“THE V.I.P.s” (1963) Review

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“THE V.I.P.s” (1963) Review

Many have claimed that the 1963 drama, “THE V.I.P.s” came about, due to the publicity that surrounded the Elizabeth Taylor-Richard Burton romance that had blossomed during the production of “CLEOPATRA” in 1962. I rather doubt it, considering how Taylor ended up in this movie. I do know that “THE V.I.P.s” was one of several collaborations between producter Anatole de Grunwald, director Anthony Asquith and dramatist Terence Rattigan.

I suspect that “THE V.I.P.s” was just another production that materialized between the three men, during this period. Asquith had originally considered Sophia Loren for the leading female role, based upon her performance in the 1960 movie, “THE MILLIONAIRE”. But Taylor, Taylor, fearful that Burton found Loren appealing, persuaded Asquith to hire her instead. So much for the idea that this movie was about cashing in on the Taylor-Burton romance. Rattigan claimed that he had based the film’s screenplay on Vivian Leigh’s attempt to leave her husband Laurence Olivier for Peter Finch back in the early 1950s. But only one of the movie’s story arcs was based upon this incident. “THE V.I.P.s” focused on a group of important passengers for a flight to New York City, who are delayed at Heathrow Airport by the fog. The passengers are:

*Film actress Frances Andros, who is leaving her millionaire husband Paul Andros with her love, playboy Marc Champselle

*Film producer Max Buda, who wants to leave England with protégée Gloria Gritti by midnight in order to avoid paying a hefty tax bill.

*Australian businessman Les Mangrum, who needs to reach New York City in order to prevent his business from being sold.

*The elderly Duchess of Brighton, who is travel to Florida in order to take a job that will pay her enough money to save her family’s historic home.

There is one thing I can say about “THE V.I.P.s” – it is a beautiful looking film. And for a movie that is mainly set at an airport and a nearly hotel, that is quite a miracle. I suppose one can credit cinematographer Jack Hildyard’s sharp and colorful photography that has held up very well after fifty years or so. On the other hand, if anyone asked me if I could recall legendary Hollywood composer Miklós Rózsa’s score for this film . . . I would deny even remembering it. The score seemed that unmemorable to me.

On the other hand, the movie did provide some top-notch performances. I can honestly say that not one member of the cast seemed to be going through the motions. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were certainly in top form as the estranged couple – Frances and Paul Andros. There was one scene, which led to a slightly violent conclusion, struck me as particularly memorable. I also enjoyed Louis Jordan’s charming, yet frank portrayal of the playboy Marc Champselle, who seemed to be genuinely in love with Taylor’s character. “THE V.I.P.s” proved to be the only time in which actor Rod Taylor portrayed a character from his native country. And as usual, he gave it his all as the passionate businessman Les Mangrum, desperate to save his company. Equally passionate was Maggie Smith, who not portrayed his secretary, Miss Mead, who harbored a secret love for him, but also managed to create a strong screen chemistry with Taylor. Smith was especially effective in one scene in which her character pleaded with Burton’s Paul Andros to help save Mangrum’s company. I must also add that both Elsa Martinelli was quite charming as the Italian actress, Gloria Gritti, who had attached herself to producer Max Buda’s star.

However, my two favorite performances came from the unlikeliest performers – Orson Welles and Oscar winner Margaret Rutherford. I had started on this film, expecting both to give over-the-top performances. Instead, Welles surprised me with a subtle portrayal of the sardonic European movie producer with a penchant for ironic wit and desperate to prevent his money from being seized by the British government. Equally entertaining was Margaret Rutherford, who certainly earned her Best Supporting Actress Oscar as the broad-minded aristocrat, who is dancing on the edge of desperation to save her stately home, by selling her services to some American business in Florida.

Yes, “THE V.I.P.s” looked beautiful. Yes, it featured some excellent performances. And even the stories were somewhat interesting. But overall, I do not believe I would ever become a fan of it. The movie reminded me of the countless number of night time soap opera television shows and movies that deluged the airwaves during the 1980s. Yet, those shows and movies from thirty years ago seemed to have more bite. The problem with Terence Rattigan’s screenplay is that the melodrama seemed to be lacking in bite. I found it too charming, too polite and possibly too intellectual – especially the story arc about the Andros’ marriage. It is not dull. But the drama struck me as simply too old-fashioned . . . even for 1963.

What else can I say about the movie? Well . . . I would not exactly recommend it. There were moments when I found myself bored, while watching it. Hell, I can think of a good number of melodramas between the 1930s and 1950s that struck me as more interesting. As much as I enjoyed Jack Hildyard’s photography and the performances featured in the film – especially Margaret Rutherford and Orson Welles’ – I think the movie fell flat in the end.

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