Cast & Crew
Brian G. Hutton
In London, architect Robert Blakeley and his mercurial wife Zee attend a swank party where Robert is attracted to Stella, a pretty young widow and dress designer. Immediately suspicious of Robert's interest, Zee intrudes on the pair to make sarcastic remarks. Although maintaining a calm exterior, Stella is disturbed both by Robert's overt attraction to her and Zee's caustic observations, and bolts for the bathroom to weep. Robert follows to ask for a date and the couple meets the following evening. Amused by but also wary of Robert's intensity, Stella obliquely asks about his relationship with Zee, which Robert describes as "false." Soon after, Robert and Stella become lovers. Disturbed by the fervor of Robert's infatuation, Zee visits Stella's boutique where she boldly declares that her husband prefers earthy, well-rounded figures like Zee's and that she and Robert have always been extraordinarily close. Stella remains unflustered by Zee's bombastic verbal assault and even agrees to her demand to sell her a dress made for another customer. Over several weeks, Robert and Stella continue their affair and when at home with Zee, Robert endures her continual mocking and baiting. When Zee reminds Robert that she is fully aware of his numerous affairs with secretaries in his office and that Stella is no different, Robert tells her to find a lover and leave him in peace. Undaunted, Zee points out that Robert has long been attracted to her impulsive, reckless nature, something which the sedate Stella lacks. After Zee hints that she had a brief fling with her physician that very afternoon, she is pleased when Robert responds with angry jealousy, then theatrically announces that she is going to Spain to rest. Robert spends the next evening with Stella and meets her nine-year-old twin sons Oscar and Shaun, on brief holiday from school. Confident that Zee will be in Spain, Robert invites Stella to his flat the following evening for a romantic dinner. The next afternoon at work, however, Robert is furious when his mousy young secretary Rita announces that Zee is waiting in the front office and expecting Robert to drive her home. Indignant that Zee has spent so much money to fly to Spain and back for a single night, Robert chastises her, but Zee complains that the weather was cold and wet. When Robert makes several attempts to invite Zee to dine at a restaurant, she insists on returning home. Upon finding their maid has left a dinner set-up for two and a note about Stella, Zee gleefully ridicules Robert, then boisterously welcomes the startled Stella moments later. Hoping to dull Zee's barbed attacks, Robert finally suggests they dine out, but when Zee continues her derision of Stella at the restaurant, an exasperated Robert leaves. Although Stella is amused by Robert's departure, Zee is surprised and for a few moments the women speak candidly. Zee observes they might have been friends in another situation, but Stella states she is not who she appears and admits she was expelled from school when younger. A few nights later, Robert goes over the household bills in rising frustration while Zee casually dresses for a party. Angered, Robert binds Zee's hands behind her and forces her to sit with him in the office to discuss their finances. When Zee maintains her usual taunting response, he grows livid, but cannot resist Zee's manipulations and eventually the couple makes love. Soon after, Zee meets with her homosexual friend Gordon to express concern that Robert may truly be in love with Stella. Scorning Stella's sensitivity and guilelessness, Zee asks Gordon to help her dig up information to use against Stella. When Gordon notes her callousness, Zee claims she can do whatever necessary to protect her relationship with Robert. Disgruntled by Gordon's hesitation, Zee drives to Stella's flat and throws garbage cans against the wall and is satisfied when Robert peers down at her angrily. Distressed, Stella admits to Robert that she is afraid of Zee's obsessive nature and wonders if the couple will ever find peace. To soothe her, Robert offers to take her to Scotland and the couple depart the next day. The night after a wonderful day alone together, however, the couple receives a phone call from Gordon reporting that Zee has been in a car accident. Dismayed and wondering how Zee knew where he and Stella were, Robert promises Stella they will look for a flat together, then reluctantly returns to London. Upon finding an apparently healthy Zee, Robert quarrels with her and Zee fears she may have gone too far. The next day, Stella and Robert find a flat, but when she wonders aloud what it will be like living with Robert daily, he grows distant. That evening at home, Robert finds Zee at home uncharacteristically quiet and withdrawn. The couple talks about never having had children and their inability even to keep pets. Zee ruefully reflects they should never have gone to the party where Robert met Stella and retires. Later that night, Robert is awakened by the sound of running water and must break down the bathroom door to reach Zee, who has slashed her wrists and is unconscious in the running bath. After