Boom! (1968) | Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton camp it up in Joseph Losey’s fantastically odd Tennessee Williams adaptation
Throughout the 1960s, cinema’s royal couple Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton created some brilliant, beguiling and occasionally bewildering films – some of which were adapted from classic plays: Edward Albee’s shout-fest Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Williams Shakespeare’s hysterical The Taming of the Shrew and Christopher Marlowe’s Elizabethan tragedy Doctor Faustus.
US playwright Tennessee Williams, whose meditations on sexual frustration, drug addiction and terminal disease made him the ‘darling of the day’, seemed a logical choice for Burton and Taylor to show off their craft. And along came Boom!
Based on the 1963 play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, Boom! takes place on a gorgeous private island in the Mediterranean, where the wealthy, egocentric Sissy Goforth is about to meet her maker.
As she dictates her memories to her long-suffering servant Blackie (Joanna Shimkus), penniless poet Christopher Flanders (Burton) arrives unannounced, wanting an audience. While Flanders is kept waiting, Sissy consults the bitchy Witch of Capri (Noel Coward, in a brilliantly wicked turn) over a very boozy dinner, who warns her that the poet is in fact The Angel of Death.
What follows is a cat-and-mouse game of existential wordplay as Sissy first rejects, then accepts the stranger, and thus her own mortality.
Esoteric or pretentious? Think what you will, but watching Boom! 40-plus years after its original release, I was totally transfixed. Yes, Taylor screams, rants and acts the childish princess, but she is absolutely fascinating to watch. Meanwhile, Burton’s soothing poetic voice flows like warm butterscotch.
American director Joseph Losey is the man who put this camp masterpiece together. Already capable of some unique, if slightly odd, cinematic treats like the sci-fi cult These Are the Damned and the pop art inspired Modesty Blaise, Losey’s firmly stamps his signature here.
This is helped greatly by the lavish modernist-inspired set, a Corbusier-influenced villa perched high on the rugged Sardinian coastline dotted with faux Easter Island statues, Taylor’s elaborate costumes and jewellery, and a fantastic music score from James Barry.
Boom! may have spectacular bombed on its release in 1968, but it so deserves a new audience – one that likes its cinema camp, colourful, and very odd indeed. And let’s leave the last word to John Waters, who included the film’s poster in Pink Flamingos: ‘beyond bad. It’s the other side of camp. It’s beautiful, atrocious, and it’s perfect. It’s a perfect movie, really, and I never tire of it’.
Boom! is available on DVD from Second Sight in the UK