Friday, June 24, 2011

The Only Game in Town (1970)

Nineteen-seventy was an interesting transitional year for American movies, because the gulf between traditional pictures rooted in Establishment mores and New Hollywood freakouts created in Easy Rider’s wake was gigantic. Accordingly, it’s amazing that interminable studio pabulum like The Only Game in Town was still being manufactured at the same historical moment as counterculture classics like M*A*S*H, but the fact that both movies were released in early 1970 demonstrates why the New Hollywood made the old Hollywood obsolete. The final film directed by studio-era great George Stevens (Giant, A Place in the Sun, Shane), The Only Game in Town is an unbearably talky adaptation of a play by Frank D. Gilroy (who also wrote the script) about the stormy romance between a Vegas showgirl (Elizabeth Taylor) and an inveterate gambler (Warren Beaty). Gilroy fills the movie with one endless scene after another taking place in the showgirl’s drab apartment, so the picture is a lethargic procession of pretentious conversations in a visually uninteresting setting. The writing is so trite that nearly every character adopts some measure of affected world-weariness; for instance, when the gambler makes a romantic declaration and doesn’t get a response, he quips, “I’m sorry, folks, there seems to be a breakdown in the audio portion of our program.” Dooming the entire endeavor is the catastrophic miscasting of the lead role. Though still very beautiful, Taylor is too old and, with all due respect, too heavy to play a showgirl; the filmmakers try to obscure her zaftig figure with glamour-photography tricks and shapeless dresses, which only exacerbates the problem. She’s also terrible in the movie, screeching during arguments and staring vacantly through the innumerable scenes in which her character struggles with indecision. Beatty’s signature mixture of cockiness and dithering makes sense for the gambler role, but even though he and Taylor are fairly close in age, he comes off seeming far too young as her onscreen paramour. Worst of all, Stevens lets this slight story ramble on for 113 excruciating minutes, making The Only Game in Town an ignominious finale to his important career.

The Only Game in Town: SQUARE

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