taking Zee to the hospital, Robert visits Stella at the new flat and observes that Zee must love him a great deal, then confides that it crossed his mind to allow Zee to die. Robert then tells Stella that Zee asked her to visit at the hospital. When Stella expresses surprise, Robert points out that Zee genuinely likes Stella and admires her serenity. Although Stella declares she has grown to hate what others expect her to be, she nevertheless visits Zee, whom she finds unusually composed. Zee matter-of-factly describes how difficult it has been for her while Robert has been seeing Stella and observes that people always find their happiness at the expense of others. Moved to offer a similar confidence, Stella reveals that she was expelled from school for falling in love with a nun, then asks if Zee had planned the suicide long before. Zee admits it was an impulsive act, prompted by learning from a friend that Stella and Robert had rented the flat together. The women continue their candid exchange of confidences and end the visit with an embrace. Some days later, while unpacking at the new flat, Robert tells Stella that Zee is throwing him a small farewell party that night. Instead of the intimate gathering Zee had implied, however, the party is a lively, crowded affair and Robert quickly becomes drunk. Zee hastily takes him to her bedroom and the next morning Robert refuses to acknowledge having had sex with her. When Zee protests, Robert demands that she stop playing games with people and calls her a phony. Zee replies by pointing out that Stella is the biggest phony of them all, but Robert storms out, refusing to hear anything further. At the new flat, Stella is distressed that Robert has stayed out all night and laments that Zee will always be a presence in their lives. In frustration Robert goes to a nearby bar and after getting drunk telephones Rita, who eagerly agrees to meet him. Meanwhile, Zee goes to the new flat to visit Stella, who grows uncomfortable when Zee suggests that she knows Stella's secret and what she wants. That evening, Robert returns to the flat from Rita's and is surprised to find Zee. Discovering Stella in bed naked, Robert asks what happened, but Stella claims she does not know. Zee assures Robert that Stella will be confused for a brief period, but will be fine in a few days and demands he take her to dinner.
Brian G. Hutton
Alan Ladd Jr.
X, Y and Zee
Based on her own novel Zee and Co. and adapted for the screen by Irish novelist Edna O'Brien, X, Y and Zee is the story of a triangle relationship. Zee (Elizabeth Taylor) is the constantly scheming, tempestuous wife of Robert Blakeley (Michael Caine), her unhappily married architect husband. Stella (Susannah York), a hip dress designer and boutique owner, is Robert's latest infatuation who enters their orbit and is drawn into an intense menage-a-trois with the couple, being seduced by both the husband and wife. Yet, despite the film's flirtation with a lesbian subplot, that aspect of the story is exploited in the same manner as every other vice and character flaw in this flamboyant soap opera in which everyone is less than admirable.
The film's similarities to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? are unavoidable due to the constant and vicious verbal and physical sparring between Zee and Robert that mirrors George and Martha's combative behavior from Edward Albee's Tony-award winning play. But, while Edna O'Brien's screenplay may lack the sting of truth that made Albee's play so powerful, she knows how to write funny, acidic dialogue that seasoned professionals like Caine, York and Taylor transform into barbed and often hilarious line readings that sound spontaneous and accent the black comedy inherent in this exposé of a perverse, co-dependent relationship.
Michael Caine, who had never worked with Elizabeth Taylor before, was a bit apprehensive at first about meeting this larger-than-life legend and her equally infamous husband, who usually accompanied her to her film sets when he was wasn't working himself. In his autobiography, Caine recalled their first encounter on the set which he compared to a royal film premiere in London: "Like the Queen, Elizabeth was preceded by various minions - in fact, quite a large entourage was finally lined up. The joke on the film quickly became that if the entourage alone went to see the film we would be in profit. Finally Elizabeth arrived and behind her, as I had been warned, was Richard. She was smiling, he wasn't. One out of two was not bad, I thought. I had never seen her in the flesh before and she was much smaller than I had expected. The next surprise was that she was holding a huge jug of Bloody Marys, and at some hidden signal a new minion came forth bearing two glasses and handed one of these to me and one to Elizabeth. She filled both of them, kissed me on the cheek, chinked her glass with mine and said, 'Hello, Michael. Good luck!' and we both downed a healthy swig. Brian [G. Hutton], the director, shouted, "Let's go to work," and off we went....the whole picture went by in a relaxed sort of haze, due mainly to the Bloody Mary jug becoming a permanent prop on the set."
