For over 50 years, Elizabeth Taylor reigned as one of classic Hollywood's great screen actresses. Starting her career as a child performer, she blossomed into a star following her adolescent years and earned four consecutive Academy Award nominations, while becoming a top box office attraction for over a decade. She made more classics than can be listed in one place, so here are seven more great movies from Taylor's illustrious career.
Michael Curtiz directed this top-notch family comedy which featured a young Elizabeth Taylor in a supporting role opposite William Powell and Irene Dunne. While the focus is on Powell as the patriarch of an 1880s New York City household and Dunne as the true head of the house, Taylor shined as an out-of-town girl who attracts the amorous attention of the couple’s eldest son (James Lydon). Still a teenager at the time of Life With Father, Taylor was ready to make the transition to more grown-up roles, as she did two years later with 1949’s Conspirator.
Though ultimately overlooked by the Academy during Oscar time, Taylor delivered a powerful performance as Leslie Lynnton, a spoiled, headstrong southern belle married to a wealthy rancher (Rock Hudson) who attracts the secret love of an uneducated ranch hand (James Dean). As she convincingly ages 30 years, Taylor’s Leslie contends with generational issues of race, class and traditions while the limits of family and community are severely tested. Directed by the exacting George Stevens, Giant was widely hailed by critics and remained relevant to later generations. Hudson and Dean were both nominated for Best Actor, but Taylor’s performance was conspicuously snubbed.
Following Giant, Taylor received the first of five career Academy Award nominations for her performance in the Civil War-set epic, Raintree Country. Not quite Gone With the Wind, the film cast Taylor as a deceptive Southern belle who connives her way into a romance with a young pacifist from Indiana (Montgomery Clift), only to be driven into depression and eventually insanity when he goes off to fight for the Union against her beloved Confederacy. During production, Clift was engaged in a near-fatal car accident while leaving Taylor’s home in the Hollywood Hills. She was close enough to race to the scene and prevent him from choking on his tongue. Clift resumed filming weeks later, but slid into a years-long addiction to alcohol and pain killers from which Taylor tried and failed to save him.
Taylor received her second consecutive Academy Award nomination for Best Actress after her smoldering performance as Maggie, the hopelessly devoted wife of the emotionally tormented Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman), a drunken has-been trying to recapture his glory days as a star high school football player. Brick thinks Maggie cheated on him with his best friend, now deceased, leading him to deny her sexual pleasure. Steaming with sensuality, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was brilliantly adapted from Tennessee Williams’ popular play by director Richard Brooks, but it’s the simmering chemistry between Taylor and Newman that makes this one must-see viewing.
After losing out on Oscar with her third straight nomination for her performance in Suddenly, Last Summer, Taylor finally won Best Actress for portrayal of a Manhattan call girl in BUtterfield 8. Taylor was not shy in expressing her loathing of the film, which was made under duress to fulfill contractual obligations to MGM so she could move over to 20th Century Fox to make Cleopatra. Adding injury to insult, she suffered a near-fatal bout with pneumonia that required an emergency tracheotomy, leading some – including Taylor herself – to speculate that she won the Academy awards on a sympathy vote. Regardless, Taylor was able to break through and win the Oscar, while remaining one of the top box office stars in Hollywood.
After winning her second Oscar of the decade for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Taylor again collaborated with husband Richard Burton for Italian director Franco Zeffirelli’s lively and surprisingly cinematic adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy about the difficulties of marriage. Taylor played the mean-spirited Katrina and Burton was the determined husband-to-be, Petruchio. Their fiery chemistry on screen was no doubt fueled by the couple’s real-life marriage problems, which were public knowledge at the time, which may have helped The Taming of the Shrew become another box office hit for the famed Hollywood couple.
This lurid drama about infidelity and repressed sexuality from director John Huston was certainly the most risqué film Taylor ever made and marked a steep decline in box office clout that lasted for the remainder of her career. The film starred Marlon Brando as a major in the U.S. Army struggling to hide his latent homosexuality, while his wife, Leonora (Taylor), carries on an affair with another officer (Brian Keith). Meanwhile, Brando becomes infatuated with a young private (Robert Forster), only to become enraged when the recruit desires Leonora instead. Reflections in a Golden Eye does not represent the best work from all involved, but the amount of talent amassed in the film alone makes this more than just a curiosity.