Married couple Zee (Elizabeth Taylor) and Robert (Michael Caine) are preparing to go out to a party held by one of their friends, Gladys (Margaret Leighton), but as usual their tempers are running high as they delight in aggravating each other. Robert would appear to be the more reasonable of the two, with his wife a garrulous, hot-blooded kind of woman who likes nothing more than being in control of her husband even if it makes him msierable - no, especially if it makes him miserable. It's not surprising he starts looking elsewhere for female company...
This was what British movies took to be a film for adults back in 1972, where frank dialogue, some of it strong language, was the order of the day to make the audience think they were watching something truly daring. Or maybe not, as most laughed this off the screen as if it were depicting a string of tantrums staged by people old enough and wise enough to know better, except that after a while this cinematic trainwreck did begin to appeal in its odd, daft way. It helped that Taylor was well into her series of movies that largely attracted lovers of sheer camp, and for those fans this was the crowning achievement of that period.
Subtlety was not on the agenda here as our leading lady tackled the plot as a bull in a china shop might tackle a dinner service, leaving the characters looking as if they'd been through a particularly rough time, not least the most sensitive member of the cast, Stella (Susannah York). It's love at first sight the moment Robert sets his eyes on her, so hoping for a brief fling as a breather from his tumultuous home life he chats her up and though she is sceptical at first, seeing through his lines, she allows herself to succumb to his charms. Almost immediately Zee has worked out what is going on and begun her machinations to bring down Stella's house of cards.
Stella is a young widow with twin sons at boarding school, runs a boutique and as Zee observes with spite, "Sees beauty in everything - especially SHIT!", making her fair game in both Robert and his wife's view, though with different aims in what they want to do with her. Taylor is fairly unbelievable here, not so much a force of nature as a human tornado, firing off dubious anecdotes (check out the one about the woman who breastfed her twins) and spitting out her lines like venom. Although to be fair Caine has his share of ridiculous moments as well, applying the raised voice to his dialogue on more than one occasion and even getting his own dubious anecdote about a "vicious" pet hamster.
Frankly it was bizarre, and it only continued in that fashion right up to the now semi-notorious ending where Zee takes her revenge at being abandoned by her spouse, a denouement that has its seeds sown the moment Stella admits she was thrown out of school for getting up to hanky panky with one of the nuns. Before that, it's true that the over the top melodrama does grow exhausting, and as if to acknowledge that director Brian G. Hutton (best known for that similarly touching relationship portrait Where Eagles Dare) and writer Edna O'Brien (adapting her own story with farcial results) dial down the histrionics in the second half as Zee almost goes too far. It's merely a hiatus before more yelling, of course, and Taylor, dressed in what look like voluminous sheets, playing blaring rock at every opportunity, drinking like a fish and bitching as if it were going out of fashion, would have made a memorable horror movie monster if we were not intended to be moved by the characters' plight. Which we are, if laughing counts as being moved. Music by Stanley Myers.