Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 04
Butterfield 8 November 4, 1960
Butterfield 8 opens

For all the acrimony and anger created by its production, Butterfield 8, Daniel Mann’s adaptation of John O’Hara’s 1935 novel about a part-time prostitute (played by Elizabeth Taylor), should have been a catastrophe. Even the New York Times critic Bosley Crowther though so: “By the odds, it should be a bomb. But a bomb it is not, let us tell you. At least, it is not the sort of thing to set you to yawning and squirming, unless Elizabeth Taylor leaves you cold.” O’Hara’s novel was based on the true-life misadventures of Starr Faithfull, a beautiful young woman who was found dead in Long Beach, Long Island in 1931. While too risqué to adapt for years, MGM decided to push it into production in 1959 while Taylor was still under contract with the Studio. But Taylor, who was looking forward to starring in the big-budget production of Cleopatra, wanted nothing to do with this story. “I hate the girl I play,” Taylor declared publicly. “I don’t like what she stands for––the men, the sleeping around.” Next she went after the story, exclaiming that “it’s the most pornographic script I’ve ever read,” an insult novelist John O’Hara humorously greeted in print with the declaration, "The cracks Miss Taylor has taken at my novel gave me some bruises which were healed by the MGM accounting department with their tender, loving royalty checks." In the end, Taylor’s taunts may have actually helped the film by giving it the appropriate aura of scandal. The film’s $2.5 million budget brought in $9 million domestically, and, best of all, Taylor won her first Oscar after being nominated (and losing) the three previous years for Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Raintree County (1957).


More Flashbacks
December 4, 1998
Psycho remade

Nearly 40 years after Alfred Hitchcock released his seminal horror film Psycho, Gus Van Sant offered a remake that caused as much controversy as the first one, albeit in a different way.

Read more »
December 4, 1987
Rouben Mamoulian Dies

21 years ago today, Hollywood lost one of its great pioneers and stylists, Rouben Mamoulian, though the director had been an almost forgotten figure for nearly 30 years prior to his death. In many ways, Mamoulian was emblematic of old Hollywood: a European immigrant, he came to America as an unknown, enjoyed huge success as a director and saw his career come to an end as the structure of the studio system collapsed in the late 50s. Born in Tbilisi (now the capital of Georgia, but then part of Russia), Mamoulian started out as a musical theatre director after relocating to England. From there, he transitioned to Broadway, arriving in 1927 and getting his first cinematic assignment only two years later on the backstage musical Applause. Though he returned to musicals on the big screen and the stage, Mamoulian refused to be pigeonholed and is now remembered for the cinematic ambition and inventiveness he displayed: in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), he opened the film from the perspective of the protagonist (something which initially baffled audiences), he was a major proponent of moving the camera (at a time when it was difficult and noisy to do so), and used innovative sound design, such as in Love Me Tonight, where the film begins with a jazzy, rhythmic blend of street sounds and snoring. Mamoulian was also the first director to ever use three-strip Technicolor, in his adaptation of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Becky Sharp (1935), a film on which his dedication to his vision of a rich cinematic aesthetic was clearer than ever. Sadly, Mamoulian never quite had that one hugely successful picture that would have cemented his reputation and had a fair amount of bad luck, such as being fired from the noir classic, Laura (1944), on which he was replaced by Otto Preminger. After making the Fred Astaire musical Silk Stockings in 1957, Mamoulian never completed a film again, as he was fired from his last two directing assignments, Porgy and Bess (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). He received the DGA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1982 and five years later died of old age, at the age of 90.

Read more »