I just read Melvyn Bragg’s biography on Richard Burton…contained a lot of Burton’s journals.
I realized what a great actor he COULD BE:
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
and what a bad actor he could be…
The Sandpiper (was he even awake during that?)
Why blame Burton’s acting on Burton in The Sandpiper ?
BLUEBEARD is a great thundering classic of Bad Cinema — it deserves mention with PLAN NINE and THE ROOM.
His George in VIRGINIA WOOLF is a real achievement, though. The best performance of his I’ve seen. Never been able to sit through BECKET, which just bores me to tears, like LION IN WINTER Lite.
He came from theatre- a dear little old lady i knew saw him as a young prince Hal- and sometimes on screen maybe his style was large but he could also be very effective. He seemed to sell out quality for bucks in the 70s, a shame, though i’ve not seen some of his apparent turkeys. The Medved brothers in their Golden Turkey awards book gave him the prize for worst actor, on the basis mainly of those late career choices. He had a rich voice and was world famous (like Posh n Becks, he and Liz Taylor fed each other’s fame) but Hopkins, from the same neck of the woods, has had more fine roles and performances. He had the good fortune of living through Wales’ golden era at Rugby. He was less lucky with Oscars, and this may have contributed to his relatively early death.
You should check out a movie he made at the very beginning of his career: “The Last Days Of Dolwyn.” It is also called “Women Of Dolwyn” and he made it in 1949 with Dame Edith Evans. It is really her film but he has a major role. He is so open and natural. If he hadn’t been tempted by Hollywood, he might have become a different kind of actor.
Yeah i think Hollywood made and unmade him. He was already playing the great hero in Alexander the Great, 1956. He was fine with a late comeback in 1984.
That the Medved brothers disliked him so much is a point in his favour, really
You figure drinking was a factor in a lot of his poor choices, but playing the boozy defrocked preacher in Night of the Iguana was one of his best roles.
Ah, here’s wikipedia on the part little old Maymay was on about: "In the 1951 season at Stratford, he gave a critically acclaimed performance and achieved stardom as Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 opposite Anthony Quayle’s Falstaff. Philip Burton arrived at Stratford to help coach his former charge, and he noted in his memoir that Quayle and Richard Burton had their differences about the interpretation of the Prince Hal role. Richard Burton was already demonstrating the same independence and competitiveness as an actor that he displayed off-stage in drinking, sport, or story-telling
Kenneth Tynan said of Burton’s performance, “His playing of Prince Hal turned interested speculation to awe almost as soon as he started to speak; in the first intermission local critics stood agape in the lobbies”
His dad was a heavy drinking miner- drinking is still part of South Wales working class culture. But life then was hard, now the mines have long closed. He loved language, but not too surprisingly would have preferred to play for Wales at rugby than play Hamlet.
Love Richard Burton, though I definitely need to see more of his stuff.
No love for Look Back In Anger? Seems like I don’t really see a whole lot of discussion about any of those “angry young man films” from the 60’s. Its actually been a long time since I’ve seen LBIA, but I remember thinking it was great. Also think Equus is well worth a watch.
Has anybody seen the ’74 version of Brief Encounter? Burton and Sohpia Loren in this makes me curious.
Also glad to see this thread because I checked out The Spy That Came in From the Cold from the library!!! Burton, Claire Bloom and Oskar Werner sounds quite appealing
He was good in The Night of the Iguana, one of the two times he had Tennessee Williams’ material to work with. The other T.W. one, Boom!, is a real trip.
per his journal, RB actually thought he was very good in BOOM!
^ He was too old for the part. But it’s a fascinating movie, especially for fans of the outré.
Boom by J.L. with R.B. and E.T. was interesting.
The day I realise how three world-famous actors (and Rob Brydon) popped out of my crappy town will be the day i’ll be raking in cash.
He was a fabulous actor, loved him in Night of the Iguana and even the ridiculous Becket (worthy of a good Rifftrax though it is rather funny in and of itself) and Anne of a Thousand Days (which even he hated doing). I’d like to see him in Equus, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Look Back in Anger, though I do wish he had been in more.
GIAC…you hit the nail right on the head…Burton was too old and Taylor was too young for BOOM!
Still, agree, it’s fun to watch (and wonder what the #)&$#!!! was Losey thinking?)
Yes, Aflwydd, that blessed part of South Wales has been an incredible acting hotspot. Catherine Z-J nearby too.
