Winter Project: Richard Burton

During the winter months of January and February, I like to assign myself a male actor whose filmography I know little about. In the past, that has been Paul Newman, William Holden, Steve McQueen, and Gene Hackman. I’ll read a biography and try to understand the man within the context of his time. This year’s choice is another heavy hitter. One at the top of his game when I was a little girl, so I hardly remember the roles. I’d like to revisit his best films with fresh, older eyes. It’s time to fill in my blind spots and enjoy what made him famous in the first place. Welcome, Richard Burton.

I have seen Richard Burton on stage. In 1980 he was playing in a reprisal of Camelot in Chicago. I was president of our high school thespian troupe, and I will brag I organized the field trip to see him. I knew we were watching a world-renowned celebrity with that melodious voice even if he just stood there and didn’t do much but sing/talk his songs. I wish I could have seen him in the 1960s.

Which movie would you recommend I watch first?

36 thoughts on “Winter Project: Richard Burton

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  1. I always thought he was very good in ‘The Spy Who Came In From The Cold’ (1965). It was good to see him not playing an ‘historical’ character in costume, and also to get a break from his many appearances opposite Elizabeth Taylor.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

  2. “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolff?” could be his greatest performance, as well as “Equus” and Pete;s suggestion. I read the book “Furious Love” about his life with Elizabeth Taylor – a really interesting, insightful book.

    1. Hi John. I was wondering what bio to pick; there are several out there. I have never seen Equus. I’ve seen WAOVW a couple times. I was younger. I bet I will like it more now that I’m in my 50s.

  3. “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolff“ should be on your watchlist along with “Night of the Iguana”. They hark, though, from a different time, and today’s audiences might not well receive them. I would also suggest “The Taming of the Shrew” for its riotous color – both verbal and visual. There is much to enjoy in Burton’s work.

    1. I watched Night of the Iguana a couple years back and even wrote a review on it. I loved it. He was electric and perfectly cast, I thought. I’d happily watch it again. Taming of the Shrew I was in high school. High time I revisited it. I love Shakespeare. Thanks, Allen!

  4. Ooh everyone’s doing the weighty serious roles. Well leave it to me for the flim flam then. Has to be Cleopatra, not because of his acting, which is the best that can be done in that situation, but for the glorious spectacle, and this is where he and Taylor met and fell in love, it’s bloody glorious!

          1. there has been little opportunity until recently, to see it until recently. i was lucky to attend the 2 day
            theatrical screening in 1964, one year before that, i had
            bought a record of the silioqueys from this producion, so was
            thrilled to be able to see and hear the whole show. it remained
            an infuencene throughout mey life, and not always a good one,
            as it led me to think acting was all in the voice, so i never developed the physical skills that are so essential to performance. neither you will see here, did burton. film can conceal the physical
            clumsiness of an actor. theatre cannot. this is why i bacame a singer.
            singing allows one to act with the voice alone. anyway, i wasnt able to see burtons hamlet again until 1998, when
            it became available on vhs. it cost $100 was prohibitive, so i
            found a magazine that would run a review of it, which enabled p
            me to procure a free copy. the whole show is on youtube now, so
            you too can view it without cost.

  5. Despite my objections to the author glamorizing their terrible, self-destructive behavior, a useful book to read would be “Hellraisers” which also tackles Richard Harris, Oliver Reed and Peter O’Toole among others who wasted their talent with drink. Movies to see would be (in order of performance accomplishment) “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold”, “Staircase”, “Under Milk Wood”, “Look Back in Anger” and “1984”.

    1. Hi Chandler, thanks for your recommendation. I don’t know I missed watching 1984 (Oh, yeah, I was in the Navy and stationed overseas) and look forward to watching it. From your list, I have only seen the first one and that was decades ago. I appreciate your comment. 🙂

  6. for his early pictures, you cant go wrong with Look Back in Anger. for a curiousity piece, try Dr Faustus, which he and liz made with a college drama group and was released as horror exploitation to the drive ins…but the script is true to marllowe.

  7. He had such a wonderful voice…listen to him reading ‘Under Milk Wood’…. As for films, I would suggest the very corrosive ‘who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolff’, and I did really enjoy The Spy who Came in from the Cold’…..

    1. Welcome! I will look up your suggestion. I love his voice–I suppose everyone did. What a “manly” voice. He had a beautiful face, too. Those lips….
      I can’t wait to revisit WAVW–I haven’t seen it in twenty years. I’m sure it will make me feel good about my own marriage. 😉 Everyone has been suggesting The Spy. I think I will watch it first. I’ve obviously missed a great film.
      Thank you for commenting!

  8. I missed most of Burton’s work cuz I was a kid and most of his movies were Adult fare.
    My folks had Camelot with Burton and Julie Andrews and we knew every song by heart. Burton didn’t have a good singing voice of course but his incredible projection and voice carried it all through.
    I always thought Becket was great along with Peter O’Toole (my favorite Actor of all time).
    I like Alexander the Great though no movie yet has done the subject matter justice. Possibly not possible.
    My advice is very limited I fear.

    1. Hi JC. Nonsense. I appreciate your sharing your memories of RB. Becket is probably one of his better performances, but there’s too many for me to see to be certain. I loved Burton and Andrews (her voice, oh, my!) version. Hmm. But, I remember watching the 1967 film version with Richard Harris and Vanessa Redgrave more times than listening to the broadway record. I was in the musical in high school; the musical/film has a special place in my heart. 🙂

  9. Ah, the mercurial Burton! Sadly, by the time you saw him on the stage he had become a shadow of his former self. Still, you got to see him and that’s cool beyond words! Anyhow, I think he was an erratic film actor: brilliant in some movies (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), almost unwatchable in a bunch of bad films (The Klansman). I look forward to reading your thoughts.

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