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Behind the Candelabra ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Behind the Candelabra poster

Behind the Candelabra ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

Whether you like Liberace or not, you have to admit he was one of a kind. He had an innate musical ability, which he combined with his charisma, charm, and personality to make him one of the most famous and recognizable entertainers of the twentieth century. For twenty years, from the 1950s to the 1970s, he was the highest-paid entertainer in the world. Most of us knew him from his many performances on TV, but people all over the world flocked to his stage performances. As he says in the movie about his life, Behind the Candelabra, he was all about giving people a good time and making them happy.

There were always rumors about Liberace being gay, which he vehemently denied in public (even concocting a “romance” between himself and Sonja Henie). When he died of AIDS in 1987, the truth about his sexual orientation could no longer be hidden. Even his wily agent wasn’t able to sell the story that he died of heart failure brought on by overwork and fatigue.

Behind the Candelabra is about the sordid part of Liberace’s life that he most certainly would not have wanted to be made public. It’s based on a book written by one Scott Thorson who, for six years, was Liberace’s live-in “boyfriend.” Scott Thorson was all of forty years younger than Liberace. At one point in their relationship, Liberace was going to “adopt” Thorson because he always regretted not being a father, even though Thorson was an adult at the time. Thorson even consented to having his face made over by a creepy Hollywood plastic surgeon (Rob Lowe) to make himself resemble Liberace or to create the illusion that they were related by blood.

Liberace showered Thorson with expensive gifts, jewelry, and cars. They shared the same bed and spent many hours alone together in the Jacuzzi. After a few years, though, the relationship began to sour, as one might expect. Turned off by Thorson’s drug use, Liberace began to pursue his interest in other sexual partners. The  “houseboy,” Carlucci, tells Thorson early in his relationship with Liberace that there have been a whole string of “boyfriends” and they have all, for one reason or another, been sent packing. (Liberace never dumps them himself; his agent does it for him.)

Behind the Candelabra is being shown on HBO in the U.S. because, according to IMDb, it’s “too gay” for theatrical release. Michael Douglas plays Liberace. While I’ve never been a Michael Douglas fan, I think he makes a really good Liberace. (Could anybody else have done it better?) Matt Damon plays Scott Thorson. Even though he’s too old for the part, he makes it work (with makeup and what is obviously some computer enhancement). A barely recognizable Debbie Reynolds plays Liberace’s mother.

Behind the Candelabra is fun, flashy, and entertaining to watch if you like behind-the-scenes showbiz stories, but do we really need to know about the secret sex life of a beloved entertainer who has been dead for more than twenty-five years? If you’re the type who would rather remember Liberace as the smiling, likeable gentleman who appeared on TV during his heyday, then Behind the Candelabra is probably not for you.

Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp

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