X, Y and Zee (1972)

US Title: Zee and Company

screenshot from X, Y and Zee

Directed by: Brian G Hutton
Screenwriter(s): Edna O'Brien
Starring: Michael Caine, Elizabeth Taylor, Suzannah York, Charles Standing, Margaret Leighton
Genre: Drama
Country: UK
Running time: 1h 50m
Rating: 4 out of 10

Despite being made in the early 70s, we’re clearly slap-bang in swinging sixties London here for this relationship flick. There are colours and patterns that would hurt your eyes even if you were watching in black and white. The soundtrack is a grind of sitars and guitars that will have you reachng for the ‘mute’ button on your remote. And everyone’s so terribly sophisticated. And, by “sophisticated”, I mean “selfish, morally bankrupt and likely to have an affair with a random stranger at any moment”. Welcome to Valley of the Dolls, UK-style.

Robert (Caine) and Zee (Taylor) Blakeley are the very model of a swinging couple: rich, young-ish, seen at all the best parties and with a very loose interpretation of morality. Both take lovers often, mostly to make each other jealous. Then, at a party, they meet the more timid Stella (York), a widow with twin sons. Robert is immediately attracted to her and, after some persuasion, they begin an affair. Zee does not take this well: she stalks Stella and tries to insinuate herself into the relationship by becoming friends with her husband’s mistress.

We are shown in the most trite and obvious ways possible how the relationships among the three are all supposedly interchangeable: it’s clear that Robert will cheat on Stella in the end and he does, with his secretary, the ultimate cliché. To be fair to screenwriter Edna O’Brien, she has disavowed the film, stating that: “They rewrote, removed scenes, added scenes. [Director] Hutton butchered my script, and if I meet him again, I shall kill him.” Not one to mince her words, Edna O’Brien.

So, director-writer wrangles aside, what we’re left with is not characters, but caricatures – the cad, the wronged woman, the meek mistress – for whom it is impossible to summon even a fleeting moment of sympathy. Zee, in particular, is a monstrously overblown mess. It’s a fully committed performance from Taylor, of that there’s no doubt, but it’s somewhat wasted in this camp piece of nonsense.

The party scenes look completely ludicrous a few decades on, as if Samantha’s mother from the TV show Bewitched threw an orgy and only sad, British folk over 40 came. Hutton’s direction doesn’t help the confusion, either, overusing then-voguish techniques such as the freeze-frame montage to almost grotesquely bad effect. If you’re looking for a sophisticated look at that period, try The Ice House, not this.

In his own words

I worked with Elizabeth Taylor on Zee and Company, written by my friend Edna O’Brien (Elizabeth played my wife, and the two of us ended up in a love triangle with Susannah York: the movie was a little ahead of its time when it was released in 1972 and did not do as well as it should have done). Elizabeth was never late, but she never turned up until ten o’clock in the morning. She had had it written into her contract, while the rest of us had to be in costume and makeup and ready to work by eight thirty. I used to have to do close-ups and back-of-the-head shots with the continuity girl every morning for ninety minutes until Elizabeth showed up. Then there would be a tea break – or, more accurately, a Bloody Mary break – at half past ten.

From Sir Michael Caine’s 2018 book, Blowing the Bloody Doors Off


Because of Taylor’s diminutive height, she had to stand on a box for her shots with Caine.

Liz Taylor’s contract called for three limos per day to carry her, Richard Burton, her hairdresser, make-up artist, secretary and pet dogs to the set and back. Nonetheless, Caine himself found her professional: “There was never any temperament on set. She’s a smashing woman, a real knock-out bird.”