26 June 2005 | FilmOtaku
Sometimes compelling, sometimes silly
The setting is London, and Frances Andros (Taylor), the wife of shipping magnate Paul Andros (Burton) says goodbye to her husband at the airport, where he thinks she is bound for Jamaica. After he leaves, it is revealed that she is meeting her new love Marc Champselle (Jourdan), a notorious international playboy who has fallen head over heels in love with her. Both are going to eschew their old lives and fly to New York, but are dismayed to discover that their plane is grounded due to heavy fog. Unfortunately, Frances has chosen to let Paul know about her plans via a "Dear John" note that she leaves at their house, and of course, Paul (influential in both money and power) comes back to the airport to demand his wife's return. Also inconvenienced by the fog is Les Mangrum (Taylor), an Australian businessman who has been fighting with a larger company for months to avoid a corporate takeover, and finally has the number of shares needed; until one of his associates turns against him and sells him out to the new company, forcing Mangrum to write a bad check on the share price difference. Thinking he can have another associate cover his check before the act becomes a bona fide felony, Mangrum knows that if he can get to New York in time for the board meeting everything will be okay, but the plane delay quashes all hope for this. Mangrum decides to spend one last night in London drinking champagne and living the high life with his trusty, loyal and prim secretary Miss Mead (Smith), who is secretly in love with him. Two other story arcs that aren't as prominent involve Max Buda (Welles), an acclaimed film director traveling with starlet Gloria Gritti (Martinelli) who finds himself forced into the position of marrying her, despite his obvious contempt, in order to save millions in taxes. And finally there is The Duchess of Brighton (Rutherford) an elderly eccentric who is flying to Miami in order to work on a project that will pay her enough to keep her large castle, despite the fact that she doesn't want to leave London. All of the above players are first ensconced in the airport's VIP lounge, and later, an airport hotel, where their personal dramas (and foibles) all play out and work themselves out, one way or another.
I had read an article about this film in Vanity Fair a couple of years ago, and it detailed various behind-the-scenes facts about the film, namely the burgeoning romance between Burton and Taylor, who were the Jolie/Pitt of their day, only on an exponential scale. Their chemistry in this film is very pervasive, and really add depth to both of their characters. Surprisingly, I found that Taylor and Smith had an enormous amount of synergy, most of it due to Smith's portrayal of Miss Mead as mousy, yet practically bursting at the seams with respect and love for Mangrum. Margaret Rutherford, who is a revered British stage and screen actress, won an Academy Award for her funny, yet slightly heart-breaking portrayal of a woman with a title and not much else. The only story line that I found obnoxious was the Orson Welles/Elsa Martinelli one. It contained so little depth and such a minimal amount of compelling moments that I found myself getting annoyed whenever I had to waste precious viewing time watching their story arc rather than being able to watch more of the other well-written, well-acted ones contained in the film. Admittedly, Orson Welles is a long-time hero of mine, and there were times when his sarcastic portrayal of the pompous director made me chuckle, but those moments didn't save his scenes in the slightest.
"The V.I.P.s" is as lush and colorful as a Sirk film, and Taylor is decked out in glamorous gowns and furs, but I was shocked to find myself really becoming wrapped up in the story lines and the acting, whereas I had planned on watching a fluff piece that had a bunch of attractive people enacting what would essentially be a soap opera with a multi-million dollar budget. Critics in 1963 expected to marginalize the film the same way I did, and were surprised (and not always pleased) to find that "The V.I.P.s" is actually quite a good film. A lot of the stars of the film had already done some of their most recognizable and lauded work by the time this film had been released, Smith would achieve a great amount of recognition within a couple of years, and Rutherford was at the tail end of her life, but all of them (with the possible exception of Welles and Martinelli, though I believe a lot of it was the material they were given) pulled together to make a film that is surprisingly compelling, very well acted and unfortunately, mostly forgotten. 7/10 --Shelly