“THE V.I.P.s” (1963) Review

damemaggie1

 

“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.

Advertisements

Favorite Films Set in the 1830s

16077062_854b_1024x2000

Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1830s:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1830s

1. “The Adventures of Huck Finn” (1993) – Elijah Wood and Courtney B. Vance starred in this excellent Disney adaptaion of Mark Twain’s 1885 novel about a young Missouri boy who joines a runaway slave on a journey along the Mississippi River toward the free states in antebellum America. Stephen Sommers directed.

 

1- The Count of Monte Cristo 2002

2. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (2002) – James Caviezel starred as the vengeful Edmond Dantès in Disney’s 2002 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas, père’s 1844 novel. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, the movie co-starred Guy Pearce and Dagmara Dominczyk.

 

2 - Pride and Prejudice 1940

3. “Pride and Prejudice” (1940) – Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier starred in this entertaining adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. Robert Z. Leonard directed.

 

3 - The Count of Monte Cristo 1975

4. “The Count of Monte Cristo” (1975) – Richard Chamberlain gave an intense performance in the 1975 television adaptation of Dumas’ novel. Tony Curtis and Kate Nelligan co-starred.

 

4 - Impromptu

5. “Impromptu” (1991) – Judy Davis and Hugh Grant starred in this comedic tale about author George Sand’s pursuit of composer Frédéric Chopin in 1830s France. James Lapine directed.

 

5 - Amistad

6. “Armistad” (1997) – Steven Spielberg directed this account of the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship La Amistad and the trials of the Mendes tribesmen/mutineers, led by Sengbe Pieh. The movie starred Djimon Hounsou, Matthew McConnaughey, Morgan Freeman and Anthony Hopkins.

 

6 - Wide Sargasso Sea 2006

7. “Wide Sargasso Sea” (2006) – Rebecca Hall and Rafe Spall starred in this 2006 television adaptation of Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel, which is a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. It focused upon the early marriage of Antoinette Cosway (Bertha Mason) and Edward Rochester.

 

7 - My Cousin Rachel

8. “My Cousin Rachel” (1952) – Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton starred in this adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1951 novel about a young Englishman’s obsession with his late cousin’s widow. Henry Koster directed.

 

8 - The Alamo 2004

9. “The Alamo” (2004) – John Lee Hancock directed this account of the Battle of the Alamo, the only production about the Texas Revolution that I actually managed to enjoy. The movie starred Billy Bob Thornton, Patrick Wilson and Jason Patric.

 

9 - The Big Sky

10. “The Big Sky” (1952) – Howard Hawks directed this adaptation of A.B. Guthrie’s 1947 novel about a fur trader’s expedition up the Missouri River. Kirk Douglas and Dewey Martin starred.

Favorite Films Set in the 1900s

Meet-Me-in-St-Louis-Trolley

Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1900s decade:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1900s

1 - Howards End

1. “Howard’s End” (1992) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this exquisite adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel. The movie starred Oscar winner Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter, Samuel West and Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave.

2 - The Assassination Bureau

2. “The Assassination Bureau” (1969) – Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas starred in this delicious adaptation of Jack London’s unfinished novel about a woman journalist who uncovers an organization for professional assassins. Basil Dearden directed.

3 - A Room With a View

3. “A Room With a View” (1985-86) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this excellent adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel. The movie starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis and Oscar nominees Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot.

4 - Gigi

4. “Gigi” (1958) – Oscar winner Vincente Minelli directed this superb adaptation of Collette’s 1944 novella about a young Parisian girl being groomed to become a courtesan. Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan starred.

5 - The Illusionist

5. “The Illusionist” (2006) – Neil Burger directed this first-rate adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist”. The movie starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell.

6 - The Great Race

6. “The Great Race” (1965) – Blake Edwards directed this hilarious comedy about a long-distance road race between two rival daredevils. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.

7 - Flame Over India aka North West Frontier

7. “Flame Over India aka North West Frontier” (1959) – Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this Imperial adventure about a British Army officer who serves as escort to a young Hindu prince being targeted by Muslim rebels. J. Lee Thompson directed.

8 - Meet Me in St. Louis

8. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) – Judy Garland starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Sally Benson’s short stories about a St. Louis family around the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904. Vincente Minelli directed.

9 - The Golden Bowl

9. “The Golden Bowl” (2000) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this interesting adaptation of Henry James’ 1904 novel about an adulterous affair in Edwardian England. The movie starred Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Northam.

10 - North to Alaska

10. “North to Alaska” (1960) – John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Capucine starred in this surprisingly fun Western about how a mail-to-order bride nearly came between two partners during the Nome Gold Rush. Henry Hathaway directed.

