The movie industry seems to take a perverse delight in making bad films out of bad books by John O'Hara. O'Hara obligingly has kept Hollywood copiously supplied with his bedroom comedies, and through the years such flaming failures as From the Terrace have burst upon the increasingly unenthusiastic American public with marvelous regularity.
It is a shame, however, that one of O'Hara's few good novels had to be manhandled the way Butter-field 8 has been--although the catastrophe might be attributed to force of habit. For Butterfield 8 is one of the truly great chronicles of the 1930's. Unlike the more recent O'Hara offerings, it is not filled with drooly bedroom scenes and lurid prose; rather, it is a sympathetic study of Gloria Wandrous and of the kind of age that could produce such a girl.
MGM killed the movie version with what must have been its first decision--to take it out of the '30's and move it into an indefinite period which closely resembles now. The trouble with this move, which saves the studio the trouble of recreating the clothes, speech, and home furnishing style of the '30's, and enables Elizabeth Taylor and Laurence Harvey to cruise around in fancy sports cars, is that Gloria Wandrous has no relation with the Missile Age. She and her generation died long ago. Perhaps it is just that the amateur prostitute has disappeared as a type form--or has become too common to be unusual.
Miss Taylor is, after all, a competent actress, and she does at times bring to the role of Gloria Wandrous something of the spirit of O'Hara's book. But Mr. Harvey is a totally unbelievable Weston Liggett. He speaks with a muted British accent, which may be intended to sound like Old Yale, but doesn't and he looks as though he were still in Room at the Top. It is inconceivable that any girl would waste a week touring the East's better morels with such an out-and-out spineless creep as Mr. Harvey portrays.
Eddie, Gloria's chaste boy-friend in the book, is named Steve in the movie, because Steve is played by Eddie in the film, and you wouldn't want Liz to be calling Eddie Eddie, would you? It would be terribly confusing. It is legitimate, I suppose, to change Eddie Fisher's movie name to Steve, but it is harder to see why producer Pandro S. Berman would go to even that much trouble to insert Mr. Fisher into a role which he plays with a total lack of distinction.
Daniel Mann apparently is showing off his directorial ability in the long opening scene, in which Miss Taylor wakes up, mumbles "Liggett" twice, and then goes about her toilette. Mr. Mann faithfully records Miss Taylor as she stretches, yawns, wipes the sleep out of her eyes, brushs her teeth, gargles, and so on. I was expecting the camera to show Miss Taylor as she . . . well, never mind what I was expecting. It is this sort of moronic half-faithfulness to the book--reflected again a bit later when a taxi driver nearly runs down a couple and then cusses them out, which meant something in the book but has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie--that makes you wonder what Mann is trying to prove.
When Liggett rhapsodizes at the end of the movie that Gloria may have been bad on the outside but that "inside, her every fibre was striving for respectability," the only thing any self-respecting movie-goer can do is walk out. But this gesture, if the viewer has waited this long, is about two hours too late to do any good.