As all true John Waters fanatics know, the Pope of Trash’s favorite film of all time is Boom! director Joseph Losey’s preposterous adaptation of Tennesse Williams’ 1963 play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore. Waters considers Boom! a bit of a litmus test: He’ll show it to friends and if someone doesn’t like it, he won’t talk to them anymore. Seems a bit much, but he’s John Waters and I respect that!
Boom! reveals itself as a cinematic atrocity almost from the film’s very first frames—not that this is a bad thing, mind you. A clearly drunk—and I do mean clearly drunk, okay?—Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton star, respectively, as Sissy Goforth, the richest woman in the world, and Chris Flanders, a penniless poet who has the uncanny knack for showing up just when some rich lady is about to kick the bucket, ready to relief them of their personal possesions. We know this because Flanders’ nickname is “The Angel of Death.”
When we meet her, La Taylor is seen swanning about her private island wearing insanely elaborate Karl Lagerfeld clothes and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Bugari jewels. She is attended to by fawning servants (including a surly dwarf!) as she dictates her memoirs and asks for constant “injections” for her pain (as if she could feel any due to all the booze and prescription painkillers she was on, but I digress).
Burton arrives on her island and is nearly ripped apart by a pack of her guard dogs. She asks him to stay and offers him a change of clothes, which includes a Samurai sword which he sports—inexplicably—for much of the film. They spend much of their screen time engaged in (obviously) drunken screaming matches. It’s AWESOME!
At one point, Noel Coward (as “The Witch of Capri”) shows up for a dinner party—carried on the shoulders of one of her servants—and gives her the goss on Burton/Flanders, who he thinks is a gigolo and warns her of his “angel of death” reputation. (Worth noting that the role of the “Witch” was originally offered to Katherine Hepburn who was insulted and turned it down).
In one bio of director Losey, he admits that all the principals on Boom!—including himself—were shitfaced drunk for the entire filming. Burton later fessed up that there were several films he made in the 60s that he literally had no memory of making. Odds are this is one of them!
Boom! wasn’t even released on VHS until 2000 and it’s never been put out on DVD (except for a recent Region 2 release in the Netherlands). Very occasionally you might see it on TV. Next time it’s on, grab yourself some herbal “entertainment insurance,” invite a few friends over and gorge yourself on the glorious, gorgeous mess that is Boom!
And if you don’t believe me, here’s what John Waters has to say about the film:
John Waters Presents “Boom!” (excerpt from “Crackpot”)
Joseph Losey’s Boom! (1968) great article from Cinebeats website