The V.U.P.s

Anthony “Puffin” Asquith’s transmutation from the spectacular UFA-esque pure cinema of A COTTAGE ON DARTMOOR to the “well-made play” school of swank British tedium is likely to remain a headscratcher. Maybe he got all his excitement from the rumoured wild parties, leaving only a rather turgid display of craftsmanship for the movies.

Don’t give him Cinemascope, for God’s sake! Worst thing you could do.

So here’s THE V.I.P.S, with a Rattigan script, Burton & Taylor (and Louis Jourdan makes three), Orson Welles and Rod Taylor and Maggie Smith (probably the main draw, nowadays — well, she’s about the only survivor).

It did turn out to be an adequate afternoon timewaster — Orson, playing a caricature of Korda and looking like a boiled owl, is funny, as is Margaret Rutherford. The Burtons’ stuff is a drag. David Frost does a fun self-parody, though Peter Cook could have done it with more relish. He and Richard Wattis seem like the only ones really trying to be entertaining. Oh, and Elsa Martinelli is fun, and actually IS glamorous.

The conceit, that airports are glamorous and exciting, and tax problems and cash-flow problems and marital problems are glamorous and exciting when they afflict movie-star types, is hilariously dated.

It’s a PLAY. The compositions, admittedly, are pleasing. The camera pushes in occasionally. Otherwise, the cinema does not intrude — until the last reel, where Liz staggers across the concourse, searching, searching, searching for her Dick, and Puffin throws in some reasonably frantic POV shots scanning the throng.

Miklos Rosza insists it’s all very emotionally significant but he’s lied to us too often in the past.

Very good costumes — not for the glamour, for the CHARACTER. And we did get an emotional charge from the Rod Taylor/Maggie Smith romance, maybe because we like RT so much and Smith is so good at projecting silent adoration and concern (and anything else you ask her to project, of course). It tapped into our affection for the actors.

The V.I.P.s stars Gloria Wandrous; Thomas Becket; Stefan Brand; Anna Maria ‘Dallas’ D’Allesandro / Mama Tembo; Madame Arcati; Minerva McGonagall; Pongo (voice); Unicron (voice); Princess Panthea; Louis D’Ascoyne; Albert Prosser; Jock McTaggart; Bob Trubshaw; Miss Tonks; Frith (voice); Old Fred (voice); Wallace (voice); Mr. Stringer; Blackaver (voice); Mme. Dubonnet; Mr. Meek; Louis XIII (voice, uncredited); Violet Bradman; and Ives ‘the mole’.

7 Responses to “The V.U.P.s”

  1. David Ehrenstein Says:

    It’s “Grand Hotel” in an airport waiting room. Not figuratively — literally. Maggie Smith has the Joan Crawford role, Her boss however is sympathetic — unlike Wallace Beery in the original. No Garbo equivalent but we have Burton and Taylor , fresh off of an obscure art film called “Cleopatra” glamming it up. And then there’s Louis Jourdan playing the Jose de Villalonga role. Really really silly. I can imagine Rattigan laughing hysterically as he wrote this.

  2. He’s clearly writing with a lot of the cast in mind, giving them the kind of thing they’re known for, Margaret Rutherford especially.

  3. Was it not rushed into production, after CLEOPATRA wrapped, to capitalize on publicity attending the Taylor – Burton romance and to pip CLEO at the post?

  4. That could be. The airport setting couldn’t have been terribly challenging to throw together in a hurry.

  5. V.I.P.s actually came out a few months AFTER CLEO, but only a few. Looks like it had an interesting genesis (according to the Innacurate Movie Data Base, anyway) Minelli mentioned as director, Sophia L instead of Elizabeth T, etc. And Rattigan apparently based it upon an incident where his friend Lawrence Olivier ambushed his wife Vivien Leigh at fogged-in Heathrow, where she was preparing to run off with Peter Finch. With friends like these…

  6. chris schneider Says:

    LOL-ed at the Miklos Rosza line, the “he’s lied to us too often in the past.”


  7. Glad to hear you say that, I was absurdly pleased when I wrote it!

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