Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
Liz Taylor succeeds in acting her age
Cleveland Press December 28, 1973
"Ash Wednesday" is playing here. Romantic drama; adults, older teens. In the cast are Elizabeth Taylor, Keith Baxter, Henry Fonda and Helmut Berger. Running time: 99 minutes.
Blessed are the poor for they do not have the problems of the rich, at least not the problems that the rich have in the movies.
"Ash Wednesday" is a movies about a fiftyish woman who tries to regain her youth via plastic surgery, the trauma that follows and her attempts to use her restored beauty to save a floundering marriage.
Elizabeth Taylor plays the before and after roles, made up to look lined and puffy for the before situation and appearing as Elizabeth Taylor for the after situation.
It's a slimmed down Liz Taylor and she hasn't looked this good in years. Her acting differs from recent films as well, restrained rather than strident.
The setting is a luxury clinic in the mountains of Northern Italy where the well-heeled aging go to be restructured by a plastic surgeon. An honest to gosh plastic surgeon who runs such a setup is credited with being technical advisor.
For those who can stomach it, the early part of the movie is cut by cut, stitch by stitch enactment of the surgery. The incisions are made, the fat taken out (chicken fat, according to the publicity), the skin stretched smooth and the whole thing sewn up.
Some of the folks are regulars at the clinic. "I come every now and then for a touch up," explains Keith Baxter as a vain fashion photographer she meets.
In spite of the suds there is an occasional line of sharp dialog, most of it given to Baxter who urges the refurbished Miss Taylor to shed her old fashions as she has her skin.
"You're one of us now," he says in a line that could come from a horror movie (in keeping with those early scenes) and for a time you have the lingering feeling that someone's face is going to fall.
Mostly the picture is structured along soap opera lines. If there is anything to be said about middle-aged trauma it finds no voice in this film.
Instead we follow Miss Taylor to a nearby jet-set resort, observe her making her choices in fashion salons, agonize over how she should do her hair and observe as she walks through lobby and dining room as heads turn to observe this new beauty.
One of the heads belongs to a young man (Helmut Berger) who tries to pick up Miss Taylor.
Along about the end of the movie husband Henry Fonda arrives, is suitable amazed at he transformation but not amazed enough.
She points out that she did it all for him and doesn't she now look like the girl he married?
"You always have," he replies in an explanation that a man would understand but which a woman, frightened by middle age, might miss.