The Consumption: Reflections in a Golden Eye

FILM: Reflections in a Golden Eye: John Huston’s sepia-tinged tale of sexual tension and murder on a military base has some stunning elements, not least of which is the gorgeous cinematography and a cast that includes Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. Unfortunately, burdened with an overbearing soundtrack and some particularly clunky scenes, the movie settles somewhere around decent.
Reflections opens with a quote from novelist Carson McCullers (upon whose book the film is based) stating “There is a fort in the south where a few years ago a murder was committed,” and spends the rest of its two hours building towards that murder. It’s a twist on the whodunnit, in that the motives are established long before the murder is committed; the question is simply which tensions will boil over first. In that regard, it’s a fairly fascinating film, pitting well-developed archetypes against one another. There’s Brando’s general, a man so restrained that he doesn’t so much as blink when a car crashes behind him, but whose repressed emotions are getting constantly nearer to the surface. He’s contrasted with a soldier who is only comfortable when away from the base, and even then only when both he and his horse are bareback. Taylor as Brando’s wife is promiscuous, flirtacious and free-spirited, the opposite of her stodgy husband; she’s having an affair with another general whose wife is both neurotic and depressed, but somehow seems the most sane of the bunch. Or she would, if not for the influence of her effeminate Filipino caregiver.
While that last one threatens to (and often does) border on camp, the setup would be easier to appreciate without Toshiro Mayuzumi’s painfully overbearing score, which wrings every bit of tension it can out of scenes that would have more than enough atmosphere on their own. The last shot of the film also crosses the line into self-parody, which is a shame, because with just a little more restraint, it could have been an absolutely mesmerizing last image. It’s easy to imagine the film’s erotic elements (which include themes of voyeurism, domination and closeted sexuality) getting beefed up in a modern adaptation, and there are certainly the elements of a great film in the framework, but it feels like the work of a director trying to find his way into the (then-)new American cinema, and not quite succeeding.

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