Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Tribute to Taylor

Today is Elizabeth Taylor Day at Turner Classic Movies.

This is the kind of thing that TCM does when a really prominent actor or actress dies — and, of course, Taylor died last month. When that happened, TCM rearranged its schedule and announced a 24–hour tribute to Taylor would be aired today.

Earlier this morning, the salute began with "Lassie, Come Home" and "National Velvet." In a few minutes, "Conspirator," from 1948, will begin, then TCM will show 1950's "Father of the Bride" with Spencer Tracy (and — no offense intended to Steve Martin or Diane Keaton or anyone else who was part of the 1991 remake — the one with Tracy and Taylor was way better) at 10:30 (Central).

As befits a tribute like this, all of those movies are good — and so, too, are the others that are scheduled to air between now and daybreak tomorrow. But everyone is so busy these days. Practically no one could watch them all, not even with a fleet of VCRs and DVRs.

If you have enough time to watch just one, I could recommend several, any one of which would be a satisfying experience. (Actually, the only ones I can't recommend are the ones I haven't seen. "Father's Little Dividend," the sequel to "Father of the Bride," is in that category. But, according to what I've heard, that really is no great loss.)

Personally, my favorite Taylor film is "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" but that might be a little heavy–handed for some folks.

And Taylor was just plain heavy in it. She was in her 30s and was considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, but she gained some 30 pounds (deliberately) to play the part of the middle–aged Martha. Her performance brought her an Oscar — and deservedly so.

You can see that one at 9 p.m. if you wish.

I could also recommend Taylor's first Oscar–winning performance — in 1960's "Butterfield 8." It will be shown at 7 (Central).

But I will recommend, instead, that — if you can only watch one Taylor film today — you watch "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" from 1958. It is based on Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize–winning play, and it shows Taylor, who was in her mid–20s at the time, at her best.

It's the way I suspect she would like to be remembered. She isn't the pretty girl from "National Velvet" or the teenager from "Father of the Bride." She is a mature, alluring woman — and her performance as the sultry, sexy Maggie the Cat was pretty damn good, too. She was nominated for an Oscar for it, but she lost to Susan Hayward.

It wasn't a kewpie doll role, either. Maggie was a character in a Tennessee Williams play — as such, she was a complex component of a very cerebral story.

It will be shown at 5 p.m.

Truth is, you just can't go wrong with any of the films TCM will be showing today. Watch as many as you can.