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On Sept. 19, 1963, MGM unveiled The V.I.P.s, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, in theaters. The film went on to win an Oscar at the 36th Academy Awards ceremony for Margaret Rutherford in the best supporting actress category. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
Gather the two most publicized stars of the decade into the same picture, produce the picture for a reasonable figure and get it out while the two stars are still on the screen in the vast and expensive film in which they achieved collective notoriety. That, baldly stated, is the commercial background against which The V.I.P.s offers an opportunity at regular prices. Whatever the merits of Anatole de Grunwald’s production otherwise, it is certain to clean up fast and big. Anthony Asquith directed.
The picture itself, with a screenplay by Terence Rattigan, is a Grand Hotel theme updated to the jet age. The setting is London airport and a London airport hotel. The characters are a group of different individuals and couples brought together and acting upon one another for no other exterior reason than that all have been booked on a certain flight to New York. Fate, in the form of flight-cancelling fog, acts unexpectedly on their lives.
Elizabeth Taylor is the wife of tycoon Richard Burton. She is planning to run away with gigolo Louis Jourdan. In a reprise of the Candida story, she feels Jourdan needs her while her dynamic husband doesn’t. Orson Welles is a Central European movie impresario; Elsa Martinelli his star and companion. Rod Taylor is a young business executive whose financial structure is threatened with collapse by the plane’s delay. Margaret Rutherford plays an impoverished noblewoman flying to America to work for money to save her ancestral home.
Rattigan’s screenplay is uneven, trite and uninspired in the dialogue and situations involving the various lovers, brilliantly funny and touching in Miss Rutherford’s sequences. The result of this is that Miss Rutherford, doughty, indomitable, makes the picture her own. The love stories seem unreal anyway. Placed next to Miss Rutherford’s unassailable reality, they almost fade away altogether. Tickets for The V.I.P.s will be bought because of Miss Taylor and Burton. But because of Miss Rutherford’s salvage job on the otherwise tepid creation, spectators will leave the theatre as her fans, eager for another Rutherford picture. MGM would do well to capitalize on this as fast and as frequently as possible.
Miss Taylor needs something stronger than this to display her talents, and so does Burton. Jourdan is acceptable as the third member of the triangle but not wholly sympathetic. Miss Martinelli is gay and attractive. Maggie Smith, as Rod Taylor’s plain secretary, has some good moments. Taylor himself is engaging and winning. Welles creates an amusing portrait. Linda Christian is on for a bit. Dennis Price and Richard Wattis are good in important supporting roles. The rest of the cast is well chosen.
Jack Hildyard’s Panavision-Metrocolor photography has the general excellence of this cameraman. Miklos Rozsa’s music is good. Other credits are competent, although some may feel Miss Taylor’s wardrobe by Givenchy is neither flattering nor good theatrical design. High fashion it may be, but dressing a show is something else again. — James Powers, originally published Aug. 13, 1963.
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