There's acting and then there's ACTING. Elizabeth Taylor fits the second kind. She has given some of the best screen performances of all time. Even if the film itself might be underwhelming, you can always count on Liz to bring her A game. In honor of Liz's birthday, here is my top ten list of my favorite of her performances, starting at No. 10.
10.) Laura Reynolds (THE SANDPIPER) Even though she is helped out by the gorgeous cinematography of Big Sur in the background, Liz still gives a vibrant performance as Laura Reynolds, the free spirited unwed mother who has an affair with a priest (Richard Burton).
9.) Gloria Wandrous (BUTTERFIELD 8) Liz won her first Best Actress Oscar by playing the wonderfully named Gloria Wandrous, a call girl who is on the prowl. Not really Liz's strongest effort and not really Oscar worthy, but once again because it's Liz, she manages to give a credible performance that in other hands would have come out disastrous.
8.) Susanna Drake (RAINTREE COUNTY) In this much maligned film, almost everyone agrees Liz is the one bright spot with her strong performance as Susanna, a southern belle during the Civil War with some serious issues.
7.) Katharina (THE TAMING OF THE SHREW) Liz gets to let loose in this film adaptation of Shakespeare's play as Katharina, who is one volatile woman that only one man has a chance against. It's perfect casting that said man would be Liz's real life husband (Richard Burton).
6.) Angela Vickers (A PLACE IN THE SUN) One of Liz's first transition roles from child star to adult and she is perfect as the young woman who falls in love with blue collar George Eastman (Montgomery Clift).
5.) Catherine Holly (SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER) Paired with the legendary Katherine Hepburn, Liz more than holds her own as the young woman who has been traumatized by a serious incident. Also starred Montgomerty Clift again, following up their work in A Place In The Sun. Liz gives one of her best performances ever.
4.) Zee Blakeley (X,Y, and Z) While the movie may be at times weird and flat, you can always count on Liz to provide some spark. She is in full venomous mode here as the wife of Michael Caine, who constantly dogs him from the beginning to the end. Their verbal sparring is worthy of Liz's classic screen confrontations with Burton. And what Liz does to the emotionally stressed out Susannah York at the finale is truly despicable. But still you kind of root for Liz no matter what she does. Now that's acting.
3.) Leslie Benedict (GIANT) Liz's first grand epic and she delivers as Leslie, a farmer's daughter who falls in love with Rock Hudson and their life together unfolds over the three hour running time. Solid performance by Liz once again. And her scenes with James Dean are very good.
2.) Maggie Pollitt (CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF) As Maggie the Cat, Liz is stunningly beautiful and gives another great performance alongside Paul Newman, Burl Ives, and Jack Carson. And while I think this is her second best performance ever, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is my favorite film of hers.
And finally my favorite Liz Taylor film performance is......
1.) Martha (WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?) Whoa Nellie! Liz and Dick are at it again. As a middle age couple who are in constant arguments over everything. Liz is a powerhouse here and deserved her second Best Actress Oscar as Martha. She is relentless and never stops. This is ACTING 101 people. One of the very best film performances I have ever seen by anyone and Liz's best ever.