“OCTOPUSSY” (1983) Review

 

Below is a review of the 1983 James Bond film, “OCTOPUSSY”. Directed by John Glen, this 13th Bond film starred Roger Moore as the British agent:

“OCTOPUSSY” (1983) Review

While perusing some of the Bond forums, I have noticed that 1983’s ”OCTOPUSSY” is not highly regarded by many fans. Personally, I have always found this hard to understand or accept, considering that the movie has been one of my favorite entries in the Bond franchise for years. But after watching it recently . . . I still do not understand its low standing amongst the fans.

”OCTOPUSSY”’s pre-title sequence is merely a little teaser about Bond’s attempt to sabotage a missile system in the Banana Republic (aka Cuba). It was light, humorous and filled with plenty of solid action. I particularly enjoyed the fact that what started out as failure on Bond’s part after he found himself captured by enemy soldiers, ended up as a success partially through the actions of the enemy, when they attempt to shoot down the Acrostar Mini-Jet he used for a quick escape. Although entertaining, the pre-title sequence has nothing to do with the main story, which involves a power-hungry Soviet general, a mysterious and beautiful smuggler/circus owner and a duplicitous Afghan prince.

Written by George MacDonald Fraser, Richard Maibaum, and Michael G. Wilson, ”OCTOPUSSY” starts out in East Germany with 009 dressed as a clown and being pursued by a knife-wielding villain. The villain turns out to be a pair of twins (Mischska and Grischska) who want something that 009 has – namely a fake Faberge egg called Property of a Lady. One of the twins manages to fatally wound 009 with a knife. But before he can die, the British agent manages to reach the local British embassy and deliver the egg in dramatic fashion. James Bond is assigned to investigate his colleague’s death. The investigation leads to an auction at Christie’s where the real Property of a Lady egg is being sold . . . and Bond’s first meeting with the villainous Kamal Khan, his henchmen Gobinda and the lovely Madga. Bond’s investigations lead him to India, where he makes his acquaintance with Kamal Khan for the second time. He survives several attempts on his life and incarceration at Khan’s Monsoon Palace and eventually meet the mysterious Octopussy, who turns out to be the daughter of a former rogue agent whom Bond had met years ago. Bond’s encounters with Octopussy and Khan provides him with clues that lead back to East Germany and Soviet General Orlov and Khan’s plot to detonate a nuclear bomb on a U.S. Air Force base in West Germany. Fortunately, Bond (with Octopussy’s help) foils Orlov and Khan’s plans.

Roger Moore returned for the sixth time as British agent James Bond. At age 55 during the film’s production, he struck many Bond fans as too old to be portraying the super spy. Personally, I had no problems with Moore’s age around this time. He still looked handsome and healthy enough to star in the action-packed spy thriller. And he portrayed Bond with a world-weariness and style that seemed to befit his age. Even better, he managed to retain some of that gritty toughness that he utilized so effectively in his previous outing, ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY” . . . and retained his sense of humor at the same. Speaking of that humor, I usually have nothing against Moore’s humorous style (unlike many fans and critics). But I can think of four occasions when I found it a bit too much:

-Chase sequence in Udaipur with street performers

-Bond focusing short circuit camera on Indian operative’s cleavage

-The Tarzan yell during Bond’s escape from Khan’s Monsoon Palace

-Bond using fake crocodile submarine to sneak into Octopussy’s estate

Despite the extreme silliness listed above, I still found Moore’s performance satisfactory. I enjoyed his sense of humor during his encounters with the West German citizenry, while trying to stop Orlov and Khan’s bomb. And I admired his dramatic skills in scenes featuring the discovery of Vijay’s body and his romantic scene with Octopussy. But I was especially impressed by his acting in the scene that featured Bond’s only encounter with General Orlov.

Maud Adams returned to appear in her second Bond film, this time portraying the leading female character – smuggler/circus owner, Octopussy. I cannot honestly say I would consider Adams to be among the best actresses that appeared in the Bond franchise. The nine years between ”THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” (in which she portrayed the villain’s doomed mistress) and ”OCTOPUSSY” seemed to have shown no real improvement in her acting skills. But she seemed competent enough to carry the role. And her looks and screen presence certainly helped. The secondary female lead – Kristina Weyborn – portrayed Madga, Octopussy’s right-hand woman and personal liaison to Kamal Khan. Like Adams, Weyborn is a tall Swedish-born beauty with limited acting skills. And like the leading lady, she possessed enough looks and presence to carry her role. Although I do wish that someone had given her more lessons in performing martial arts on screen.

French actor Louis Jordan portrayed Kamal Khan, an exiled Afghan prince who desire for a piece of the Imperial Russian treasure leads him to take part in General Orlov’s plot to bomb a U.S. Air Force base and change the political landscape of Western Europe. Khan serves as the liaison between Orlov and Octopussy, who traveling circus/smuggling operation allows the two men to smuggle a nuclear bomb into West Germany.  Like Yaphet Kotto and Christopher Lee before him, Jordan seems to be a doppleganger of Moore’s James Bond – smooth, suave and very deadly. One scene in particular – Bond and Khan’s game of dice at an Udaipur hotel – reflects the mirror image of the two men in a very effective manner. Not only did Jordan perfectly portray Kamal Khan’s smooth style and sophistication, he did an excellent job of reflecting the Afghan prince’s darker nature – especially his cold-blooded tendency to betray anyone who stood between him and self-preservation. Including Octopussy and his men.

