As all true John Waters fanatics know, the Pope of Trash’s favorite film of all time is Boom! director Joseph Losey’s utterly preposterous adaptation of Tennessee 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! Waters described the film to Robert K. Elder in his book The Best Film You’ve Never Seen: 35 Directors Champion the Forgotten or Critically Savaged Movies They Love as “beyond bad. It’s the other side of camp. It’s beautiful, atrocious, and it’s perfect. It’s a perfect movie, really, and I never tire of it.” You’ll notice that he doesn’t say that it’s good. And he’s right, it is beyond bad. Wow. Boom! is in a category by itself, even among films starring Liz and Dick when they were shitfaced, okay?
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 (“married to five industrial kings!”), 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 relieve them of their personal possessions. 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 literally hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of Bulgari 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).
Burton arrives on her island and is nearly ripped apart by a pack of 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! Why not? 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 of “boiled sea monster”—carried on the shoulders of one of her servants and shouting “HOO HOO SISSY!” as he arrives—and gives her all the hot gossip on Burton/Flanders, who he thinks is a gigolo and warns her of his “angel of death” reputation. (It’s worth noting that the role of the “the Witch of Capri” was originally offered to Katherine Hepburn who was insulted and turned it down.)
Director Losey admitted 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 whatsoever of making. Odds are strong that Boom! is one of them!
John Waters used to tour with Boom! screening the sole existing print of the film available during his lectures. He told Vice:
[Tennessee Williams] said it was the best film ever made. Which to this day only he and I can agree on. He’s right though. The play was called The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, but that was too long to put on the marquee so they called the film Boom!, which is the sound of a bomb going off—ironic, considering how hard it bombed.
It’s so awful it’s perfect. My favorite bit is when Elizabeth Taylor pukes into a handkerchief, looks down and there’s blood, and she says, “Ah! A paper rose!” The script is ridiculous. Come on, it’s about the richest woman in the world, called “Sissy Goforth,” and the Angel of Death. Maybe everyone does need an angel of death who comes to them when they die and so what if your angel of death steals something from you.
The point is, it’s a staggering movie and it’s worth seeing it with a live audience because you just don’t know how to react at the beginning. You think, What is the tone of this? That’s the thing that is so bizarre. Apparently Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were drunk for the whole time they were filming it. Elizabeth Taylor kept wanting to buy the set and it had a roof and they had to tell her it wasn’t real. She wanted to live there and they had to say, “We’re making a movie! This isn’t a real house!”
I remember I met Elizabeth Taylor and the first thing I said is, “I loved Boom!” and she got real mad and shouted, “That’s a terrible movie!” And I said “It isn’t! I love that movie! I tour with it at festivals!” Then she realized I was serious. Because it is a great movie. I feel like if you don’t agree with that I hate you. If you don’t like Boom! I could never be your friend. Right now I live by the water and every time I see a wave hit a rock I shout, “Boom!” like Richard Burton.
Watch ‘Boom!’ after the jump…