As I made a large batch of peanut curry one morning, Liz Taylor laughed and talked on the kitchen TV in Reflections in a Golden Eye. I wasn’t paying much attention, although her screen presence drew me to glance at the picture more than a person slicing vegetables should. As she and movie husband Marlon Brando — a Captain at a Southern military base on which they lived — rode horseback in a forest, they stopped in surprise upon seeing a young naked soldier, unaware of them, riding a horse in circles through the trees.

Ah, a young naked soldier riding a horse — there’s so much to think about in that idea.

Later, I looked for the scene on Youtube. I found a snippet of it in the movie trailer, along with a delightful interview with Robert Forster, the actor who played the part and rode the horse.


I also found a video of a nude equestrian jumping.


After all this, I had to read the 1941 novel, written by Carson McCullers (who also wrote The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, published in 1944). I especially had to read Reflections in a Golden Eye after I’d read about the movie on Wikipedia: “His [the Captain’s] secret interest in the free-spirited Williams [the soldier who rides naked] is clear.”

Not a portrayal of a happy homosexual man, nonetheless the book fascinated me. I find it to be a plausible and acceptable portrayal of a particular homosexual career military officer of the 1930s. Once the Captain becomes fixated on an enlisted young soldier, the Captain’s daydreams, always before ones of advancing as an officer, become daydreams of being an enlisted man, living in the barracks with its male camaraderie, rather than being an officer living with a wife in a house alongside other married officers. Here are three quotes that exemplify the underlying homo-eroticism of the book:

[THIS SCENE DESCRIBES THE SOLDIER AND HIS NAKED ESCAPADES.] When he could get leave from work in the afternoon, he took a certain horse from the stables with him. He rode about five miles from the post to a secluded spot far from any paths, that was difficult to reach. Here in the woods there was a flat, clear space, covered with a grassy weed of the color of burnished bronze. In this lonely place the soldier always unsaddled his horse and let him go free. Then he took off his clothes and lay down on a large flat rock in the middle of the field. For there was one thing that this soldier could not do without—the sun. Even on the coldest days he would lie still and naked and let the sunlight soak into his flesh. Sometimes, still naked, he stood on the rock and slipped upon the horse’s bare back. His horse was an ordinary army plug which, with anyone but Private Williams, could sustain only two gaits—a clumsy trot and a rocking-horse gallop. But with the soldier a marvelous change came over the animal; he cantered or single-footed with proud, stiff elegance. The soldier’s body was of a pale golden brown and he held himself erect. Without his clothes he was so slim that the pure, curved lines of his ribs could be seen. As he cantered about in the sunlight, there was a sensual, savage smile on his lips that would have surprised his barrack mates. After such outings he came back weary to the stables and spoke to no one.

[IN THIS SCENE THE CAPTAIN HAS BEEN THROWN BY A HORSE AND THEN BEAT IT UNTIL THE CAPTAIN HIMSELF FALLS TO THE GROUND. HE DOES NOT KNOW THE SOLDIER IS NEARBY, A WITNESS TO THE BEATING, UNTIL THE SOLDIER APPEARS.] The Captain lay between the soldier and the horse. The naked man did not bother to walk around his outstretched body. He left his place by the tree and lightly stepped over the officer. The Captain had a close swift view of the young soldier’s bare foot; it was slim and delicately built, with a high instep marked by blue veins. The soldier untied the horse and put his hand to his muzzle in a caressing gesture. Then, without a glance at the Captain, he led the horse off into the dense woods. It had happened so quickly that the Captain had not found a chance to sit up or to utter a word. At first he could feel only astonishment. He dwelt on the pure-cut lines of the young mans body. He called out something inarticulate and received no reply. A rage came in him. He felt a rush of hatred for the soldier that was as exorbitant as the joy he had experienced on runaway Firebird. All the humiliations, the envies, and the fears of his life found vent in this great anger. The Captain stumbled to his feet and started blindly through the darkening woods.
[THIS SCENE OCCURS WHEN THE CAPTAIN ARRIVES BACK AT THE STABLE AFTER THE SOLDIER LED AWAY THE HORSE THE CAPTAIN BEAT IN THE FOREST.] He did not speak, and the Captain stood outside the stall and watched him. He looked at the fine, skillful hands and the tender roundness of the soldier’s neck. The Captain was overcome by a feeling that both repelled and fascinated him—it was as though he and the young soldier were wrestling together naked, body to body, in a fight to death.


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