“OCTOPUSSY”‘s cast of minor villains include Steven Berkoff as the bombastic General Orlov, whose desire for completely Communist Europe and a higher position in the Soviet hierarchy sets off the movie’s plot. Although I found his scenes with Moore, Jordan and Adams effective and subtle, Berkhoff unfortunately revealed a tendency toward hammy acting in a scene that feature a meeting between the Soviet premier and several generals – including Gogol. And when I mean hammy, I mean . . . ham served with eggs. Indian actor Kabir Bedi portrayed Khan’s right-hand man, the silent and intimidating Gobinda. One of the Bond sites – “MI-6” Forum – stated the following about the character: “Kamal Khan’s faithful bodyguard, big and tough but none too bright.”. I do not know if I agree with that assessment. On second thought . . . I don’t agree. Gobinda’s flaw may have been that he was too devoted and loyal to Khan – after all, he actually obeyed the Afghan prince’s order that he climb out of a plane in mid-flight and kill Bond. But less than bright? No, I don’t agree. Gobinda struck me as a very observant and intelligent man. And the very handsome Bedi portrayed the henchman with a nice balance of intelligence and menace. In fact, Gobinda happens to be one of my favorite henchmen. Actors David Meyer and Anthony Meyer portray the knife-throwing assassins who killed 009, Mischka and Grischska. They did not say much in the movie, but both did a nice job of projecting competent and menacing killers.

With the death of Bernard Lee in 1980, the character of M did not appear in “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”. The character returned in the form of actor Robert Brown, who began the first of his four movie run as the head of MI-6 in “OCTOPUSSY”. Brown portrayed M with authority, but very little imagination.  Personally, I think he was simply too young to be portraying an authority figure against Roger Moore, who was six years younger. Not until Timothy Dalton’s tenure will Brown show that along with Lee and Judi Dench, he could also be an interesting M. Lois Maxwell returned as Moneypenny in one of the most amusing Bond-Moneypenny scenes in the franchise. The scene involved a ‘Miss Penelope Smallbone’ and Moore and Maxwell managed to inject a lot of humor and charm into the scene, as befitting two old friends. Desmond Llewellyn had once stated that “LICENSE TO KILL” was his favorite Bond film. Which does not seem surprising, since he had a strong role in it. But he also had a strong role in “OCTOPUSSY” and I could tell that he had enjoyed himself. Especially in the scene that featured his rescue of Madga and some of Octopussy’s other followers. It seemed too bad that Q’s embellished role in this movie seemed just as unecessary as his embellished role in “LICENSE TO KILL”. General Gogol returned in the form of Walter Gotell. And he portrayed the Soviet KGB general with his usual competence. Tennis star, Vijay Amritraj made his screen debut as Indian intelligence agent . . . Vijay. Okay this is not exactly an example of original casting, but what the hell? He did a pretty good job, anyway. And he was rather charming.

“OCTOPUSSY” marked John Glen’s second time in the director chair. And like “FOR YOUR EYES”, he did an admirable job. I have to give the man kudos for once again, bringing a touch of realistic grit in Moore’s portrayal of Bond and in the franchise. Although I do feel that he made a misstep in allowing those silly moments I had earlier mentioned, in the movie. But I do wonder who had included those ridiculous little scenes? Was it Glen? Moore? Or were the screenwriters, Fraser, Maibum and Wilson responsible? If the writers were responsible, it was a misstep on their parts. Otherwise, they created an admirable script. One of the scenes highly criticized by critics was the sight of Bond disguised as a clown to infiltrate the circus where the bomb was located. I never understood this criticsim. Perhaps they disliked the idea of James Bond dressed as a clown. If so, I find their attitude extremely shallow . . . and rather stupid.

Also, I wonder why George MacDonald Fraser was included in this project? Was it because he was a British Army veteran who had served in India? Or that he had incorporated his experiences in India in his Harry Flashman novels? I do not know what to admire more – the screenwriters’ creation of the villains’ objectives and Bond’s efforts to stop the bomb, or Glen’s direction of those scenes. Perhaps both.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed the movie’s theme song, “All Time High”, which was sung by Rita Coolidge. But in the end, it simply bored me. However, I did enjoy John Barry’s lush and exciting score. And I must commend cinematographer, Alan Hume, for the film’s photography. His shots of India and the English countryside (serving as East and West Germany) made “OCTOPUSSY” one of the most colorful entries in the Bond franchise.

Despite the low opinion held by many Bond fans, “OCTOPUSSY” remains one of my favorite Bond films. In fact, I consider it to be Moore’s second best film (despite a few stupid jokes) and the franchise’s sixth best. I give it . . . 8/10.