Throughout the 1960s, cinema’s royal couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton created some brilliant, beguiling and occasionally bewildering films – some of which were adapted from classic plays: Edward Albee’s shout-fest Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (catch it on Sky Classics, 7 December, 9pm), Shakespeare’s hysterical The Taming of the Shrew and Christopher Marlowe’s ponderous Doctor Faustus.
US playwright Tennessee Williams, whose meditations on sexual frustration, drug addiction and terminal disease made him the darling of the day, seemed a logical choice for Burton and Taylor to show off their craft. And along came Boom.
Based on the 1963 play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, Boom takes place on a gorgeous private island in the Mediterranean, where the wealthy, egocentric Sissy Goforth is about to meet her maker. While she dictates her memories to her long-suffering servant Blackie, penniless poet Christopher Flanders (Burton) arrives unannounced, wanting an audience. While Flanders is kept waiting, Sissy consults the bitchy Witch of Capri (a brilliant Noel Coward) over a very boozy dinner, who warns her the poet is in fact The Angel of Death. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game of existential wordplay as Sissy first rejects, then accepts the stranger, and thus her own mortality.
Esoteric or pretentious? Think what you will, but watching Boom 40-odd years after its original release, I was totally transfixed. Yes, Taylor screams, rants and acts the childish princess, but she is absolutely fascinating to watch. Meanwhile, Burton’s soothing poetic voice flows like warm butterscotch.
Exiled American director Joseph Losey is the man who put this camp masterpiece together. Already capable of some unique, if slightly odd, cinematic treats like the sci-fi cult The Damned and the pop art inspired Modesty Blaise, Losey’s firmly stamps his signature here. This is helped greatly by the lavish modernist-inspired set, a Corbusier-looking villa perched high on the rugged Sardinian coast dotted with faux Easter Island statues, Taylor’s elaborate costumes and jewellery, and a fantastic music score from James Barry.
Boom may have spectacular bombed on its release in 1968, but it so deserves a new audience – one that likes its cinema camp, colourful, and very odd indeed.
Released 30th November.