Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton -- then Hollywood's most bankable couple -- appeared onscreen together for the third time in this romantic drama shot on beautiful locations along the Big Sur region of the California coastline. Laura Edwards (Elizabeth Taylor) is a free-thinking artist and Bohemian who is raising a her teenage son, Danny (Morgan Mason), conceived out of wedlock, on her own. Laura has issues with conventional teaching methods, and prefers to educate Danny about both intellectual and ethical matters on her own. However, Danny has become something of a problem, and child welfare authorities demand that Danny either be sent to school or become a ward of the state. Rather than send Danny to public school, Laura arranges for him to attend a private academy run by Dr. Edward Hewitt (Richard Burton), an Episcopalian minister. Edward is at first shocked by Laura's embrace of free love and rejection of conventional moral codes, but as he gets to know her better, he finds himself increasingly attracted to her, despite the fact he has a wife, Claire (Eva Marie Saint), and two children. Before long, Edward's desire overpowers his scruples and he begins an affair with Laura. Wracked with guilt over his infidelity, Edward confesses his indiscretion to Claire, which proves to have severe and unexpected consequences. While saddled with poor reviews upon its initial release, The Sandpiper did win an Academy Award for Johnny Mandel's theme song, "The Shadow of Your Smile."
by Mark Deming synopsis