|One of the great Taylor performances: Elizabeth as Zee Blakely|
|Zee (Elizabeth Taylor) and Robert (Michael Caine)|
In fact, X, Y and Zee (1972) is somewhat like a London mod version of Virginia Woolf in psychedelic technicolor, a portrait of a crumbling marriage, with the handsome and talented Michael Caine standing in for Richard Burton in the George-like role of Zee’s passive-aggressive husband. When Robert (Caine) begins a surreptitious affair with Stella (Susannah York), you-know-who finds out and an ugly game of cat and mouse begins, culminating in hurt feelings, high drama and sweet revenge.
|Stella (Susannah York) tolerates Zee's antics|
York and Caine underplay admirably as the adulterous lovers. Caine’s qualms about abandoning his marriage foreshadow his comic Oscar-winning turn as the adulterer in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters two decades later. And as the hard-to-read, sexually confused Stella, Susannah York pays homage to one of her own iconic roles, the lesbian love interest in The Killing of Sister George.
Zee and Robert, or George and Martha?
|Robert loses his patience|
But, of course, the film belongs to Elizabeth Taylor as Zee, a heightened version of a woman scorned. Zee is mean, nasty, vicious, domineering, childish--a replay of Martha but with an even greater measure of madness. No one plays bonkers like Taylor, as fans of films like Night Watch, Raintree County and Suddenly Last Summer can attest…and as Zee Blakely, she pulls out all the stops. Truly, as the aptly named title character, she runs the gamut of emotions from A to Zed.
|Zee makes some noise|
|Zee and Gordon (John Standing)|
|Stella, Robert and Gladys (Margaret Leighton–not Audra Lindley)|
Obviously glorying in cinema’s newfound freedom since the abolition of the production code and establishment of a movie rating system, director Brian G. Hutton goes out of his way to make sure X, Y and Zee is hip and (to use the vernacular of the day) “with it”. The language is frank and salty. Hutton takes pains to capture the mood of the early 70s zeitgeist—the hedonistic fervor of the sexual revolution in full swing and burgeoning “Me” decade—particularly in the party scene at the beginning of the film hosted by an eccentric socialite (a marvelous cameo by English theater veteran Margaret Leighton) . This is also one of the first films to use the character of a flagrantly gay confidante (John Standing) to move the plot forward and provide exposition. But alas, Zee, an equal opportunity psychotic, is as nasty to him as she is to everyone else she comes in contact with.