Behind the Candelabra

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1977, 17-year-old Scott Thorson, who works as an animal trainer for movies, meets Bob Black, a Hollywood producer, in a gay bar. At Black’s urging, he leaves his adopted home in search of better-paying work. Black introduces Thorson to Liberace, who takes an immediate liking to the handsome younger man. Liberace invites the two backstage and then to his luxurious home. Thorson observes that one of Liberace’s beloved dogs is suffering from a temporary form of blindness, and with his veterinary assistant background, informs the famous pianist that he knows how to cure the condition. After treating the dog, Thorson becomes Liberace’s “assistant” at the performer’s request.

Scott moves in with Liberace and becomes his lover. At this point Scott says that he is bisexual because he is also attracted to women. Liberace is sympathetic, informing him that he wanted and tried to love women, but was exclusively attracted to men. He relates a story of a “divine healing” in which a “messenger” informed him that God still loved him.

It gradually becomes clear that Liberace is trying to mold Scott into a younger version of himself; he requests his plastic surgeon Dr. Startz to transform Scott’s face to more closely resemble his own and makes an unsuccessful attempt to formally adopt him. When Liberace begins visiting pornographic theaters and suggests they see other people, Scott becomes upset. Meanwhile, Scott’s drug abuse and Liberace’s promiscuity create a rift that ultimately destroys their relationship: Scott retains an attorney to seek his financial share of the property, and Liberace ends their formal partnership and involves himself with his most recent “assistant”.

Not long thereafter, Scott receives a phone call from Liberace telling him that he is very sick with what is later revealed to be AIDS, and would like Scott to visit him again. Scott agrees, and he and Liberace have one last, emotional deathbed conversation before Liberace dies in February 1987. Scott attends Liberace’s funeral, in which he imagines seeing Liberace performing one last time with his traditional flamboyance, before being lifted to heaven with a stage harness.


Before Elton John was the queen of all queens, there was Liberace. Most people are probably like me, you’ve heard the name, but don’t know much about the music or the man. Behind the Candelabra is a bit of a history lesson on the man and the way he treated his “assistants”. Here’s an interesting tidbit, this HBO film was released in theaters everywhere but here in the US. Man, we are such prudes!

What is this about?

Michael Douglas stars as flamboyant entertainer Liberace in this sequin-studded drama that chronicles the legendary pianist’s roller-coaster relationship with his young lover, Scott Thorson — from their passionate liaison to their stormy battles.

What did I like?

Flamboyant. I’ve always heard that Liberace was quite the opulent character. I seem to recall reading somewhere that he even had a toilet made of gold! Why would anyone want that to be solid gold, considering what goes down there? At any rate, I have to tip my hat to the costume and set designers for capturing and portraying the over the top style that Liberace had, both on stage and at home.

Tone. I know some people like their biopics as serious as possible because apparently they think everyone has a hard, depressing life. Yes, Liberace had some dark times in his life, but for the most part, this is a guy who loved life. When the film focuses on Liberace, it pushes his lust for life (as well as other things), and there is a somewhat lighter tone to this whole film that one would expect.

Performance. The entire cast needs to be commended, from the smaller characters such as Debbie Reynolds, David Koechner, and Scott Bakula all the way up to Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. There is not a weak link in this chain, with Douglas and Damon giving some of their best performances in quite some time. Someone said that the best writing these days is in television, and this just goes to show how true that statement is.

Music. Liberace was a musician, first and foremost, but the music in this film is important because it was the last film that Marvin Hamlisch scored. Hamlisch passed away in summer of 2012. The score he left is pretty nice and Hamlisch will be missed. He was a great talent.

What didn’t I like?

Plastic surgery. Take a minute and look up young pictures of Mickey Rourke and then look at him now. Big difference, right? Well, that same kind of thing goes on here with Rob Lowe. I don’t know what was going on with his face, but it looked like his face was stretched to the extreme measures. It was like watching a bad wreck. It was horrible to look at, but you can’t look away.

Scott. As I said earlier, Matt Damon gives a great performance, but his character falls a bit flat. Granted, almost all of his scenes are with Liberace, so he’s going to pale in comparison. You may not have realized it, but Damon is supposed to be the star of the film, but with the exception of a couple of points here and there, you can’t tell.

Music. Liberace was a musician, yet we only get one scene of him actually playing. When Douglas and Damon are sitting on the couch watching TV, we get a bit of history of Liberace, such as how he started using his trademark candelabra. I just wish that we could have gotten some more of Liberace at the piano, even if it was just him playing at home for Damon.

In this day and age, it is so hard to get a biopic that is interesting, entertaining, and faithful to real life. Behind the Candelabra constantly brings us moments of drama and some light comedic moments. The film’s ending, after Liberace’s death, is something to see. It sort of departs from the realism of the picture, but it is still worth seeing. I highly recommend it as a must-see! Check it out!

4 3/4 out of 5 stars


2 Responses to “Behind the Candelabra”

  1. Mystery Man Says:

    Reblogged this on Mr Movie Fiend's Movie Blog.

  2. […] not sure, but I think Michael Douglas was either filming this at the same time or right after Behind the Candelabara. I say that because he is a distinct shade of orange and isn’t in the film as much as the […]

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