The Sandpiper

The Sandpiper is a 1965 American drama film directed by Vincente Minnelli and starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.[3]

The Sandpiper
Theatrical release poster by Howard Terpning
Directed byVincente Minnelli
Produced byMartin Ransohoff
Screenplay byIrene Kamp
Louis Kamp
Michael Wilson
Dalton Trumbo
Story byMartin Ransohoff
StarringElizabeth Taylor
Richard Burton
Eva Marie Saint
Charles Bronson
Music byJohnny Mandel
CinematographyMilton R. Krasner
Edited byDavid Bretherton
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • June 23, 1965 (1965-06-23) (US)
Running time
117 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$13,691,111[1][2]


Laura Reynolds (Taylor) is a free-spirited, unwed single mother living with her young son Danny (Morgan Mason) in an isolated beach house in Big Sur, California. She makes a modest living as an artist and home-schools her son out of concern that he will be compelled to follow stifling conventional social norms in a regular school. Danny has gotten into some trouble with the law through two minor incidents, which are in his mother's eyes innocent expressions of his natural curiosity and conscience rather than delinquency. Now with a third incident a judge (Torin Thatcher) orders her to send the boy to an Episcopal boarding school where Dr. Edward Hewitt (Burton) is headmaster, and his wife Claire (Eva Marie Saint) teaches. Edward and Claire are happily married with two student sons, but their life has become routine and their youthful idealism has been tamed by the need to raise funds for the school and please wealthy benefactors.

At an initial interview, there is a momentary immediate attraction between Laura and Edward, but this quickly turns into tension brought on by their greatly differing world views and Laura's dislike of religion. Finally she storms out. She attempts to flee the area with Danny but the police quickly catch them and take the boy away to the school. He initially has trouble fitting in because his mother's home schooling has placed him far in advance of boys his age in many subjects; the standard course of instruction at the school leaves him restless and bored. At Claire's suggestion, Edward visits Danny's mother to learn more about his upbringing.

Laura's unconventional morals initially disturb Edward, as they conflict with his religious beliefs. After visiting her several more times he finds her irresistible and cannot get her out of his mind. They begin a passionate affair. At first Laura tells herself that Edward is a fling like her other lovers, but to her surprise she finds herself falling in love with him, becoming jealous of his wife Claire. He struggles with guilt, while she urges him to accept their love. Meanwhile, Danny flourishes after Edward relaxes school rules and allows the boy to choose more advanced classes.

A jealous former lover (Robert Webber) of Laura's exposes the affair by making a remark to Edward within earshot of his wife. At first Claire is distraught, but later they quietly discuss it in the light of how their lives diverged from the idealism of the first years of their marriage. Edward declares that he still loves Claire and that he will end the affair. Still, they agree to a temporary separation while each decides what they want to do with their future. When Edward tells Laura that he confessed to his wife, she is outraged at what she perceives as an invasion of her privacy, and they part angrily. He resigns his position at the school and decides to travel. The school year over, Laura tells Danny that they can move away, but he has put down roots at the school and wants to stay there. As a parting gift, Edward arranges for Danny to attend tuition-free. His mother has a moment of pain but realizes Danny's need to make his own choices and agrees. On Edward's way out of town, he stops at Laura's place for a silent farewell, she and the boy down on the beach, he high up on the bluff above looking down at them.



The film was originally written for Kim Novak.[1]


The character Laura Reynolds nurses a sandpiper with a broken wing, as Edward Hewitt looks on. The bird lives in her home until it is healed and then flies free, though it comes back occasionally. This sandpiper is used as a central symbol in the movie, illustrating the themes of growth and freedom.


The Sandpiper is one of the very few major studio pictures ever filmed in Big Sur, and the story is specifically set there. The film includes many location shots of Big Sur landmarks, including Pfeiffer Beach, Point Lobos State Reserve, Bixby Creek Bridge, the Coast Gallery (where Laura exhibits her artwork), and the restaurant Nepenthe.[4]


The theme music for the film was "The Shadow of Your Smile", by Johnny Mandel, with lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. It was sung by an uncredited choral group, and the tune was used throughout the film, featuring the trumpet of Jack Sheldon.[5] It won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Original Song, and a recording by Tony Bennett won the 1966 Grammy Award for Song of the Year.[6]

Real-life parallels

The film was released at the height of Taylor and Burton's fame. It capitalized on their notoriety as one of the world's most famous couples and their well-known romantic adventures. Although they portrayed adulterous lovers, they were married on March 15, 1964, shortly before filming began. The film's theme of adultery closely mirrored their own personal lives at the time, as Taylor very publicly conducted an affair with Burton while married to Eddie Fisher, and Burton had done the same while married to Welsh actress Sybil Williams.

Home media

The DVD, released in 2006, includes two short films the filmmakers shot along with the movie, one about Big Sur and its artist colony, featuring narration by Burton, and another about the bust of Elizabeth Taylor that was commissioned from a Big Sur artist for use as a prop in the movie.

Paperback novelization

Pocket Books published a novelization of the screenplay by Robert Hemenway, who would continue to write fiction and would later become a renowned American educator and biographer. The Sandpiper was his sole media tie-in book.[7]


By 1976 Variety estimated the film had earned $7 million in theatrical rentals in North America.[8]

Awards and honors

The Sandpiper won the Academy Award for Best Original Song for "The Shadow of Your Smile"; music by Johnny Mandel and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, as well as the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also


  1. Haber, J. (1968, Jan 14). 'Baggy pants' ransohoff changes suits, image. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  2. "The Sandpiper, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 22, 2013.
  3. The Sandpiper on IMDb
  5. Yanow, Scott. "Johnny Mandel: The Sandpiper". AllMusic. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  6. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). Guinness World Records Limited. p. 135. ISBN 978-1-904994-10-7.
  7. The Sandpiper : Original 1965 MGM Movie Pressbook
  8. "All-time Film Rental Champs", Variety, 7 January 1976 p 44
  9. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved 2016-08-06.
  10. "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-06.
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