John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) is hardly what one can consider a high water mark in either the director’s career or that of his costars, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando. At the time of its release, homosexuality was still a relatively taboo subject to broach on film and one can definitely see the awkwardness in Chapman Mortimer and Gladys Hill's screenplay as it struggles to 'suggest' gayness without actually coming out and labeling it as such.
What we're left with then is an ineffectual hinting at Maj. Weldon Penderton's (Brando) latent homo eroticism towards a young military cadet (Gordon Mitchell) who is also fancied by Penderton's wife, Leonora (Elizabeth Talyor).
Most recently, Leonora has begun diverting her repressed lust for the cadet to more obvious affections involving Lt. Colonel Morris Langdon (Brian Keith) – her husband’s superior officer. She flaunts her implied infidelities, mentally emasculating Weldon whose psyche really can not take much more humiliation.
While the general’s bed ridden wife, Alison (Julie Harris) begins to suspect the worst about her husband, a dark horse looms on this voyeuristic horizon; Pvt. L.G. Williams (Robert Forster) a recluse who actually breaks into Leonora’s bedroom one evening to quietly observe her as she sleeps in the nude.
Meant to be a shocking critique of sexual deviancy and frustration, culminating in a warped murder, the film is leaden, methodical and uninspired. Even the moment when Leonora, Weldon and Morris discover Gordon Willis streaking – literally - in circles astride one of the training ponies seems more casually bizarre than deviously tempting.
John Huston, generally known as a master of his craft, completely misses the mark on this one. Every opportunity to make something terrifyingly original from this subtext is squandered. And Brando is regrettably ill at ease as the neurotic homosexual. He was not Huston's first choice. That honor went to real life homosexual Montgomery Clift who might have made something more introspective of the part had he not died unexpectedly of a heart attack just before shooting was about to commence.
Brando does his best, but slurs his southern dialect so badly that much of his dialogue is quite inaudible. Elizabeth Taylor is too shrewish as the wife. She's not so much insatiable as she proves grating on the nerves. And it's pretty tough to swallow that her Leonora would find something salvageable in seducing Brian Keith's lugubrious Colonel.
No, the pieces don't fit - regrettably so, since a lot of top notch talent is waded down by an utterly meandering and, at times, almost incoherent script that goes nowhere fast.
Reflections in a Golden Eye was originally conceived and shot by Huston entirely in sepia, presumably to add an edgy artistry and hidden subtext to this flat melodrama. It seems like a gimmick to me, but then again, he is the great John Huston.
However, when the film debuted audiences balked at trying to watch two hours of an image bathed in golden hues. So Warner Bros. promptly pulled the film from circulation and had all subsequent prints re-balanced with natural color. Neither version did well.
Warner Home Video restores Huston’s originally conceived sepia wash, revealing a disturbingly jaundice tint that is rather distracting on the eye. It's hard to critique color accuracy under these circumstances because the sepia tints everything to unhealthy and very unnatural extremes.
Contrast levels appear a bit weak at times and fine detail is occasionally absent during darker scenes. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital – not that it matters much; this is primarily a dialogue driven feature. The film’s original theatrical trailer is the only extra.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)