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Elizabeth Taylor: Iconic Actress Author Profile: Seth LeeperBy Seth Leeper, AND Magazine Columnist
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Elizabeth Taylor: Iconic Actress
Traversing Films Less Seen

One of the ironies in the last decades of Elizabeth Taylor’s life is that people seemed to forget she was an actress. The very means that brought her stardom and worldwide adoration seems to be the least of what she’s remembered for. Screenwriters wouldn’t have had to dig deep if they’d mined Taylor’s own life for inspiration, but luckily it was the woman herself who was able to mine those personal turmoils and channel them into some of her most lauded film performances.

Take a moment and cast away the tabloid blitz because aside from her philanthropy and AIDS activism, (which deserve their own column), one of her most important legacies will be her film career. Though critics may say her career was inconsistent, it is nonetheless a crucial part of our own history.

Elizabeth Taylor’s film career broke new ground for subsequent female movie stars that can thank her for their multi-million dollar salaries, but that is really the least of the affects her films had on culture. Her Oscar-winning performance in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was instrumental in shattering the last of the social taboos that had previously been absent from film as a result of censorship.

These consequences are relatively known, although much of her back catalog is under-appreciated or out of the print. Instead of revisiting the films that most immediately come to memory, here is a list of her lesser known films that deserve at least a second look, if not a re-release.

Cleopatra 1963
Cleopatra 1963


Conspirator (1949)

This is an important role since it is her first following the string of films that made her a child star. Taylor plays a naive young woman who unknowingly marries a Soviet spy. The film features a suspenseful, tense tone because the Soviets instruct him to kill her. The Conspirator reflects the paranoia of the McCarthy era it was filmed during. Later praised as a dramatic actress, this film is a thriller, a rarity in the overall context of her career.

The Big Hangover (1950)

Taylor plays the love interest of a man with an allergy to alcohol. The Big Hangover is a lightweight comedy with lots of slapstick and amusing though unfortunate circumstances.

The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)

Put this on when you’re in the mood for a tearjerker. Seeing Elizabeth Taylor in a black turtleneck with red lipstick would be enough to justify perusing the film, but it’s worth watching because her acting takes on a gravity that would later come to fruition in her string of Oscar-nominated roles.

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Elephant Walk (1950)

It’s no mistake this was made not long before Giant, the opus in which she co-stars with James Dean and Rock Hudson. The cinematography and fashion are stunning, but Taylor carries the weight of this film. This marks one of the first protagonists she plays struggling to find empowerment amidst a male dominated environment, a theme that would take further shape in Giant and later films like The Sandpiper, where her character finds herself at odds with the mores of the society she lives in.

The V.I.P.s (1963)

The V.I.P.s is the first Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton film following Cleopatra, and is considered one of her glamor films. Featuring a sprawling cast and interweaving story-lines, this was one of the better collaborations Taylor did with Burton. Taylor plays a headstrong woman planning to leave her husband for the attentions of a younger man.

The Sandpiper (1965)

Taylor plays an unpopular artist who commences an affair with the Reverend of the local Christian school her son attends. Among of the best of the Taylor-Burton films, it won an Oscar for Best Song. The film mirrors the potent image the public had of her at the time, a woman who bucked convention to pursue her passion for love.

The Taming of the Shrew (1967)

While not heralded as the best interpretation of the Shakespeare play, the film is nonetheless worth watching for the provocative chemistry between Taylor and Burton which culminates in a chase scene that ends on a roof. Taylor’s version of Kate is tempestuous, vivacious, and full of bite.

Boom! (1968)

It’s hard to describe this film, based on a Tennessee Williams play. The dialogue is unsurprisingly crisp and Burton could take any line and make it sound like poetry. Taylor starts to don the loose dresses that would become a signature of her 70s look as well as some very interesting headwear that has to be seen to be believed.

Ash Wednesday (1973)

This film was notorious for its graphic depiction of plastic surgery. Taylor plays a woman who gets work done in Switzerland in the hopes of saving her marriage. It is considered her last glamor film and doesn’t get discussed much, but it’s an important example of the ways in which her film characters often question and challenge what is expected and unacceptable in society.

The Drive’s Seat (1974)

This film must be seen to be believed. The entire production is pitched high, from Taylor’s acting and voice, to the plot line that involves a woman looking for a man to kill her. She delivers one of her most ramped up performances. The film poses some interesting questions about the rights a person has over his/her life, and even death.

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