Wednesday" is a soapy melodrama that isn't much good as a movie but
may be interesting to some audiences all the same. It's about how a 50ish wife (Elizabeth
Taylor), her marriage threatened by a younger woman, has a
face-lift in order to keep her husband. It doesn't work, but
she gets a nice winter in a ski resort out of it and an affair with
The movie opens with clinical precision; a famous plastic surgeon
explains his techniques to Miss Taylor as we see them being carried
out. He outlines the areas of skin to be removed, and her face
looks almost like one of those butcher's, charts with all the cuts
marked. Then he begins, with scalpel and needle, and when he
has finished and she finally gets the bandages off, voila! She looks
as good as
It's quite an improvement, because when the movie opens, she looks
pretty bad. It must have taken some measure of courage for
Taylor to allow herself to be made up and photographed so
unattractively; maybe she got a double-reverse kick, though, out of
knowing that she's so beautiful she has to be made up to look dowdy.
And she is beautiful, which is what the movie's about, in a way.
There are lots of close-ups in which she's frankly vain as she
examines her face with delight; that face is a national treasure by
now, and we can't help supporting any measures to preserve it.
Most of the movie takes place at an expensive resort, where she goes
to await the arrival of her husband (Henry
Fonda). She hasn't told him about the face-lift: "At
first," she says, "I didn't say anything because I was afraid it
would seem like a silly thing to have done." A pause, and then: "Now
my only regret is that I didn't do it years ago." Her husband is
delayed in Washington on "business," which is part business and
partly an affair he's having with a girl younger then their
daughter. Taylor carries on a flirtation with Helmut Berger,
mostly to test her new attractiveness, and eventually they make
love. The fact that this affair takes about half an hour to
develop, and requires yards of schmaltzy Maurice Jarre music to
consummate adds little to its interest.
The whole movie, indeed, feels longer than it is. It's 15
minutes short of two hours, and still it takes forever to be over.
The problem is that not enough happens; she waits at the resort, she
drinks, she eats, she meets her daughter for a tearful lunch, she
talks with a friendly fashion photographer, she waits, she has the
affair, she waits, sighs, telephones, looks at herself and models
the Edith Head wardrobe. It's all so slight.
And yet, as I suggested, the movie may interest some audiences.
Elizabeth Taylor's magnitude lead lives so public and famous
that the details of their beauty become important to millions of
people. Has she really had a face-lift? Does she need one?
It's that kind of off-screen gossip that gives "Ash Wednesday" a
sort of separate reality. The movie's story is not really very
interesting, but we're intrigued because the star is Taylor.
Weak as the role is, she was nevertheless just about the inevitable
choice to play it. The unofficial crown for most beautiful
woman in the world gets passed around a lot; one year it's Ursula
Andress, then it's Candice Bergen, then
Catherine Deneuve. But Taylor has won it so many times she
ought to get possession. She's 40 or 41 now, and yet she looks
great. There's a kind of voyeuristic sensuality in watching
her look at herself in the mirror (which she spends no end of time
Elizabeth Taylor, it's not vain to appraise your beauty, just as
if someone's really after you, you're not paranoid. Maybe the
fundamental problem with the movie is that we can't quite believe
any man would leave
Elizabeth Taylor. It's a good thing we never see
Henry Fonda's bimbo, because if we did, we wouldn't be
convinced. It's the same problem that sunk "Ryan's Daughter":
What woman would leave
Robert Mitchum for...Christopher Jones? And the final
confrontation between Taylor and Fonda is stiff and unconvincing;
the movie has really been about the woman, not about the marriage,
and Fonda doesn't so much interact with her as recite an
announcement of termination. We can't buy it.
The movie's title was inspired, I guess, by the Catholic practice of
wearing a smudge of ash on your face on Ash Wednesday as a reminder
of man's inescapable mortality. In Taylor's case, however,
mortality has at least temporarily been held at bay. For that,
we can all be thankful—and she, I'll bet, most of all.