Reflections in a Golden Eye reminded me a bit of The Children's Hour--the two films start to give me a general sense of how filmmakers were approaching homosexuality in the 1960s. In both cases, it's a matter of repressed human nature that ends in catastrophe, the main idea being that repression is destructive. It got me wondering what's the oldest more or less mainstream film about a happy homosexual relationship and I have to admit the oldest I can think of is Ang Lee's 1993 film The Wedding Banquet. That can't be the oldest one, but Google's not telling me different so far.
Anyway, like most movies I've seen dealing with human rights from the 1960s--like every Sidney Poitier movie from period--it hasn't aged well. This is actually a positive sign, because these films fall flat for relying on the audience being sort of uncomfortable with people being black or gay.
In his 1967 review of the film, Roger Ebert chastises audiences for laughing at certain parts of it, particularly scenes concerning Major Penderton (Marlon Brando)'s obsession with the young Private Williams. I hate to break it to 1967 Ebert, but I laughed a bit, too. It's not because I find homosexuality funny, but because Penderton is so obviously falling head over hills for this guy he barely knows. And because Private Williams seems to be some kind of male dryad, seen bareback horse riding in the nude and silently stalking Penderton's wife, Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor). Williams has barely any dialogue, and the suggestion seems to be that the movie is from his point of view, or the point of view of unavoidable nature.
The most effective scene dealing with Penderton's repressed nature has Brando pacing slowly about the parlour, musing aloud on the beauty of male companionship as his wife and a colonel look on in amazement. Penderton concludes by casually bidding them good night. He has no sense of what he was saying being a revelation--he's lived with these feelings so long, and has feared losing himself to them, he must think they're obvious to everyone. And yet, as good as Brando is, he's a bit over the top in this movie. I just don't believe that Penderton's facade would break so dramatically as it does in this film and it does lead to some unintentionally humorous moments.
The best part is director John Huston's choice of putting a yellow filter on the entire film. With the footage consisting of beautifully, sharply contrasting lights and shadows, the image looks indeed golden. The effect of this has longer lasting virtues than you might expect, as when you get past the initial eerie beauty, it also becomes stifling, and well reflects the idea of nature being confined by a "fine" ideal as well as reflecting the cold, inescapability of nature itself.