Under Milk Wood

1971, Movie, PG, 90 mins

Review

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All things considered, this is a fairly good adaptation of an impossible play to adapt. Dylan Thomas wrote it as a "play for voices" for the BBC. It was later done on the stage, and then this film was made mainly because Burton, Taylor, and O'Toole (a former classmate of the screenwriter-director) agreed to work for little money and large points in the profits. (There were none.) Burton is a voice-over and occasional on-screen character who keeps matters moving in the episodic tale of a day or so in the lives of the people in the town of Llareggub, a Welsh village by the sea. It's night, and blind O'Toole (with the help of heavy makeup and trick contact lenses) is telling Burton about his life. O'Toole is a retired sea captain who fondly recalls old pals who went to the bottom. He also remembers Taylor, a whore who was his one and only love. Johns and Spinetti are two store owners who dream of each other and the sex that has never happened between them. Cut to Phillips, a twice widowed woman who orders her two late husbands, Owen and Davies, to do the housework. The evening slides by and dawn is on the horizon. While the local reverend, Richards, offers his morning prayer, the baker, Dudley Jones, runs to his shop to sell his wares, and the postman, Wylton, begins his daily stroll. The day wears on, and mild-mannered Thomas happily contemplates using poison to still the tongue of his shrewish wife Merchant; the meat vendor, Hubert Rees, teases his spouse, and more and more. O'Toole is blind as a bat, but he senses what's happening around him and continues his talk with Burton while Forrest chases after Rees' daughter Olwen Rees. Smith begins drinking to forget his late wife, and the reverend works on his nightly song of praise. Phillips begins to dream about her late husbands as the night comes, and Smith sleeps with Beach as she mourns her late lover. Burton's sonorous voice permeates the screen and brings the Dylan Thomas words to rich, rewarding life. Nobody went to see the movie and it remains a curiosity piece that was made almost as a "vanity" movie by the stars and the hordes of nonprofessionals recruited from the Gwaun Valley of Wales. It's doubtful that anyone thought it would be a large commercial hit, but they wanted to commit the Thomas play to the screen, and for that we must be thankful. Burton also recorded the play on a Westminster Records album. leave a comment

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