V.I.P.s, THE


(director: Anthony Asquith; screenwriter: Terence Rattigan; cinematographer: Jack Hildyard; editor: Frank Clarke; music: Miklos Rozsa; cast: Elizabeth Taylor (Frances Andros), Richard Burton (Paul Andros), Louis Jourdan (Mark Champselle), Elsa Martinelli (Gloria Gritti), Margaret Rutherford (Duchess of Brighton), Maggie Smith (Miss Mead), Rod Taylor (Les Mangrum), Orson Welles (Max Buda), Linda Christian (Miriam Marshall), Richard Wattis (Mr. Sanders), David Frost (Himself), Martin Miller (Accountant, Dr. Schwutzbacher); Runtime: 119; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Anatole de Grunwald; Warner Bros./MGM; 1963-UK)

“It’s jet-set entertainment for celebrity watchers and those who will watch anything while a passenger in air flight.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The once card-carrying member of the Communist Party Anthony Asquith (“The Way to the Stars”/ “Uncensored”/ “The Yellow Rolls-Royce”) has been reduced in later life (in the ’50s and ’60s) to making glossy middling conservative films. This crappy drama, with an all-star cast, is one of them. It’s written by playwright Terence Rattigan (“Separate Tables”). The film’s sizzle is all about Liz Taylor and Richard Burton starring together and continuing their well-publicized tabloid adulterous affair after filming Cleopatra earlier in the year. The film earned Margaret Rutherford an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, who was reluctant to appear in it until Rattigan fattened her part. Why she won, speaks more for Oscar’s lack of taste than anything she did in her tepid physical comedy relief performance.

It’s set entirely in London’s Heathrow airport. A group of passengers en route to New York gather in the V.I.P. lounge when a heavy fog delays their takeoff. They’re all tensed up about getting the flight to depart as soon as possible; the only party that doesn’t mind the delay is the nervous, pill popping, dotty Duchess of Brighton (Margaret Rutherford).

The vacuous but pretty Frances Andros (Elizabeth Taylor) is leaving her manly workaholic multi-millionaire financier husband Paul (Richard Burton) of 13 years to run off with penniless international playboy Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan), only because he needs her more than her hubby does.

Max Buda (Orson Welles) is traveling with his bimbo sexpot “protégé” Gloria Gritti (Elsa Martinelli); he’s a Brit famous as a globe-trotting European movie producer-director, who needs to get out of the country before midnight to save $1 million in taxes. Les Mangrum (Rod Taylor) is a self-made Australian industrialist who must be in New York the following day to arrange for a loan in order to stop a giant industrial combine from a hostile takeover of his small tractor firm. The Duchess of Brighton has taken a job in Florida in order to raise the money to keep the family estate from foreclosure.

The flight is cancelled until morning, and all must stay at the airport hotel.

Paul arrives at the airport after finding his wife’s Dear John letter. After telling her how much he needs her, Frances goes back to him. If that wasn’t a miracle enough, Mangrum’s faithful mousy secretary, Miss Mead (Maggie Smith), who secretly adores him, persuades Paul to lend Mangrum the million bucks and thereby saves his company. There are more miracles, as Buda’s accountant (Martin Miller) arranges for his client to turn over all of his financial assets to the foreign-born Gloria, and then marry her–this subterfuge beats the tax collector. If that weren’t enough to swallow, The Duchess cancels the flight and returns home when Buda rents her estate for location filming on his next film project thereby solving her money woes.

It’s jet-set entertainment for celebrity watchers and those who will watch anything while a passenger in air flight, the sort of uncritical entertainment that unfortunately usually does well at the box office–it broke box office records in New York and London. Of passing interest, Burton decided during filming to leave his wife Sybil and gave Liz as an engagement present the diamond and emerald brooch she wore in the film.