There ain’t nothin’ like a Dame Elizabeth Taylor performance with a Sir Michael Caine…
An unhappily married architect starts an affair with a younger woman, with his wife hell bent on breaking them up.
X Y and Zee Trailer, A Stolen Paradise AND PHOTOS © Columbia Pictures
Let’s go back to the swinging seventies with X, Y and Zee (1972) (also known as Zee & Co) starring the lovely Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Caine and Susannah York. I’d seen the trailer for this movie and then added it to the to watch pile. I was intrigued by the casting of Caine’s character at the centre of a love triangle. This with a glamorous looking Elizabeth Taylor as his wife and Seventies British totty Susannah York as his mistress.
I then received a personal invite from Crystal to join her Elizabeth Taylor blogathon, so instead of plonking for Father of the Bride (1950), I decided on this movie. The former film would have followed up my review last year of the film’s sequel… Father’s Little Dividend (1951). But the latter film swung it easily, with Caine as her leading man.
As you know I’m a sucker for Michael Caine, in all his movies… good such as The Fourth Protocol (1987) and Surrender (1987) and
bad the guilty pleasures, such as The Swarm (1978) and The Hand (1981). In fact, I love Caine so much that I’m holding a blogathon celebrating his illustrious career with all things and films this March. So in a wee shameless plug, CLICK HERE for more details.
X, Y and Zee‘s film credits have a seventies instrumental ditty. The theme, Going in Circles immediately transports you back to then, I loved this tune despite its kinda haunting, wistful feel. As the credits roll, we watch our photogenically lovely leading stars, Caine and Taylor, playing a game of table tennis until the opening scene.
If this is uncut footage – and if it’s really them – I must say is a pretty impressive rally between the film stars. The music is at times punctuated with them laughing which kind of makes it eerie and makes this scene almost ominous. After the game – which she wins triumphantly – we meet Robert (Caine) and Zee (Taylor) Blakeley, a passionate married couple.
The Blakeleys still appear to have fun with each other. They finish their ping-pong game, and he chases her to the bedroom with his bat still in his hand. There the music tone changes dramatically.
The music is now as loud and abrasive as her frock, as the married pair get ready to go to a party, and their passionate side continues. They have a few wee niggles with each other, him chiding her on her awful musical taste, and her on his fashion sense.
On attending the party, there’s the 1970s band – as in Dracula A.D.1972 (1972) – this time with sitar music hanging out with the guests. Zee hangs out with Gordon (John Standing), her bitchy hairdresser friend. Meanwhile, Robert charms the hostess, Gladys (Margaret Leighton in a wig).
A young lady in a silk frock, Stella (York) catches Robert’s eye. And with Robert making his move on the pretty blonde, he gives his best 1970s patter (which admittedly I would fall for too). Stella tells Robert she owns a boutique and designs dresses, unlike his stay at home, high maintenance wife.
Zee spying on the couple with Gordon. After observing their body language and easy rapport, she is immediately riled. Zee joins them, and with a few snidey comments, she almost blatantly makes claim to her man. As she prattles on, it is obvious there is a strong attraction between her husband and Stella.
Zee notices their chemistry, is jealous and starts making snidey comments about her husband. She joins them when Stella watches him play snooker. Stella tells Zee of her husband being away and then leaves abruptly. Robert follows Stella and asks her out for dinner. She accepts.
After more of those smooth chat up lines from Robert, the pair kiss. Stella and Robert embark on an affair. It is revealed Stella is actually a widow with twin boys. Zee visits her love rival’s boutique and makes bitchy comments, as she infers she is aware of Stella’s relationship with her husband.
Zee tells Stella, without acknowledging their affair, about how her husband enjoys her attributes over those seen in others. She adds that this is not the first time he’s had a fling. These scenes have a young pre-Eastenders Michael Cashman in a blink and miss it appearance.
At home, Robert and Zee are revealed to have a tumultuous, stormy and volatile relationship. This involves lots of fights, of both verbal and physical kinds. She taunts him with her many affairs, just to get a rise from him. She then adopts a manipulative and childish voice to smooth things over.
He in turn is quite horrible to her, is also a philanderer and it almost seems he is hoping to anger her so much that she will leave him. Zee leaves him and heads for Spain for a few days (as it appears it is her norm after these fights), in what Roger Ebert describes as one of many great “suitcase packing scenes” from this film.
