The Sandpiper at the IMDb
Richard Burton and Liz Taylor star in this 1960s drama that sees him as a priest wrestling with his conscience and her as an artist struggling to keep herself in a succession of tight outfits.
The film opens with a young lad shooting a fawn with an air gun as his bohemian mother Liz paints on the beach below. We cut to the judge’s office and learn that the killing is the boy’s third offence in a few months. Liz as a maverick single mother defends her son’s right to explore his emotions but the judge is having none of it and demands the boy goes to Burton’s reform school.
We meet Burton in his priestly garb as he discusses his plans for the boy. No, not like that - he’s married and we are sure there is a spark from the off with the bra-less mother. Burton engineers excuses to visit Liz’s Big Sur beach house and is impressed when she tapes up a sandpiper’s broken wing with tape and a straw. As a metaphor the bird with a broken wing is a bit clumsy but we hope it will fly again - a bit like the buttoned down Burton.
Liz initially plays the horny headmaster along and discusses her plans as she modestly poses for her sculptor friend Charles Bronson. She does however soon fall for the pent up priest and soon the pair embark on a passionate affair. Burton’s life is complicated by his wife and the investors he’s pumping for a new chapel.
As the sandpiper gets ready to fly the coop Burton has to decide where his loyalties lie and whether Liz’s beach shack is worth giving up his cassock and twin setted wife. Liz meanwhile is starting to sell her art off the back of her notoriety - will she up sticks to San Francisco and take her annoying son out of Burton’s school? Does she love the potent priest or is he a means to an end?
Despite a screeching trumpet lead soundtrack I enjoyed this tale of passion and morals. Liz and Burton certainly crackle on the screen and this is possibly the only film of hers where Liz is genuinely curvy and sexy. She doesn’t quite convince as the carefree beach dweller but as least she’s better than ‘sculptor’ Charlie Bronson - c’mon Charlie get that gun out and get back to work!
Burton’s transformation from devout preacher and husband to attendee of beatnik parties is well done although the relationship does always seem a bit out of kilter of what we know about the characters. The metaphor of the bird is heavy handed with Burton keen to fly away from the responsibilities of his job and life in general.
The Californian beach settings are great and the film has a sixties vibe of free love that is always clawing away at the stuck up morals of the church and its elders. The couple never really win over our sympathies with him being a hypocrite and her being a slut with an agenda. As the pieces come to rest you have to wonder if it was worth it but I guess that’s the point of the whole affair.
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