Theatrical release poster by Howard Terpning
|Directed by||Vincente Minnelli|
|Produced by||Martin Ransohoff|
|Screenplay by||Irene Kamp |
|Story by||Martin Ransohoff|
|Starring||Elizabeth Taylor |
Eva Marie Saint
|Music by||Johnny Mandel|
|Cinematography||Milton R. Krasner|
|Editing by||David Bretherton|
|Release date(s)|| |
|Running time||117 minutes|
Laura Reynolds (Taylor) is a free-spirited, unwed single mother living with her young son Danny (Morgan Mason) in an isolated California beach house. She makes a modest living as an artist and home-schools her son out of concern that he will be compelled to follow detrimental 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 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.
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 her son but they are quickly picked up by police who take Danny to the school. He initially has trouble fitting in because his mother's home schooling has left him far in advance of boys his age in several subjects; the standard course of instruction at Edward's school leaves him restless and bored. At Claire's suggestion, Edward visits Laura to learn more about Danny and his upbringing.
Laura's unconventional morals initially disturb Edward, as they conflict with his religious training. After visiting her several more times he finds that he wants her very much and cannot get her out of his mind. The two begin a passionate extramarital affair. At first Edward struggles with feelings of guilt, while Laura urges him to accept the rightness of their love. Meanwhile, Danny flourishes after Edward relaxes school rules and allows the boy to choose more advanced classes.
The love affair is eventually exposed by a remark made to Edward in the presence of Claire by a jealous former lover of Laura's. At first Claire is distraught, but later they quietly discuss it in the light of how their lives have diverged from the idealistic religious fervor of the first years of their marriage. He says that he still loves her and that he will end the affair. They decide to separate for a while. 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. She has a moment of pain but realizes his need to be free and agrees. On Edward's way out of town, he stops at her place for a silent farewell, she and the boy down on the beach, he high up on the bluff above looking down at them.
- Elizabeth Taylor as Laura Reynolds
- Richard Burton as Dr. Edward Hewitt
- Eva Marie Saint as Claire Hewitt
- Charles Bronson as Cos Erickson
- Robert Webber as Ward Hendricks
- James Edwards as Larry Brant
- Torin Thatcher as Judge Thompson
- Tom Drake as Walter Robinson
- Douglas Henderson as Paul Sutcliff
- Morgan Mason as Danny Reynolds
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 story specifically takes place in Big Sur; 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 a pivotal scene shot on a sound stage built to resemble the restaurant Nepenthe. The German singer Nico was an extra in the Nepenthe scene. The film also features an early performance by Charles Bronson as a beatnik sculptor.
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.
- The Sandpiper at the Internet Movie Database
- The Sandpiper film trailer at Turner Classic Movies Media Room
- The Sandpiper featurette at Turner Classic Movies Media Room (making of the film)
- The Sandpiper opening titles of film
- Big Sur and the Sandpiper