The entire filming of X, Y and Zee proceeded amicably for the most part due to Hutton's winning personality and sense of humor, which endeared him to his leading actors. The few times Ms. Taylor showed any annoyance was due to Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner who dropped in for a surprise visit one day and had one of his employees try to secretly record his conversation with Elizabeth. The actress had also expressed her displeasure earlier at the sight of the Playboy banner flying at the top of the studio's flagpole (Roman Polanski's Macbeth , financed by Playboy magazine, was also being filmed there). She was quoted as yelling, "I am working at this studio and I don't work for Playboy," after which the studio bowed to her demands and lowered the offending flag.
Much ado was made at the time about Taylor's ballooning weight though, in truth, the actress's fabled beauty is intact, despite the hairdresser's and costumer's insistence on dressing her up in outlandish wigs and garish clothes as an extension of her character, a voluptuous vulgarian with a huge appetite for everything. There was one technical detail, however, that had to be addressed in relation to her co-star. "The difference in our heights," Michael Caine noted, "meant that in a medium two shot my head was sticking out of the top of the screen and hers was peeping in from the bottom of it. This was solved by having Elizabeth stand on a box so that our heads were at an equal height. After I had done this a couple of times, I told her that as everybody knew she was short, they would now assume that I was the same height. "I am going to look like Mickey Rooney in this picture," I commented. She laughed and that was it - to this day she still calls me Mickey..."
The one person who did not have a good experience in regards to X, Y and Zee was screenwriter Edna O'Brien who felt betrayed by the director; he had some of her dialogue rewritten while deleting other scenes and adding completely new ones. In her own words, she said her work had been "butchered and killed" and disowned it, though the film had no negative effect on her career. In fact, she has earned numerous literary awards over the years for such accomplishments as her Country Girls Trilogy which includes the novels The Country Girls (1960), Girl with Green Eyes (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964).
When X, Y and Zee opened in theatres, the movie proved to be a disappointment at the box office and many of the reviews were not kind. Typical of the response was this review by Judith Crist who called it, "A slice-of-jet-set-life nightmare far beyond the dreams of the piggiest male chauvinist...the distinction of this film is that its characters are repulsive, its style vulgar, its situations beyond belief and its dialogue moronic..." A few critics, however, appeared to enjoy the film's excessive, go-for-broke style such as Roger Ebert who wrote, "X, Y and Zee is a loud, boozy celebration of the fact that no matter what Elizabeth Taylor says or does, she's a movie star. The movie in this case is no masterpiece, but audiences are having fun at it because it unzips along at a nice, vulgar clip. It's soft-core pornography, sort of like John O'Hara's later novels and Miss Taylor plops herself down in the middle of it as a bitchy wife." Pauline Kael of The New Yorker agreed and added, "This one has a script that enabled Elizabeth Taylor to come out. The aging beauty has discovered in herself a gutsy, unrestrained spirit that knocks two very fine performers right off the screen - and, for the first time that I can recall, she appears to be having a roaring good time on camera." If you adjust your expectations, you might too.
Producers: Jay Kanter, Alan Ladd, Jr.
Director: Brian G. Hutton
Screenplay: Edna O'Brien
Cinematography: Billy Williams
Art Direction: Peter Mullins
Music: Stanley Myers
Film Editing: Jim Clark
Cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Zee Blakeley), Michael Caine (Robert Blakeley), Susannah York (Stella), Margaret Leighton (Gladys), John Standing (Gordon), Mary Larkin (Rita), Michael Cashman (Gavin), Gino Melvazzi (Head Waiter).
by Jeff Stafford
Elizabeth: The Life of Elizabeth Taylor by Alexander Walker (Zebra Books)
A Passion for Life: The Biography of Elizabeth Taylor by Donald Spoto (HarperCollins)
Michael Caine: What's It All About? by Michael Caine
Michael Caine: A Class Act by Christopher Bray (Faber and Faber)
X, Y and Zee
The working title of the film was Zee & Co., sometimes written in news items as Zee & Company. According to MPAA records, in 1974 the film's original theatrical release rating of R was changed to PG after re-editing. According to an August 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item, Marlon Brando was under consideration for the role of "Robert Blakely." A Daily Variety October 1970 item indicated that producer Jerry Gershwin was initially teamed with fellow producers Elliott Kastner and Jay Kanter to produce the film (misidentified as C and Company). There is no indication at what point Alan Ladd, Jr., who previously had worked with Kastner and Kanter, replaced Gershwin, whose contribution to the film, if any, has not been determined. According to Filmfacts, the ending of Edna O'Brien's original screenplay had "Zee," "Stella" and Robert engaged in a ménage à trois instead of three separate freeze-frame shots of each character's face. X Y & Zee was shot on location in England and Shepperton Studios, London.
The United Kingdom
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States 1972