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The V.I.P.s

07/01/2010

Taylor Watch 2010 continues. I finished The V.I.P.s and have mixed thoughts about it. It’s extremely slow, and it feels long, so it’s difficult to recommend. If you’re the type of person who likes to multi-task when you watch movies, this is a terrible choice. It’s too subtle to stand up to divided attention.
The V.I.P.s
The V.I.P.s is an ensemble drama about a clutch of rich-and-famous travelers facing personal crises while stranded at London’s Heathrow Airport. There’s a touch of comedy, mainly provided by Margaret Rutherford, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for her amusing turn as a tottering duchess. In the film’s least successful subplot, Orson Welles appears as a financially challenged movie director trying to salvage his project from ruin. His scenes are meant to be humorous, but the characters involved are universally annoying. Thankfully, this story line doesn’t get very much screen time.

More engaging is the plight of Rod Taylor, an Australian tractor magnate (yes, tractors) trying to save his company from corporate takeover. Maggie Smith is winning as the dutiful secretary clearly smitten with her boss. I found myself caring more about this pair than any of the other characters.

Of course, the marquee attractions are Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, appearing in their first film together post-Cleopatra. Taylor stars as Frances Andros, the estranged wife of a powerhouse businessman (Burton) who has no inkling of her intentions to leave him for a world-class gigolo (Louis Jourdan). The Andros break-up provides a fair amount of dramatic tension, but there’s something too sedate about the whole affair. There’s nothing truly enjoyable about this melodrama; in fact, it’s not melodramatic enough. And it has virtually no camp value if you’re looking for unintentional laughs.

Still, The V.I.P.s isn’t an awful mess. Both Taylor and Burton have undeniable magnetism on screen. It’s just not the most electric they’ve ever been together. (Without question, that would be Virginia Woolf.) It’s glossy, with superb cinematography and palpable suspense. Pay attention and you’ll catch some wry one-liners about the press, politics, and the movie industry. And Jourdan has a refreshing face-off with Burton that prevents both characters from becoming clichés. But, like Elephant Walk, the picture’s main appeal is for Taylor fans. I wasn’t bored watching it, but I was also disappointed. The V.I.P.s hints at first class, but it’s coach all the way.

And speaking of Elephant Walk, I recently alluded to a real-life connection between these two films. (Which may be the most interesting thing about The V.I.P.s). Elizabeth Taylor took the part of Ruth Wiley in Elephant Walk after Vivien Leigh was removed because of mental instability. You can still spot some back-shots of Leigh in the completed film. During production on Elephant Walk, Leigh had an affair with co-star Peter Finch and reportedly considered leaving then-husband Laurence Olivier. Supposedly, the V.I.P.s‘ fictional Andros couple and their Heathrow disputes were based on the Leigh love triangle.

So, first Taylor takes Leigh’s place in a film opposite Finch. Then she stars in a drama based on Leigh’s affair with Finch. And both movies feature Taylor as a disenchanted wife who is planning to leave her husband.

Next up, Divorce His, Divorce Hers, which seems to be a thematically appropriate next step.
Divorce His, Divorce Hers

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