Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Louis Jourdan, Elsa Martinelli, Margaret Rutherford, Maggie Smith, Rod Taylor, Orson Welles, Linda Christian, Dennis Price, Richard Wattis, Ronald Fraser, David Frost
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Eight individuals find their lives in turmoil as they await the departure of their fog-bound flight from London. The film’s central story revolves around the Androses, Frances (Elizabeth Taylor) and Paul (Richard Burton) a wealthy couple on the verge of a marital collapse as Frances decides to move on with her French lover Marc (Louis Jourdan). Meanwhile, Les Mangrum (Rod Taylor) is forced to write a check that will bounce when it hits his bank in order to save his successful tractor manufacturing corporation from a hostile takeover by a major corporation. His trusted assistant Miss Mead (Maggie Smith) takes care of all the details while pining away for her boss. Then there’s Max Buda (Orson Welles) a prominent filmmaker living in Switzerland to avoid paying taxes and preparing to shoot a new movie, but whether it’s with his current lover Gloria Gritti (Elsa Martinelli) depends heavily on a number of events in the film. Then all by her lonesome, on holiday before she must return home to the prospect of losing her estate, is The Duchess of Brighton (Margaret Rutherford).
The film is horribly segmented, bouncing back and forth between stories seemingly at random. It’s a type of Grand Hotel in an airport V.I.P. lounge setting. And like that early Best Picture winner, the film only has tangential connections between its four distinct stories. However, the differences are staggering. Whereas with Grand Hotel, you found yourself rooting for a number of the characters in the film while being entertained by them, The V.I.P.s are a rather uninteresting group of people with only Mangrum and Mead of any real interest. The performances may have something to do with those problems. Taylor is completely wrong for her part. Despite her familiarity with wealthy roles, she makes Frances feel like a disinterested paramour, not a woman torn between a now-loveless marriage and a frisky French fling that she has decided to make serious. I have a love/hate relationship with her as an actress. More often than not, I’ve found I dislike her terribly, but every once in awhile, I find a performance I absolutely love (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?).
Maggie Smith and Rod Taylor have inarguable chemistry together and it’s one of the reasons their story is so interesting. Taylor presents Mangrum as a jovial, yet gruff man not accustomed to the royal treatment of a airline V.I.P. but perfectly willing to accept the custom. And when his life and world seem to start crumbling around him, you can’t help but hope for his eventual success. Smith’s longing glances and efficient devotion help her character develop some manner of credibility even though it isn’t effectively written and begins far too thinly. However, theirs is only a small portion of the film and the rest of it just feels so pointless at times, revealing virtually nothing about human nature we hadn’t been keenly aware of before. It’s mostly a melodrama lacking in emotion, which is hardly any fun. And the less said about the inappropriate and ever-present music, the better. As for the rather superfluous character of the Duchess, Margaret Rutherford is certainly fun, but it seems like her role is only to keep the film from feeling overbearing with dramatics.
September 13, 2010