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In what sadly became Director George Stevens' final film, Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty fret, fuss and fall head over heels into hateful love in a Las Vegas apartment. Taylor plays weary chorus girl Fran Walker; Beatty is Joe Grady, a lounge rat and compulsive gambler. When the pair meets, their collective mediocrity threatens to overwhelm the relationship. It's all very melodramatic, as is Frank D. Gilroy's play on which he based the script for The Only Game In Town. This thinly plotted digestif is not without its charms, but it ranks far below the career highlights of Taylor, Beatty or Stevens, which include Giant and A Place In The Sun. The Only Game In Town is a comedy with few laughs, a drama with little heft, and a disappointing end to Stevens' career.
Walker sleepwalks through work as a casino chorine before stumbling into one of the Las Vegas strip's fungible lounges for a bite to eat and a glass of red wine. Slumped over the piano, tapping out a lazy rhythm, is Grady, displaying only traces of Beatty's rascally charm. The pair ends up in Walker's apartment, but neither pushes the other into bed. Are these people simply passing the time, lonely and bored? Grady manages to thoroughly offend Walker, who ends her internal battle for self-preservation by asking Grady to carry her to her bedroom. The next morning, Walker shoos Grady out of her apartment, unsure exactly how the pair ended up eating breakfast together at all.
This Twentieth Century Fox production was marketed as a comedy. Watch the jazzy trailer that cuts together unrelated scenes to stage comedy if you don't believe me. The trailer's stinger? Beatty's funny quip about possibly being pregnant. Once you get into the first act, however, it becomes clear that The Only Game In Town is mostly depressing. Walker is in a permanent holding pattern while waiting for her married lover, Thomas Lockwood (Charles Braswell), to divorce his wife. Grady has big dreams of leaving Vegas and moving to New York to improve his musical craft but constantly drains his savings on the tables at Caesars Palace. The pair becomes roommates out of both affection and a need to feel superior to the other. After dropping by unannounced, Lockwood cruelly asks Walker how she got mixed up with a loser like Grady. The jibe is aimed less at Grady than Walker.
Despite its pencil-thin plot, The Only Game In Town is benefited by Gilroy's sharp writing. His script is underwhelming as a whole, but there are moments of sharp wit and social commentary that better recall the Tony and Pulitzer Prize he received around that time for The Subject Was Roses. There's just not enough on the page to support a two-hour movie, and it's hard to like two characters that don't like themselves. The film's most memorable scene - a scene I quite liked - comes when Lockwood attempts to whisk Walker away with him on an extended pre-honeymoon. Walker calls an intoxicated Grady at the lounge, and, as he bumbles on the other end of the line, Walker struggles to control her emotions while Lockwood incessantly interrupts her thoughts from an adjacent room. To quote Jennifer Lawrence from Silver Linings Playbook: "That's a feeling."
Stevens worked with Taylor several times before, but she feels out of place here. I just didn't buy Taylor as a showgirl, no matter how much makeup the filmmakers used to make her look ragged. When Walker accompanies Grady to the casino she appears young and vibrant and driven. At home she is unkempt, but Elizabeth Taylor unkempt circa 1970 isn't exactly how I picture a road-weary casino dancer. It doesn't help that she has little chemistry with Beatty, who alternates between autopilot and subdued method acting. They are more believable as squabbling siblings than lovers, and Grady's uphill battle to convince Walker he loves her is impressed upon viewers by this lack of chemistry. The Only Game In Town ultimately takes on the character of its setting: It superficially sparkles and promises wealth and happiness but underneath it's kind of tired and depressing.
The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer from Twilight Time is rather impressive for the most part. The image is quite grainy, particularly in low light and outdoor scenes, and it (thankfully) appears that neither Fox nor Twilight Time tried to polish the image with noise reduction or edge enhancement. The inside of Walker's apartment is kind of drab, but there are plenty of colors elsewhere, and these appear vibrant and nicely saturated. Stevens uses soft, almost angelic focus for Taylor, whose face positively glows at times. Sharpness improves elsewhere, and there is nice detail and texture to behold in wide shots. Black levels are decent and crush is not obtrusive. There are a few specks and blips on the print but nothing terrible.
The DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix handles this dialogue heavy film with ease. There is a lot of dialogue, and it never sounds tinny or distorted. The score sounds quite rich for a mono mix, and the track handles the few scenes combining dialogue, score and effects nicely. There is also an isolated score track, presented in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
The Only Game In Town is part of Twilight Time's "Limited Edition Series," and, as always, only 3,000 total units were produced. This single-disc release is packed in a standard Blu-ray case and a multi-page booklet with text and photos is tucked inside the case. The only extras are the Isolated Score from Maurice Jarre and the film's theatrical trailer (2:55/SD).
This is not exactly the swan song Director George Stevens deserved, but The Only Game In Town's failures are shared by Frank D. Gilory for an underwhelming script and leads Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty for failing to create convincing on-screen chemistry. This comedy about two Las Vegas losers is mostly depressing, and there isn't enough on screen to warrant a nearly two-hour running time. My advice? Rent It. Since that's not really possible with Twilight Time's limited-edition Blu-rays, fans of the film should feel safe to make a purchase, as the picture and sound quality are good. Others should catch it on another format or watch one of Stevens' better movies instead.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.