Ring a Ding Ding
Elizabeth Taylor‘s sexuality seemed to be the guiding part of her career in the years surrounding 1960. She had done Cat on a Hot Tin Roof two years prior and would do Cleopatra two films after Butterfield 8 —a story of a woman who is a bit too liberal with her physical love.
Gloria Wandrous awakes in a ritzy apartment, nude and alone. She drowsily trolls for a cigarette among items on a nightstand before wrapping herself in the sheet and wandering the room. There we see her stumble upon a torn dress and other empty packets of cigarettes. The first 5-10 minutes of the film are absent of dialogue besides Gloria’s occasional call for “Liggett”. Gloria puts on a slip and now walks about free of the sheet. She explores a vanity and a closet full of expensive women’s clothing and we somehow understand that this is not her home. She selects a coat with a fur collar, but upon discovering a note and some cash, Gloria becomes enraged, exchanges the coat for a mink one and scribbles “no sale” on a mirror with lipstick. She phones “Butterfield 8” to inform them that when Mr. Liggett calls she wants to speak to him personally and immediately.
The viewer is confused at this point because given that she woke up after a night of sex in a home not her own, Gloria must be a prostitute, correct? Gloria is not, however, she just is free with her sexuality. Butterfield 8 is an answering service she uses so as to protect herself from men with which she has finished.
Gloria’s first stop after leaving the home of Weston Liggitt (Laurence Harvey) is the apartment of her best friend, Eddie (Eddie Fisher). She is clad in her slip and stolen mink and is a bit flirtatious with the man, whom she eventually convinces to have his girlfriend deliver some presentable clothes for her. Gloria resides with her mother, who likely knows of her daughter’s lifestyle, but both are in denial about it –thus the need for more than a mink.
Gloria agrees to see Liggitt again after learning the money he left was to replace the dress he had ruined. She is uncertain of whether she wants to continue to see the man, but the two begin to fall in love. Liggitt is unhappily married, and when his wife returns home and finds the mink missing, Liggitt becomes furious at the idea that Gloria stole it (although she had planned to return it). The two have a row but Liggitt regrets his harsh words the next day only to have Gloria determined to never see him again. The plot concludes appropriately, I think, although not romantically.
Taylor won her first Best Actress Oscar for this film, and I have heard two reasons for why that was so. One account suggested it was the Academy’s way of making up for her loss two years prior for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, which she plainly deserved. The second reasoning is that Taylor was filming Cleopatra at the time of Oscar consideration and had become severely ill to the point that Hollywood suspected she may never make another picture. Whatever the reason, Taylor took the first of two Oscars home for Butterfield 8 despite hating the movie (The other was for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf). She had originally turned down the project, but changed her mind when she learned it would complete her contract obligation to MGM, thus allowing her to accept a $1 million paycheck for Cleopatra at 20th Century Fox.
- Butterfield 8 is set for noon ET July 10 on TCM.
Source: Robert Osborne