Under Milk Wood (1972)

vlcsnap2011040223h57m41From the play by Dylan Thomas, “Under Milk Wood” examines not only a colorful array of individuals that pepper the town of Llareggub, a small but flourishing village of people who scheme, gossip, and co-habituate among one another in this village of oddballs and eccentrics. The well-acted piece closely resembles Thomas’ play in which often times we pan through the rooms over and over exploring these villagers. The film, set in different locales, doesn’t really have much of a focus, instead we explore each villager over and over and, surely, this is that experimental art film that movie-goers fear intently. It’s often times very whimsical with Richard Burton who pulls in a good performance as the narrator exposing the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the town folks through his serene storytelling.

We constantly go from room to room and while this has no central focus we find it bears less of a character and more of a narrative as the whole town becomes the character of the film. And with the often lush directing and mellow narration courtesy of Burton, who along with his friend constantly walk around the town examining the locals and then the film jumps over to Peter O’Toole, an old blind man who is haunted by the memories of his past loves and friends whom were killed during his sailing days. The film boasts of having the talents of Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and Elizabeth Taylor on the marquee, even highlighting them on the DVD, but each of them hardly have a considerable part in the film. Richard Burton only has the real role and then disappears halfway through the first act, Peter O’Toole only has one sequence and then he’s never heard from again, and Elizabeth Taylor has three very brief ten second scenes that hardly make up what I would call a role otherwise making this really disappointing.

Aside from that fact, this does eventually become repetitive with the same scenes being re-done again and again and it becomes dull during the climax failing to add any spice to the story. O’ Toole is a real marvel as a blind sailor who knows the town by heart, and can often explain to the audience what will happen to each individual as he hears it and can single out a voice or noise as it happens. O’Toole has, by far, the biggest role of the trio featured on the DVD cover, and perhaps the most effective of the three and of the entire film. He knows the town, he’s the unnoticed heart of the town who watches from his window and really presents the towns folks with a zest and familiarity that many of us can relate to.

Director Sinclair succeeds in painting an entertaining and beautiful picture of this small town and how everyone in it plays their own part. There are also some subtle and incredibly surreal examinations of the folks in it that really never stops moving. Thomas examines the small town and creates some truly deep individuals. Some with unfulfilled dreams and desires, others with goals they can never reach, others with sins and grievances, and others whom are haunted by their dead past, meanwhile we’re left with the odd ending that the cycle of oddities never ends and I was entertained. Though repetitive and really never owning up to the promise of the star power of Taylor, Burton, and O’ Toole, this does end up becoming a truly entertaining portrait of a colorful town intended solely for the fans of Thomas and for those of intelligent character studies.