start a new life in Boston. When Weston finds out, he goes after her and finds her in a diner. He apologizes and asks her to marry him, but she says no. She heads out again, and Weston goes after her. Their chase becomes more and more frantic, which leads to Gloria’s untimely demise. Weston returns to the city to tell his wife he’s going out to find his pride.
Since I knew Elizabeth Taylor won an Oscar for her performance in BUtterfield 8, I guess I went into this one with fairly high expectations. Unfortunately, it fell a little flat for me. I felt a lot of the drama was very forced. Although I thought Elizabeth gave a good performance, I really don’t think she deserved the Oscar for this. The year she won for BUtterfield 8 is the same year Shirley MacLaine was nominated for The Apartment, and I think Shirley would have been a far more deserving winner. But before Elizabeth began shooting Cleopatra, she contracted a severe case of pneumonia and had to undergo a tracheotomy. A lot of people were convinced Elizabeth was on her deathbed. When Oscar night came and Elizabeth was named Best Actress of the year, Shirley MacLaine said, “I lost to a tracheotomy!” I’m sure Elizabeth had no hard feelings about that remark because she completely agreed with it. She has repeatedly said that she won that Oscar purely out of sympathy and it’s not even a movie she has ever particularly cared for. The only reason she even made the movie is because she had to finish her contract at MGM before she could go make Cleopatra and be paid a million dollars for it. During production, she and then-husband Eddie Fisher would refer to the movie as “Butterball Four.” I certainly didn’t think it was that awful, but I definitely wouldn’t call it one of the all-time greats, either.