UPON FURTHER REVIEW: All Hail the REAL Queen Elizabeth by Brad Eastland, Dr. of Ancient Filmology

March 27, 2011
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     Liz is dead.

     Hardly seems possible.

     Sure, everybody dies.   Sure, she was 79.   Sure, due to her hectic, turbulent life and oft-tenuous health she had actually been pronounced dead before.   Several times.

Sometimes, they spelled her name with an "s".

Sometimes, they spelled her name with an "s".


     But now that she’s dead, really dead, I think we all need to take a step back and reflect.

     Elizabeth Taylor just might be the ultimate movie star in history.   Perhaps no female film icon combined talent, impact, sizzle, scandal, and longevity the way this raven-haired, violet-eyed beauty did, famous since the early 40s before she was even a teenager.   Katherine Hepburn was a better actress, but not nearly as beautiful, nor did she employ nearly the choke-hold on an adoring public that Liz did.   Legends like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, with their flat, stick-like figures and huge, beyond-buggy eyes, seem like cartoon characters compared to Liz.   And Marilyn Monroe?   Well, Monroe was maybe more scandalous, and perhaps even sexier (depending on your taste), but not nearly the beauty or the actress Liz was, nor did she live long enough to pile up either the army of lifelong fans or the stable of fertile husbands Liz did.   Liz not only leaves behind children and grandchildren, she lived to see her great-grandchildren….  

     You’ll notice I don’t bring up any current “stars” in this debate.   I don’t even drop names of modern-day actresses who perhaps even “might”, one day, compete against History for Taylor’s crown.   Because it would be a waste of valuable time and good printer’s ink.

     The queen is dead; long live the queen….at least on film.   Even her name is so perfect is seems terribly contrived.   Look at it on the page, then sound it out slowly:  E-liz-uh-beth Tay-lurr.   It’s perfect.   What a wonderfully euphonious, powerful, perfectly-constructed handle.   Best movie-star name ever.

     You might be surprised to hear that that’s her real name.

     So now, by way of tribute, how about a movie?   It only seems fitting that on the heels of the queen’s passing, your ever-vigilant Doctor of Ancient Filmology (that’s me) should come up with a recommendation for you of one of her fine old films.   I have one.   I select not the obvious, I trumpet nothing along the lines of “Cleopatra” (for which she commanded the first-ever million dollar fee), or “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (for which she gladly gained thirty pounds in exchange for an Oscar) or “Giant” or “Father of the Bride” or “A Place in the Sun”.   None of her biggies.   Hell, any pedestrian slob could do that.   So not me.   Let’s go for something quirky.   Something off the wall.   Something obscure.

     Presenting, then, “The Last Time I Saw Paris”.

     I doubt if you have even ever heard of “The Last Time I Saw Paris”.   The song maybe, but not the movie.   Good.   That means you’re hearing about something new, and then I’ve done my job.   But rest assured that this is a great, great motion picture.   It’s a plum.   I love it.   And I’ve loved it for nearly 30 years.

     In fact, it was made way back in 1954, before I was made.  (barely)

     Why do I love “The Last Time I Saw Paris”?  

     Lots of reasons.   First and foremost, the writing.   I’m a writer, and being writer and film buff both I always start with the script.   The Last Time I Saw Paris” was penned by my favorite screenwriters, the identical-twins Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein, “the Epstein brothers”, who I consider to be the two greatest screenwriters in Hollywood history.   They gave us “Casablanca” for godsake, perhaps Hollywood’s one perfect screenplay.   And you can trust me, their “The Last Time I Saw Paris” is almost as good as their “Casablanca”, a crackling-good script in its own right, witty, funny, serious and sad, everything you’d want.   It’s based on a short-story by one of the 20th century’s literary giants, “Babylon Revisited” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, with Paris, of course, playing the role of modern-day Babylon.   Even the director, the talented Richard Brooks—who wrote and directed the fine Burt Lancaster film “Elmer Gantry”—helped the Epstein brothers out a little bit with the writing chores.   So as you can see, we have four top-flight writers collaborating on this wonderful little tale.   And speaking of Fitzgerald, much of the movie is set in Paris’ fabled Dingo Bar, where Fitzgerald and fellow fiction icon Ernest Hemingway first met; since Fitz was long dead by the time the screenplay was written, I’m thinking the Dingo Bar scenes were the Epstein brothers’ personal tribute to that great American novelist.   This movie also has one of the best title songs ever, the aforementioned Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein classic.   Google it up; so familiar and haunting it makes you want to move to Paris.   The cast is outstanding.   There’s Donna Reed, the handsome Roger Moore (in his first film), the useful Eva Gabor (in perhaps the only thing she ever did other than TV’s “Green Acres”), and, playing moviedom’s greatest-ever father-in-law, the redoubtable Walter Pidgeon.   Pidgeon is not only witty and funny and fun, but you hafta love it when the very first time he meets his future son-in-law, Van Johnson, he drags him off to the racetrack!   And then borrows money from the startled and helpless Van so that he can make a foolish, no-risk bet!   And his longshot horse wins!

     And then there is Taylor herself.   So beautiful.   So compelling.   In her prime at age 22, but she looks 30.   In a good way.    You’ll be hard-pressed to ever find a more beautiful woman on film than Elizabeth Taylor in “The Last Time I Saw Paris”.   She is luminous.

     Consider this: In “The Last Time I Saw Paris”, the first time either Van Johnson or we the audience lay eyes on Taylor she is randomly grabbing Johnson and enthusiastically kissing him, as part of the unprecedented swirl of jubilation sweeping through downtown Paris on V-E day in May of ’45.   Can you imagine the first time you meet someone as luminous as Elizabeth Taylor she is grabbing you and kissing you???   Gotta love those Epstein brothers….Oh, and Johnson plays an unknown, frustrated fiction writer in the film, a brooding novelist who also specializes in short-stories, so naturally I can relate to all of it.   Even Johnson’s character’s first name in the movie, Charles, is my real first name.   Throw in the Paris stuff, the racetrack scenes, the Epstein script, the luminous Liz….zounds, I think this movie is about me!!!   (I wish)

     Don’t worry.   I won’t give away the plot or the ending or anything else.   Just go order it.   I myself picked up a used copy on Amazon.com the other day for less than four dollars.   So pony up, folks.   Less than four bucks gets you “The Last Time I Saw Paris”; my favorite Elizabeth Taylor movie as well as my personal 6th-favorite movie of all time.  

     #6 out of all the movies I’ve seen?   Not bad.

     (But if you want my complete top-10 list, you’ll have to do something for me in return.   The question is what.   Let’s see….oh, I know.   While you’re on Amazon, ordering up “The Last Time I Saw Paris”, go ahead and add my book to your shopping cart.  Details below:)



Brad Eastland, our “Dr. of Ancient Filmology”, is a movie buff and film historian, as long as the film was made before 1985 or so.  (If you want to hear about new-release films, ask somebody else!).   Special effects and gratuitous anything have no place in his celluloid world.   Primarily a fiction writer, Brad has written four novels* and over 20 short-stories.  Here are some samples of his best stories:

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for it (using the author’s full name, C. Bradford Eastland) on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com….published by iUniverse Inc.





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