The V.I.P.s

THE V.I.P.s serves up 119 minutes of glossy emptiness from 1963, equivalent to opening an elaborately packaged box of chocolates and finding only a handful of good ones. Grand Hotel meets the Departure Lounge, with a gaggle of crises-constipated high-flyers from industry, show biz and faded royalty, fog-bound in London’s Heathrow Airport, chattering ever-so-civilly about Life in the Everything Lane.

Dratted English weather foxes the outbound international flights whose precise timing was key to the fortunes—personal and professional—of an assortment of “very important people”. Actress ‘Frances Andros’ (Elizabeth Taylor) is fleeing empire-distracted tycoon husband ‘Paul’ (Richard Burton) for her Continentally elegant lover ‘Marc Champselle’ (Louis Jourdan). The dotty ‘Duchess of Brighton’ (Margaret Rutherford) has title and property but is out of money, hoping to find some in America. Yugoslavian movie producer ‘Max Buda’ (Orson Welles) needs to bolt Britain before taxes sink him; he’s already encumbered by vacuous starlet/mistress ‘Gloria Gritti (Elsa Martinelli). No-nonsense Australian businessman ‘Les Mangrum’ (Rod Taylor) must arrive in New York to close a deal or his tractor company will fold; his loyal secretary ‘Miss Mead’ (Maggie Smith) pines for him. Assorted patient underlings mill about, dealing with whims from above.

Directed on idle by Anthony Asquith, the wind tunnel screenplay exhausted from Terence Rattigan was purportedly plot-hatched off the real-life marital faceoff (in a fogbound airport) of Laurence Olivier, his wife Vivien Leigh, and Peter Finch. Any of those three would have provided extra juice to the characters walked over/through/past by Dick, Liz and Louis, though the feeble script and diffident direction are more to blame than the attractive veteran stars. Miklos Rozsa’s cue-obvious music score is one of his rare duds.

The $4,000,000 goop passing as scoop was a hit, 21st among the year’s crop, keeping certain V.I.P.s flush with a gross of $13,400,000. That acceptance from the rankled file was hoisted not just by the talent array, and the idea of ogling jet-set life, but from the inescapable Taylor-Burton romance and the wake stirred up by Cleopatra, barging onto screens four months earlier. Fully a quarter of that four mil cost went to Liz alone. Added to the “behold” biz is that she wears some of her own jewelry. Rattigan’s scripting for the duo and especially poor Jourdan, is pure tripe, and is only marginally better for the other characters.

Welles hams it up, possibly in a dig at Dino De Laurentiis; it’s not as amusing as he may have hoped. Fresh from Hatari!, fighting for air at Orson’s side, the winsome Martinelli is given next to nothing to do. Welles had just directed her in The Trial. Her beauty, and Taylor’s glamour are shown up by both Smith, quietly scoring as Rod’s hopeful helpmate, and Rutherford, who pretty much stole the show and an Oscar as Supporting Actress for her delightfully befuddled duchess. With Welles gobbling the scenery, and Burton and Jourdan trapped in gloom and abasement (Rattigan lays on enough self-pity for a masochists convention), the best man in the cast is Rod Taylor, hands down: he has the most natural and likeable character and plays him to a tee. Margaret ,Rod and Maggie save the movie.

Shot in England, with some scenes done at Heathrow. In support are Linda Christian, Richard Wattis, Michael Hordern, Robert Coote, Dennis Price, David Frost and Ronald Fraser.

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