“Boom!” says poet Chris Flanders (Richard Burton) in the 1968 film of the same name. Boom, he goes on the explain, is the sound of life being lived. Every minute that we’re reminded that we’re still alive is a “Boom!” It’s the type of thing that 18 year-old artists say to get laid, though the film treats Chris’s comment with an almost supernatural reverence.
Chris has just shown up on an island that’s owned by Flora Goforth (Elizabeth Taylor), who is the richest woman in the world and who is apparently dying of one of those diseases that makes you lie in bed and yell a lot. Flora lives on the island with an entourage that includes a secretary named Miss Black (Joanna Shimkus) and a head of security named Rudi (Michael Dunn). Rudi is a dwarf and he dresses like a Nazi and often does a stiff-armed salute, just in case we missed the fact that he’s supposed to be a fascist. Why exactly Flora, who were supposed to sympathize with, would employ a Nazi, we never really find out. The film seems to think that there’s something extremely daring about casting a person of short statue as the head of Flora’s security though, ultimately, it’s about as profound as uttering “Boom!” every few minutes.
Anyway, Flora is dying but she’s also dictating her autobiography. It turns out that she’s rich because she married a lot of wealthy men, all of whom died and left her all of their money. Flora’s always in a bad mood but things improve a little when Chris mysteriously shows up on the island and starts saying, “Boom!” all the time. Flora and Chris have several conversations about life and the meaning of it all, the majority of which are full of obscure statements and half-baked attempts at being profound. The dialogue is pretentious but it’s also not very memorable, which is a shame. One can survive being pretentious but being forgettable is simply unforgivable.
Eventually, a friend of Flora’s shows up. Famed playwright Noel Coward plays The Witch of Capri, a flamboyant friend to the rich and famous. He loves to gossip and has a bitchy comment for every occasion. One could argue that Coward is merely playing himself, though one imagines that the real-life Coward could have also come up with a few genuinely witty lines. The Witch informs Flora that Chris has a habit of showing up at the bedside of rich women right before they die. Some people think that Chris is a gigolo while others believe Chris to be …. THE ANGEL OF DEATH!
Which is it? Don’t worry, the answer is revealed by the end of the movie. Of course, it takes a while to get to the end. Boom! is two hours long but it feels much longer. Storywise, Boom! feels like it would be ideal as a 30-minute episode of some old anthology show but director Joseph Losey keeps the story moving at a very slow pace and there are so many dramatic pauses and unnecessary zoom shots that the film itself becomes a bit of an endurance test. Just when you think the movie is finally going to get moving, Chris says, “Boom!” or there’s an extreme close-up of Flora’s ring and everything slows down again.
Boom! is one of the many films that Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made together in the 60s. Unfortunately, both actors are miscast in the lead roles. Flora is described as being old and sickly. Elizabeth Taylor was in her 30s and appeared to be in robust health during the shooting of the film. Chris Flanders is supposed to be in his 20s and a seeker of truth and enlightenment. Burton was in his 40s and looked like he was in his 60s. He spends most of the film looking and sounding as if he’s just come off a weekend bender, which makes him look all the more ludicrous when he hears the ocean and says, “Boom!”
On the plus side, the film is lovely to look at. Flora’s house is big and beautiful. The island scenery is gorgeous. Flora’s costumes are ludicrously ornate but still, they are what you would want to see an international movie star wearing in 1968. As such, the film is always nice to look at. In fact, perhaps the best way to watch Boom! is to turn down the sound so you don’t have to listen to any of the dialogue.
Boom! was based on a Tennessee Williams’s play called The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. The filmmakers decided to change the name to Boom! and I really can’t blame them for that. This was Elizabeth Taylor’s third film to be based on a Tennessee Williams play. Unfortunately, it matched neither the critical nor the commercial success of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof or Suddenly, Last Summer.