Caine’s Robert immediately spends time with Stella and appears genuinely smitten with this more docile, accepting woman. He meets Stella’s sons and has an instant rapport with her children. He makes plans to have Stella over for dinner while Zee is away.
However, on the night in question, Zee returns home unexpectedly. After making up with Robert, the doorbell rings.. signalling Stella’s arrival…and the rest of the film – including Stella’s secret can be found in the usual way!
The film casting is wonderful, with Elizabeth Taylor regally taking the centre of the storyline and stealing every scene she is in with this unpredictable, loud and unlikable character. She made Zee almost sympathetic as she fought almost claws out to keep her husband in the opening scenes.
However it became apparent the Blakeleys had an obviously dysfunctional relationship which almost thrived on them making each other unhappy, but then making up just as oddly (in one scene he ties her up during a fight).
Taylor made Zee a multi-layered character. She appeared vulnerable but then attention seeking. Then sweet. She also appeared vicious, superficially friendly and bitchy. Along with a loving yet spiteful wife.
To complement her character, Taylor had a wonderful selection of loud, brightly coloured seventies kaftans. These looked fabulous on her then more curvaceous figure. Although her headgear is almost questionable. At one time with what looked like in Darlin Husband’s words “a cavalier hat” on one occasion. Also, she wore some pendant like head jewellery on another. These combined with vampy makeup, which reminded me of her Cleopatra (1963) role made her character.
The full effect couldn’t be more strikingly opposite to her love rival Stella. Stella, in turn, had kind of the Twiggy look of the late sixties and quite waify compared to Taylor. York sports a seventies shag cut and is quite modestly and simply dressed in comparison.
Caine, in his late thirties, was a seventies man about town personified with his almost endearing, cool wardrobe of chunky jumpers, a tux and his trademark seventies spectacles. He looked lovely, but despite this, his character was a bit of a cad. Robert was seen as a man who obviously hoped to go for quiet unassuming agreeable mistresses. Those who didn’t challenge him. These women therefore the complete opposite of his psychologically and emotionally demanding wife.
His character appeared cold and quite happy to string along with all the women in his life as it suited him when it suited him. But when they proved more challenging to him, losing interest. However, he was easily manipulated by Zee’s behaviour and appeared quite turned on by it.
I found myself looking for a character arc in this trio of characters, but sadly there was nothing to redeem any of them. As I got to know the characters they all became more despicable, selfish and manipulative.
By the end, you felt that the Going in Circles title track was just how this couple survived as a couple, not caring just who they hurt in the process as they’d return to each other always. The same unending loop of events recurred as they fought and made up.
Robert brings in a lover for almost some respite from each other before returning to his odd marriage. And then this married pair would taunt each other with it in words or by flaunting their relationship to get a rise out of each other.
In contrast to this on-screen relationship, it appears the off-set friendship between Caine and Taylor was a very amicable one. His memoirs recall them joking about their height difference (she had to stand on boxes to be the same height as Caine).
Caine also told of the never-ending jug of Bloody Mary on set and of their first meeting. This was complete with the presence of her then-husband Richard Burton and their large entourage, which reportedly filled three limousines.
After the final scene, the relevance of the opening ping-pong game scene is apparent. It demonstrates Zee’s favourite game, mirroring her love for psychological games where she batters Robert in a rally of verbal insults, and where she has the upper hand. Her role was reminiscent of her role as Virginia Woolf with her 1966 off-screen husband, Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966).
In this latter film, she is seen in a similar volatile relationship in X. Y and Zee with Caine, much more watchable. As to be honest that former film was uncomfortable to watch (for me) as soon as the couple bickered, as all on-screen, and off-screen couples do in fight scenes. But here, demonstrating that hell has no fury as a wife scorned, it really was a case of who’s afraid of Zee Blakeley?
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
This film review was added to In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood‘s Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon. Other film reviews on this site include Michael Caine in Surrender, The Swarm, Dressed to Kill, The Hand, Bullseye, The Prestige and more. Susannah York appears in Superman and Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Father’s Little Dividend. She is also written about in this book, Elizabeth and Monty. John Standing in The Eagle Has Landed and The Legacy.