Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: THE V.I.P.s starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Louis Jourdan, Maggie Smith, Margaret Rutherford, Rod Taylor and Orson Welles.

The V.I.P.s is a film directed by Anthony Anquith and written by Terence Rattigan, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Louis Jourdan, Margaret Rutherford, Maggie Smith, Rod Taylor and Orson Welles.

(Note that the poster claims this to be a 'modern love story'. The mind boggles.)

Watched it the other night, late at night, kind of in my zombie mode. (Just kidding, folks!) The sheer bloody-minded awfulness of it kept my interest until the very end. Some films are fascinating in their awfulness and this is one of them. Reason for watching in the first place? Well, obviously I must have been in the mood for an all-star Technicolor spectacle of human emotions run amok - set in an airport.

Who wouldn't want to watch a movie in which fate plays fast and loose with a bunch of Very Important Persons hemmed in by London fog (the atmospheric thing not the raincoat) at Heathrow. I mean, the story practically tells itself.

Before we go any further I have a confession to make: I saw this film the first time around in a theater near me. But I was young then - what did I know? Plus I wanted to see the famed duo of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton fresh from CLEOPATRA scandal.

Back then, real life soap opera had dimmed the allure of movie soap opera, but not the allure of films set in an airport. Airport horror stories. It's the sort of thing that could happen to any of us. Right? And aren't we just a bit curious to see what goes on in the V.I.P. Lounge? That holy place denied to most of us?

At any rate, here's the plot and no I am not exaggerating. There are four main intertwined story-lines. Please remember that the rich are different from you and me.

Story number one:

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor play a married couple with Problems. Well, actually it's the wife who has the problem, he is oblivious to her Wretched Unhappiness. He is Paul Andros, billionaire tycoon too busy acquiring companies to notice that he is taking his wife Frances (Elizabeth Taylor) for granted.

Frances, notes pitifully that she would rather have a bunch of flowers from the 'five and ten' picked out personally by Paul, than yet another luxurious diamond bracelet picked out by a flunky. (May I point out that this is the sort of argument only the very rich seem able to make with a straight face.)  To add fuel to the marital discord, Paul has the audacity to give Frances a diamond bracelet just before she is due to depart (he thinks) on a plane to Jamaica. I mean, how dare he?

This churlish behavior is the main reason - unbeknownst to Paul - Frances is running off with playboy/gigolo Mark Campselle (gorgeous Louis Jourdan) who promises to change his playboy ways and settle down in New York with Frances.  He can't figure out what he'll do to earn a living but Frances reassures him that her father left her $300,000 (this was back in the day when this was 'real' money) - she will not begin her new life by taking any of Andros' largess. She has principle.

Keep this in mind: Frances has left a letter of goodbye in the one place that only Paul would know to look. It is meant to be found once the plane is in the air carrying Frances and Mark away to their new life. Uh-oh.

Story number two:

Rod Taylor plays Les Mangrum, head of Mangrum Tractors. He is in London fighting a take-over by Amalgamated Piffle - well, not really, but that's the name I always think of when the word Amalgamated shows up in text or conversation.

Keeping control of Mangrum Tractors (they make very good tractors) means everything to Les and his devoted secretary Miss Mead (Maggie Smith). But just when the deal seems done in Les's favor (reason why he's flying to New York), he is betrayed by a friend. To save his company, Les posts a check for more funds then he currently has in the company account. But it's okay, he reassures Miss Mead, he'll be in New York within a few hours and he'll take care of the imbalance then. Uh-oh.

Maggie Smith, as always, is a natural scene stealer - in particular in a key scene with Richard Burton late in the film. An actress who can do no wrong.

Story number three:

Margaret Rutherford (another natural scene stealer) in her Oscar winning role, plays the Duchess of Brighton - as unlikely a movie duchess as you will meet in her rumpled tweeds and floppy felt hat. To save her family home, the Duchess is flying to Miami to play hostess at some hotel (because of her title). She hates the idea but needs the money. Rutherford is wonderfully touching - another actress who can do no wrong.

Story number four:

Orson Welles plays Max Buda, a film producer of indeterminate nationality traveling with his mistress to Switzerland, where he lives to avoid paying British taxes.

The problem is that his financial deadline expires at midnight. Caught in England the next day, he will have to pay one million in taxes - something he very much wishes to avoid. Welles is unique, let's face it. One might tsk. tsk. to see him wasting his time in this sort of film, but in his own way Welles can't help but make you smile. The relationship with his little groveling accountant is quite funny. Welles just looks as if he's having a good time.


You know what they say about mice and men and plans. When a dense fog roles in, everyone is unexpectedly stranded at Heathrow - no planes can take off until the following morning.

Needless to say, the letter left behind for Paul Andros is found and read too soon. He shows up at the airport in fine fettle, carrying a gun in his pocket, ready to do anything to keep his wife from flying off with her intended. He cannot believe she would prefer a penniless gigolo to him - a captain of industry. Oh how little he understands Frances. Mark needs her, you dolt.

Mysteriously, Burton is photographed rather badly in this film. Not to put too fine a point on it, he looks in need of a bath. It's all that tacky airport lighting I suppose. He just looks icky. Not to mention that his acting is overwrought, his beautiful speaking voice wasted. In his scenes with Taylor he appears ready to pounce and devour her. Scary. And as usual when it came to these two, there is zero on-screen chemistry between them.

