An ersatz Grand Hotel set in a dingy airport waiting room, The V.I.P.s (1963) is one of those films that pops up on TV quite a lot, especially on Turner Movie Classics, because trashy though it may be, it has the sort of "star-studded" cast that makes for idly addictive afternoon viewing. The first film both Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made in the wake of a romantic alliance forged on the set of Cleopatra, an affair that made them international gossip column fodder, it contrives to hint at or highlight aspects of their "real" life. They play Paul and Frances Andros, a wealthy couple riven by suspicions of infidelity. As the film begins, she appears to be having an affair with a continental playboy (Louis Jourdan). Meanwhile, others pour into the soon-fog-bound airport. Among them are Orson Welles as a vaguely Eastern European film producer, probably resembling the fly-by-night but entertaining rogue producer types he knew in life. Here Welles's producer is accompanied by an aspiring actress of dubious heritage, not unlike some of Welles's real life companions. The V.I.P.s is no doubt one of those many films that Welles made to finance his own projects. Here, he wears a red scarf and dubs his voice. Also stranded are Margaret Rutherford as the Duchess of Brighton, a character type soon to be a fixture in jet-setting movies: the befuddling, quaint, irritable truth-teller, in this case on a ruse-filled mission. Finally there is the vigorous Rod Taylor, speaking in his original Australian accent, as an industrialist struggling to keep his business alive (in a situation that loosely resembles the one in Kurosawa's High and Low). All the character names in this movie are terrible, but Taylor's is the worst: Mangrum. Mr. Mangrum is unaware that his secretary (Maggie Smith) is in love with him, and in a fantasy resolution fit for the carriage trade, she is ultimately his sole source of rescue. David Frost also pops up as an unctuous interviewer, and the airport is filled with supercilious servants, as if it were indeed a hotel and not a poorly dressed but cavernous studio somewhere. Along with other cultural artifacts of the early 1960s, such as the book Coffee Tea or Me?, and the TV show "I Spy," The V.I.P.s celebrates jet-set culture, but as a hidebound studio film, it does so with stagy bathos. The direction by Anthony Asquith (one-time Profumo scandal implicatee), the obvious script credited to Terence Rattigan and the music of Miklós Rózsa all conspire to tell us what to think, in triplicate. When a tense, driven Burton starts following Taylor and Jourdan down the causeway, Burton reaches ominously into his greatcoat pocket while the music grows tense. But just to be on the safe side, Jourdan is ordered to say, "I think he's got a gun," which the character, as presented, has no way of knowing. An MGM production, The V.I.P.s arrives on DVD for the first time via Warner Home Video's "The Elizabeth TaylorRichard Burton Collection," a four film set anchored by Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Warner has lavished grand attention on this relatively worthless film, offering it up in a gorgeous, color-rich anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) of Jack Hildyard's impressive imagery, with an adequate DD 1.0 track. No extras, slimcase in the box-set.
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