Tuesday 10 June 2014

Movie Reviews: The V.I.P.s (1963)

An ensemble cast multi-story drama set in and around a London airport, The V.I.P.s maintains a steady level of interest thanks to the numerous stars on display, but never manages to properly take off.

A group of rich travellers gather at a London airport in preparation for a flight to New York. Frances Andros (Elizabeth Taylor) is dropped off at the airport by her preoccupied businessman husband Paul (Richard Burton) to travel to a presumed vacation, but she is secretly planning to abandon her marriage and elope with international gigolo Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan). Australian businessman Les Mangrum (Rod Taylor) is financially stretched to the limit, and must make it to a meeting in New York to salvage his business. He is accompanied by his loyal assistant Miss Mead (Maggie Smith). Pompous actor Max Buda (Orson Welles) must make it out of Britain by midnight, or otherwise face a hefty tax bill. He is accompanied by aspiring starlet Gloria Gritti (Elsa Martinelli). And the Duchess of Brighton (Margaret Rutherford) carries a big title but has no financial means to keep up her estate. She is hoping to land a job in Florida to help pay the bills.

When thick fog descends on the airport and delays the flight, the travellers have to face their crises. Things get worse when they are forced to stay overnight at an airport hotel. Frances is torn between Paul, who pays her little attention but is passionate in his love, and Marc, who seems to love her but may be an opportunist. Les risks everything by authorizing a bad cheque while remaining oblivious to Miss Mead's feelings towards him, and Max's accountant has to come up with an innovative, but awkward, solution to his client's tax problems.

Directed by Anthony Asquith and written by Terence Rattigan, The V.I.P.s has an intriguing premise, tapping into the growing fascination with the emerging jet set of rich people worried about money and relationships within their world of privilege. Adding real-life couple Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor into the mix helps the glamour quotient despite rather pedestrian execution.

Asquith brings to life an airport buzzing with activity, the V.I.P. lounge a crossroads of the rich and powerful acting all rich and powerful, and fawned upon by dedicated airport staff. When the drama moves to the hotel the film loses steam and becomes more stagebound, as what is essentially a talkfest is deprived of the surrounding energy generated by a major transportation hub.

Understandably focussing on Paul and Frances Andros, The V.I.P.s spends a long time on Frances' dilemma, exposing in the process the couple's frivolity. She can't decide whether to give her husband another chance to demonstrate genuine affection, or abandon him and tie her fate to a recognized playboy. Her hesitation becomes tedious, and is not helped by Paul running around with a handgun and a short temper, while Marc oozes smarm from every pore.

A bit more interesting is Maggie Smith as Miss Mead, the phenomenally efficient and equally devoted assistant to the jovial Les Mangrum. In just her fourth screen role, Smith combines secretarial capability with secretly held love and delivers the film's most sensitive performance. At the other end of the scale are Welles, Martinelli and Rutherford, who grab onto the broadest definitions of their characters and delve no further. Rutherford somehow won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for a monotonal and ill-defined turn as the dotty Duchess of Brighton.

The V.I.P.s are reasonably engaging characters, but their stories include some bothersome turbulence.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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