A Liz Taylor filmography -- See what we thought of ''Father of the Bride,'' Giant,'' ''National Velvet,'' and more

A Liz Taylor filmography

As an actress, Elizabeth Taylor has defined what it means to have a film career: moments of brilliance, major successes, interesting failures, unspeakable disasters. Since, at age 11, she petted the world’s most famous collie in Lassie Come Home in 1943, Taylor has run the gamut, from child animal lover to naive debutante, from Southern belle to Southern vixen, from call girl to Queen of the Nile. In her own words, ”I’ve been through it all, baby. I’m Mother Courage.” Here are her best, most important, and most intriguing movies (all available on video), without which Mother Courage’s life story would be lots less meaningful.

National Velvet (1944)
Some critics still insist that Taylor never gave a better performance than she did as Velvet Brown, the determined little girl who trains her horse for England’s Grand National race. No other child actor — nor adult one — has ever captured the pure, unconditional love between human and animal as Elizabeth Taylor does here. And few other films have caught the can’t-wait-another-second excitement of childhood fixation. A

Father of the Bride (1950)
Vincente Minnelli’s delightful domestic comedy, tiers above the current remake, features Taylor, just turning into a woman, as the ingenuous, ravishing bride. The scenes between Taylor and Spencer Tracy are sweet and utterly lacking in artifice, and although the movie asks little more than her presence, she provides it with simple, natural grace. The 1951 sequel, Father’s Little Dividend, in which Liz becomes the world’s most sensual mom, is every bit as appealing. A-

A Place in the Sun (1951)
In George Stevens’ somewhat overrated and self-conscious version of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, Taylor plays the upper-crust deb who becomes the target of Montgomery Clift’s upwardly mobile ambitions. It was her first fully adult role, and she proved she could hold the screen with her acting as well as her persona, making Angela Vickers the most sympathetic character in the film. B+

Giant (1956)
Everything about this movie, which was James Dean’s last and has the aura of legend, is much less boring than the thing itself-an overlong ”prestige” soap opera from the Edna Ferber potboiler, a kind of precursor of Dallas chronicling two generations of a Texas oil-and-cattle crowd. Taylor’s is a solid performance-and the only time she ages on film-as the woman who marries a landowner (Rock Hudson) but gives her heart to a hellion (Dean). B

Raintree County (1957)
It’s one of the worst big pictures ever made but has one of Taylor’s most flamboyant and juiciest performances. As the Southern belle who, while visiting Indiana, tricks Montgomery Clift into marrying her, Liz fiddles with her fan, flounces her skirts, throws elaborate tantrums (she can’t understand why she can’t have her slaves, even if Mr. Lincoln has just been elected), and eventually goes nuts, wandering out into the swamps to look for the symbolic rain tree. It’s acted, for nearly three hours, with the conviction of a woman whose inner gaze is focused on a gold-plated little man. The first of her five Oscar nominations. D+

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Her Southern accent intact for Tennessee Williams’ Maggie the Cat, Taylor slunk around in Helen Rose’s famous white satin slip, looking more luscious than anyone has a right to: It’s hard to swallow that Brick (Paul Newman), drowning his sorrows in drink, won’t touch her. The manipulative Maggie, irritated by the heat and by Gooper and Sister Woman’s ”no-neck monsters,” is among Taylor’s most accomplished creations and earned her a second Oscar nod; the performance has an inner coil in it, as if something were ready to spring at any second. A-

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
A deliciously bad film, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and scripted by Gore Vidal from a florid exercise in excess by Tennessee Williams. Taylor is the emotionally traumatized cousin of the poet Sebastian, whom she has seen being cannibalized by a bunch of Third World Bruce Weber types. Sebastian’s mother (Katharine Hepburn, entering her righteous period), who spends her leisure time feeding her Venus flytraps, is anxious to convince neurosurgeon Montgomery Clift that Liz is playing with a dog-eared deck. Everything advances to Liz’s breakdown/confession scene, which she handles somewhat miraculously without overacting (a third Oscar nomination), and in which we learn that Sebastian was — gasp! — a homosexual. C+

Butterfield 8 (1960)
Liz got her first Best Actress Oscar for her performance as Gloria, an expensive prostitute with a fondness for fondling mink. She finally meets the man of her dreams (Laurence Harvey), but fate intervenes and she must pay for past sins. ”Sick transit Gloria,” she explains to him. Taylor’s work is several notches above the botched material, adapted from the John O’Hara novel. (Eddie Fisher, a household name through his marriage to Taylor, plays an understanding friend.) C+

Cleopatra (1963)
Yes, it’s mostly awful. And God knows, at 243 minutes, it has its longeur. But the movie (still the most expensive ever made, taking inflation into account) that launched a million headlines is nonetheless fascinating, if only for Liz’s lost, dutiful performance; she gamely plays the Queen of the Nile as if the film were Kitten With an Asp. (After seeing it, she ran into a bathroom at London’s Dorchester Hotel and threw up, but most video viewers will react more calmly.) As for her salary, publicized as much as her romance with Burton, Liz remarked, ”If someone is dumb enough to offer me a million dollars to make a picture, I am certainly not dumb enough to turn it down.” C-

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
As the slatternly, provocative Martha in Mike Nichols’ directorial debut, Liz brays, cusses, flirts, scolds, coos, roars, mocks, screams, and howls so hard she nearly explodes. Schlumping around in his baggy cardigan, Burton matches her every razor-edged inch of the way as the meekly professorial yet only superficially weak George. As their young guests, Sandy Dennis and George Segal hardly know what hit them from the moment Liz greets them and the booze and the bloodletting begin. ”Fat and 40!” crowed the headlines (inaccurately) over Liz’s appearance in this marathon drama of denial and possibly the worst example of double dating ever, but she snagged her second Best Actress Oscar. A

The Taming of the Shrew (1967)
This nimble comedy, in lemon- hued Renaissance color, avoids the Bard-of-Avon-Calling sensibility of director Franco Zeffirelli’s other Shakespearean adaptations, thanks in part to Burton-Taylor interplay and horseplay. As the wildcat Kate, who won’t be kissed, Liz takes double handfuls of scenery and chews them as if they were her last supper. A ton of fun, though it could give a hard-line feminist a rash. B+

Reflections of a Golden Eye (1967)
John Huston’s adaptation of Carson McCullers’ gothic novella of sexual repression, set in a Southern Army post, gave Taylor one of her most unusual roles. She’s the hot-blooded, contemptuous wife of a closet homosexual (Marlon Brando, in one of his least-known but greatest performances); she literally whips him and gives herself to Brian Keith in a berry patch. It’s a restrained, sensual performance with moments of high, if warped, comedy: an example of what a director with an original vision could elicit from her. A-

The Mirror Crack’d (1980)
An adaptation of an Agatha Christie Miss Marple mystery, with Angela Lansbury as the sweet little old sleuth, it has the vitality of a vicar, yet it’s enormously campy fun. Taylor plays a has-been, pill-popping actress making a movie version of Mary, Queen of Scots for husband and director Rock Hudson, and Liz’s rival, Kim Novak, plays Elizabeth R. She and Novak trade bitchy insults — ”There are two things I hate about you — your face,” Liz snarls. And there’s a funny, now touching moment when Liz looks into the mirror and says to Hudson wickedly, ”Wrinkles, wrinkles, go away. Come right back on Doris Day.” B-

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