Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Louis Jourdan
Scott’s Review #1,263
Reviewed June 4, 2022
The V.I.P.’s (1963) is a sweeping drama set against a foggy London airport. It’s a very good film but hardly a masterpiece as the trials and tribulations of the stranded passengers are explored and sometimes intersect in standard ways.
The film is formulaic and offers little surprise but I enjoyed it and was entertained by the parade of stars shuffling through the vast airport.
Some stories are more interesting than others and the film has a soap opera style fixating on the glamorous and rich characters.
One wonders if The V.I.P.’s influenced the creation of the film Airport (1970) seven years later, but the film itself is patterned after 1932’s Grand Hotel both distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Real-life couple, and Hollywood A-listers, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton star and are the main draws of the film.
The all-star cast also features Louis Jourdan, Maggie Smith, Rod Taylor, Orson Welles, and the scene-stealing Margaret Rutherford.
Inclement weather has delayed a flight from London’s fabulous Heathrow Airport to New York City. A cross-section of elite passengers (V.I.P.’s) impatiently wait to board the plane as they experience various life crises in the airport.
The main storyline surrounds Frances (Taylor), a gorgeous woman fleeing a loveless marriage to her millionaire husband, Paul (Richard Burton), and in love with the dashing Marc Champselle (Jourdan).
Supporting stories feature a dotty duchess (Rutherford) who has fallen on hard times, a handsome businessman (Rod Taylor) trying to thwart a hostile takeover while his secretary (Smith) lusts after him, and Gloria (Elsa Martinelli), an aspiring actress accompanied by her money-grubbing producer, Max (Welles).
Despite the heavy-sounding plots the film is not overly serious and provides comical moments peppered in small doses. This secures the pacing and offsets too much doom and gloom.
The big soapy moments belong to Liz and Richard and rumor has it that the idea for the screenplay came to the writer Terence Rattigan by way of a real-life situation. Actress Vivien Leigh was planning to leave her husband Laurence Olivier for another man but was delayed at Heathrow airport.
Nonetheless, Taylor stoically gives a fine performance as a conflicted actress in love with a man other than her husband. The setup plays out as tired as it sounds except for the juicy reality that Taylor and Burton were married and this provides the only interest.
Taylor and Burton have terrific chemistry though she also does with Jourdan. Still, there is something uncompelling and unsatisfying about the story.
Shockingly, they are all upstaged by Rutherford who steals the entire film which resulted in her surprising Best Supporting Actress victory. She may have won because of the Academy’s tendency to sometimes award an older actor with the prize for a lifetime body of work.
Her riveting story is my favorite as she desperately seeks a way to save her historic home.
The actress hits a homerun providing the much-needed comic relief and therefore the liveliest of the performances. Her peril is offset by her cleverness and her performance is filled with heart.
Many critics hastily insisted that Rutherford is the only reason to see The V.I.P.’s which I disagree with. Personally, the combination of an airport, peril and big stars was more than enough to have me hooked.
The only addition that might have made the film better was an enormous fire or a hijacking crisis.
In the end, The V.I.P.’s (1963) will only appeal to fans of Taylor and Burton or those seeking something sudsy. Otherwise, the film is not too well remembered.
Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Margaret Rutherford (won)