Wednesday 8 August 2007

The VIPs (1963) Anthony Asquith

The last time I watched an Anthony Asquith movie, it was The Importance of Being Earnest, based on the play by Oscar Wilde. This one was written for the screen by a modern playwright, Terence Rattigan and boasts a full complement of major stars. There's Elizabeth Taylor, leaving her gorgeous period and starting to look scary; forceful and intense Richard Burton, as powerful and magnetic as his future wife; international playboy Louis Jordain; Elsa Martinelli, flighty and continental European actress; Oscar winning Margaret Rutherford, both as dotty and as joyous as usual; Maggie Smith, prim, proper and very capable; rugged Aussie businessman Rod Taylor; and last, but not least, outrageous and bloated Orson Welles.

Welles gets the most telling role, but then again he always was best when making fun of himself. He's a film director called Max Buda who claims to not concern himself with money while being mortally afraid of the taxman, with Martinelli as Gloria Gritti, his current prima donna. Money is a key factor in most of these stories and love is the other one, but as you'd expect from a bunch of characters in the VIP lounge at Heathrow it's often hard to tell the difference. That's half the story, or half of each of the stories, as there are many interconnecting a la Grand Hotel, all concerning passengers to New York.

Liz Taylor was a year away from her first marriage to Richard Burton but her character Frances has been married to his billionaire tycoon Paul Andros for thirteen years. Now she's eloping with gigolo Marc Champselle, played by Louis Jourdan, but she's the one with the money. Margaret Rutherford is the dotty Duchess of Brighton who's taking a job in the States to keep her stately home going. Rod Taylor is an Aussie businessman called Les Mangrum who has built his little tractor company into something huge and Maggie Smith as Miss Mead is his capable assistant who is obviously head over heels in love with him.

The other half of the various stories comes in when fog rolls in and the plane to New York is delayed. Max Buda has to be out of the country by midnight or he'll lose a million dollars to the taxman. Mangrum has to get to New York to persuade a banker to cover his cheque to save his company from a hostile takeover. Frances Andros wants to be gone with her new beau before her letter to her husband is read and he gets the chance to powerfully react.

There's a major epilogue to each of the stories to demonstrate the results that has come to pass by the time the plane is finally about to leave. The strange thing is that the big stories disappoint but the little stories elevate. I felt that the Liz Taylor/Richard Burton/Louis Jourdan story was pure melodrama and beneath the talents of the actors playing the parts. The same applies to the Orson Welles story, and these two seemed to be the major ones. However by contrast I thought that Margaret Rutherford's little additional piece was a treat and the subplot with Rod Taylor and Maggie Smith was worth far more than it was obviously intended to be.

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