The other man, Louis Jourdan, for whatever reason, appears in need of a constant shave - and not in a good way. Although Jourdan, being so damned good looking, can get away with most anything. But his constant five o'clock shadow just adds to the general air of grubby grooming.

Miss Taylor (whom I have a sneaking fondness for) looks good, but is almost a caricature of herself. She is burdened with a horrible hair-do and clothes by Givenchy which don't flatter her short, womanly figure. I don't think she's photographed especially well either. Taylor was at the age when that caricature thing was setting in and really, would plague her for the rest of her career.

Of the four main stories told in the film, the Andros' soap opera is the least interesting. At least in my view.

A word about the sets: Were things really so ugly way back then? Everything plastic imitation leather and wood, drenched in orange, avocado and mustard? Yes, I'm afraid so.

But don't let me totally discourage you, if you're in a certain sort of mood, this film can be a fun way to wile away the time.

And of course - don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom, to see what other Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films other bloggers will be talking about today.


  1. I now desperately want to buy shared in Amagamated Piffle! Must admit, haven;t seen this one in ahes - it was a massive hit in its day but, weirdly, I have better memories of the follow-up made by the same team, THE YELLOW ROLLS ROYCE - but of the 10 films made by Asquith and rattigan I agree, this may be the least despite the fab cast - oh well... I enjoyed your dislike of it though!

  2. Oh definitely, Sergio. Amalgamated Piffle rules! Ha!

    One of the things I find so hard to take about this film is the poor camera work.
    But I still liked Margaret Rutherford and Maggie Smith.

  3. Well, then, Patti. Take a leap of faith and line it up. :)

  4. I haven't seen this one, Yvette, but I'd like a chance to go in with Sergio on Amalgamated Piffle shares. I also love Margaret Rutherford, who always seems to be outfitted by Felt Hats 'R' Us...

  5. Perfervid soap was Taylor's stock in trade...

  6. While old pros like Smith, Rutherford, and even Welles can deliver even in trying circumstances...someone's idea of this as a metaphor for purgatory, probably, accounts for the ugliness of the production.

  7. What a wonderful review! Your good writing and biting wit overshadow any flaws with this film so that now I want to see it to see how bad it is.

    And, agreed how good are Maggie Smith and Margaret Rutherford; they can do no wrong -- except maybe act in an awful movie. But not their faults.

    So, I will fritter away a few hours watching this -- and I think, laughing, thinking of the comments right here.

    Maybe it should just be regarded as "camp"?

  8. And, I'll add that I love the fashion and design commentary.

    What other reviewer would pay such close attention to such matters?

  9. It's been too long since I caught up with this one other than on a small TV but it's weird that the film doesn't look good. The DP was the very well respected Jack Hildyard, who not only shot such David Lean classics as THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI and SUMMERTIME but was also responsible for ANASTASIA, THE SUNDOWNERS (a real favourite) and SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, where la Taylor (admittedly in black and white) looked extraordinary. Having said that, Burton may have been a great actor but he was notoriously hard to photograph in a glmorous way.

  10. Ha! I adore Margaret Rutherford, Les. For her alone you should see this film. I'm so happy she finally got an Oscar. What a wonderful screen presence. There's never been anyone like her.

    Amalgamated Piffle - I'll take a hundred shares.

  11. Yes, I agree Todd. She could not be spontaneous on film.

  12. You may be right, Todd. But oh, you'd think someone would have taken a lighting course or two. :) Or for that matter, a cinematography course.

  13. Thanks, Kathy. You've hit the nail on the head. 'Camp' it is. :)

  14. It's my lack of depth, m'dear. :)

  15. Sergio I saw Burton on stage in HAMLET many eons ago and, in fact, I met him once upon a time along with Elizabeth Taylor. In person, so beautiful. She, anyway. He was rugged and attractive in a rough kind of way, but his voice...!

    I would imagine it would not be as hard to photograph today as it was back then. He was not conventionally good looking.

    But really, he looks awful in this.

    Maybe it was an 'off' day for everyone. Except Dame Rutherford, that is.

  16. What a cast!!

    I'll have to find this and watch: back when it was ugly, ugly decor - AND only (well, mainly) rich people flew. I know it's the VIP lounge but, honestly, in 1963 did you know anyone who had been on an airplane? It didn't happen in my world.

  17. Yvette, this is one of my favourite movies and the pair I like best is that of the kindly Rod Taylor and his devoted secretary Maggie Smith. The Dame has come a long way, hasn't she? Burton is very depressing in this film. Great choice!

  18. Debbie, I think by '63 I had already flown across the country. Can't remember the exact date. But I wasn't rich, just desperate to get home. :)

    Had a three hour stopover in Chicago.

    I don't remember the airport being this tacky either.

    You have to see this movie to know what I mean...

  19. Prashant, I can't say it's a favorite. But I too loved Rod and Maggie. Did you know they had an affair in real life?

    Not while on this film but on their next, YOUNG CASSIDY. Though I read that on THE VIPS, Taylor asked Maggie to marry him on the first day they met though he was already married.

    Ah, Hollywood....!


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