Burton’s career was in some respects a tragedy of talent insufficiently fulfilled. The heavy drinking certainly had a part in that as did the fact that he smoked an average of four packs of cigarettes a day. But he was at times a very great actor. And I agree with Kenji that his last role, in the underappreciated 1984, filmed just months before his death showed the mesmerizing power he retained to the last.
He was a huge alcoholic, which i understand. He probably didn’t have enough energy or confidence to take really good roles at some point because there would be too much pressure. And when there’s too much pressure an alcoholic will drink even more than usual, which would make it really hard to turn in a great performance
They all drank. He, Michael Caine, Richard Harris, et al. It was part and parcel of their lifestyle. It must have been hell on directors but they managed it, and these actors all turned in some great performances. There were clunkers, but in most cases they were still fun to watch when they were in bad form, which is more than I can say for most actors today.
“There were clunkers, but in most cases they were still fun to watch when they were in bad form, which is more than I can say for most actors today.”
Which sums up exactly what I meant behind what I said about Becket and Anne of a Thousand Days. :)
I recently finished reading his diaries. So many entries are about boozing, or trying to stop boozing. You can now see his version of Hamlet on Youtube as some indication of his stage work and his film acting is good when the material has even a spark of integrity. My interpretation is he when married Taylor he got used to easy Hollywood money and become scornful of films and acting and the whole damned thing. He forever writes of wanting to quit acting to be able to write. The only thing he wrote was his diary which, for the most part, is not very interesting.
I’ve heard that his diary makes fascinating reading, particularly some odd comments concerning Lucille Ball.
Always like Burton, even in the bad stuff…and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen The Klansman! The Medved’s “Worst Actor” thing never made any sense to me. Victor Mature (Not a great actor, but there’s far worse. Great in The Last Frontier and My Darling Clementine), Tony Curtis (Sweet Smell of Success…end of discussion) and John Agar (meh).
Burton was outstanding in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Equus, Night of the Iguana, Becket, Look Back in Anger, Bitter Victory.
In routine stuff, like Where Eagles Dare and The Comedians, he has a great sense of irony. His cynicism makes those films enjoyable. I think that the guy just made some really bad choices sometimes and rather than wander through the films looking for a paycheck, tried to oversell them.
To me, Burton gave one of the all-time great performances in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. An exercise in subtlety and controlled madness, his take on George will never be topped by another actor.
Joe Z — Burton’s George has towered like Pike’s Peak for 50 years. It’s a film performance, of course, and maybe it will never be surpassed….on film. Nonetheless, I direct your attention to Mr. Tracy Letts (actor but better-known as a Pulitzer-winning playwright) whose two early plays, “Killer Joe” and “Bug” were brought to the screen lately by William Friedkin. His prize-winning play, “August: Osage County” will premiere as a film later this year (starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis with a supporting cast of notables).
How does this relate? Playwright Tracy Letts is also a stage actor and he’s currently playing George on Broadway. Edward Albee himself has lobbed accolades on Letts’ portrayal of George. When the Tony Awards are handed out later this spring, you can bet that Tracy Letts will run away with the Best Actor trophy. Google the reviews if you’re curious.
I don’t mean to belittle Burton in the least. 85% of the screenplay is lifted straight from the stage version. I just think that Burton’s George has been matched, if not “topped”, by Tracy Letts. That’s all.
Cineaste – I have actually seen Tracy Letts’ performance on Broadway and will admit he performed quite admirably in the role. I understand the distinction between film and stage performance but the essence of a character is the same regardless of the medium. Burton, to my mind, breathed life into the character in a way no other actor had done or has yet to do. Letts, being primarily a writer, seemed far more inhibited in the role. This is not to say he gave a poor performance – this inhibited quality seemed to feed into the character positively in certain respects – but I would not put him on par with Burton.
I saw Letts’ performance as George, as well as Bill Irwin’s performance as George, and found much to admire in them all — they were all the equal of Burton’s. The chief drawback, for me, with Burton’s George, as good as it is, is that he never seems quite milquetoasty enough for the character.
All three actors brought out different parts of the role — Burton’s seems by far the most intelligent, Letts’ by far the angriest (the hostility he directs at any and everyone is really astonishing), and Irwin brought a degree of downtrodden humor to the role that was really breathtaking.
yes…Burton had some choice words for Lucille Ball…related to her dictatorial behavior when he & E Taylor guest starred on her show in the early 70s. It’s a funny journal entry.