Bad Movies We Love: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in The V.I.P.s
Now that the procession of Elizabeth Taylor tributes is finally over, the real fanaticism can begin! I'm staining my corneas with purple Crayola Washables, pounding shots of White Diamonds straight from the tube, and slurring, "Tell mama all" to my saliva-drenched Montgomery Clift poster. I'm also revisiting one of Elizabeth Taylor's most senselessly elegant movies, the 1963 "drama" The V.I.P.s. It's about attractive people who are horny at the airport. I've already taken off!
According to our own Alonso Duralde (who wrote this lovely ode to Elizabeth Taylor's best over-the-top performances), The V.I.P.s exists because "international air travel used to be so exclusive and glamorous that you could set an entire movie about the beautiful people in the departure lounge of an airport." Exactly right. The V.I.P.s is about a bunch of rich, great-looking travelers who are stuck at Heathrow thanks to a fog. That's all. They need to catch planes for important reasons -- like leaving their lovers, saving their businesses, or being attractive on another continent -- but they're all so bored, postured, and gorgeous that the movie becomes a sexiness competition.
I say we make that competition official!
Here's a ranking of The V.I.P.s' hot V.I.P.s! Criteria: 1) Sexiness. 2) Hotness. 3) Do Me-ness. 4) Put-Down-Your-Valise-and-Do-Me-On-It-ness. 5) That is all.
Gloria's a hot-to-trot wacktress who wants a big-time movie producer (played by Orson Welles!) to make her a star. Problem is, her haircut is not super-'60s enough for the purposes of this list. The fluff isn't there. Barbara Feldon would wince at that keratin blob. Dusty Springfield would jackknife in agony. Twiggy would snap her fingers (and herself, in half). Decent attempt, Miss Martinelli, but these other beauts outpace you by a dozen lengths.
Rod Taylor is a winsome mensch. He's a Jeff Probst/Jason Bateman hybrid, and that's the kind of ruggedness missing in modern beach volleyball. But as Les Mangum, Rod's a sad sack sauntering around the V.I.P. lounge waiting for someone to save him from bankruptcy. It takes the machinations of his lovestruck secretary (Maggie Smith!) to rescue him, and that's libido-ruining for me. Clean up your own monetary birdcrap, Rod!
When Orson Welles wasn't directing Touch of Evil or The Trial, he was starring in fun clunkers like The V.I.P.s and trying out Italian accents. The result is panty-decimating. From the way he dismisses ingenue Gloria Gritti ("Is a tragedy.") to the way he announces peril ("I've got to get out of the country tonight... or else I lose one million dollars!"), he's a heap of sexual melodrama that belongs in a telenovela. The things he could do with that pimp Kane!
The V.I.P.s has the nerve to cast Maggie Smith as a meek secretary in an uneffably drab outfit, but her carnality shines through. When her boss (menschy Rod Taylor) needs six figures to save his business, she approaches millionaire Paul Andros (Richard Burton) and wheedles him into a loan. That's love! That's splendor at the gate! That's a bathtub of hormones waiting to spill over like a piping hot cappuccino. Maggie Smith would only achieve greater sexual prowess on the recent season of Downton Abbey. (Please watch that.) Now remove that margarine-colored blouse and get to sexing, Mags!
So, Sir Dick Burton plays a millionaire who is losing his actress wife (Elizabeth Taylor) to another man. So, he gets a little abuse-y about it. That doesn't mean he's not a commanding coil of testosterone who looks like Nate Corrdry's ferocious uncle! "You've destroyed both our lives for a male whore!" he howls at Liz. The fact that the words "male whore" exited Richard Burton's mouth is a cosmic gift to the ages. Now, watch him break a mirror using Elizabeth's body.
Louis Jourdan is like a glossy French version of Omar Sharif who could sell you Wheat Thins. That's still thigh-meltingly hot. If you think he's got shifty eyebrows worthy of Hitchcockian lore, Hitch already thought of that (1947's The Paradine Case), and if you think he's got the knowing smirk of a Bond villain, you're also way behind (Kamal Khan in Octopussy, of course). Here he plays a gigolo -- uh huh -- whose cavalier smarts woo Elizabeth Taylor from Richard Burton's embrace. Jourdan gives such good face in this movie, you'll be sorry he missed the cut in Madonna's "Vogue" rap. His jawline is too sharp for children.
Our Elizabeth. She's predictably saucy and uncompromising in this mo
vie, coasting on a wave of horny glee like National Velvet's still soaring beneath her. As movie star Frances Andros, she's using this delayed flight to escape with French bandit Marc, but her hubby has a lot to say about that. Even if Elizabeth is working undertime on her trite dialogue ("That smokescreen of charm can be very dense."), she remains more glamorous than Midas. She and Burton had collaborated on Cleopatra before The V.I.P.s, so you can see why they'd both want to tone things down with a lounge drama. Even so, she's unforgettable here.
Surprise! We may be in Elizabeth Taylor's month of mourning, but let's keep our heads on straight. Margaret Rutherford, who'd previously dominated the role of Miss Marple (take notes, Jen Garner), plays a discombobulated duchess who takes "purple pills" to deal with airplanes. She is cheery. She is chipper. She is a fearless firebrand who will mock your plebeian grammar and chug drugs at your ticket counter. For her fabulous efforts, Ms. Rutherford was honored with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. That may seem like a bit of a stretch, but did you really want someone from Tom Jones to win it? That's right. Eat your purple pill lunch and shut up.