...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

February 06, 2007

The Second Annual AJFF: Elizabeth Taylor, Part One

As promised, we begin our tour of Elizabeth Taylor in the 60s. I might just as easily have called it Elizabeth Taylor, the Richard Burton years. She and Richard were the Brangelina of their day, and they made nine movies together during that decade.


Taylor and Burton began their affair during the filming of Cleopatra, while they were both married to someone else. Today we'll take a look at their second movie together, released the same year as Cleopatra.

The V.I.P.s, 1963

A movie poster for The V.I.P.s promises:

ELIZABETH TAYLOR... and RICHARD BURTON... in a story about... that exciting chemistry: man and woman! The emotions... are measured... in megatons!
The copy is deceptive, because V.I.Ps is really an ensemble film. If you count up all the Academy Awards owned by members of the cast, the total comes to six. Taylor won two, Maggie Smith won two, Margaret Rutherford won one (for The V.I.P.s) and Orson Welles won an honorary Oscar. That's not to mention Richard Burton's seven Oscar nominations (he never won).

Despite its dream-team cast, the movie is not another Ishtar. There are some really good performances, most notably Louis Jourdan's as Elizabeth Taylor's paramour.


Taylor does what she can with a script that assigned her the least interesting character. Her performance is subtle, and as usual she conveys as much with her eyes and a tilt of the head as she does with her lines. But Jourdan's character is the one we get to know best. It's a love triangle story. Jourdan is the playboy gambler who has stolen Elizabeth Taylor away from her rich husband, Richard Burton. Interestingly, at that time, Burton was in the process of stealing Taylor away from Eddie Fisher.

The other plot lines involve Rod Taylor as a charming but unlucky Australian businessman and Maggie Smith plays his girl Friday, who's secretly in love with him. Orson Welles plays a characature of a film director, who tries various schemes in order to dodge the onerous British tax system. Welles's storyline is intended to be comic relief, but ends up being totally forgettable. Welles was in the middle of his second European exile, and perhaps he needed the money.

Since the movie centers loosely around a transatlantic airline flight, it's fun to see a romanticized version of passenger air service, Fifties style. In the movie, BOAC assigns a special guy just to take care of the first class passengers. When the flight is delayed, they all get luxury suites in the BOAC hotel, and a car to pick them up in the morning. Nice.


But even back then, there were nasty flight attendants. Here's how Margaret Rutherford as a disheveled, pill popping duchess dealt with one impudent stewardess:

Duchess: Conductress... Conductress!

Stewardess: (coolly) Did someone call something?

Duchess: Yes dear, I did. Will you please put this thing in the hold.

Stewardess: In the hold?

Duchess: Well, wherever you do put luggage that isn't wanted on the voyage.

Stewardess: If you had wanted this with your other luggage, you should've thought of that earlier, shouldn't you've?

Duchess: (regally) If that is a question to me personally, yes. If it is a general comment on human behaviour, it is an extremely unoriginal one, and hardly worth making. Kindly dispose of this hatbox.

Stewardess: But I have no room.

Duchess: Well then, you must make room, mustn't you dear.

Rutherford's character has some really funny lines, but giving her an Academy Award for that tiny part reminds me of Jack Palance's Oscar.

Maggie Smith, whom I love, and whom you probably know best as Professor McGonagall of Gryffindor House, is wasted in The V.I.P.s. If you want to see how wonderful an actress she is, do rent The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie right away.

I gave The V.I.P.s a 3 out of 5 on the Neflix scale: "liked it." Put it on your movie watching queue only if you're a serious ET/RB fan, which I hope you will be by the end of this film festival. But before I leave you, I want you to look at the chair in this next screencap closely.


Strawman is probably the only one who may recognize it as a Poul Kjærholm design (at least a knockoff). When I was in Denmark last summer, I had the pleasure of seeing a Kjærholm exhibit at the Louisiana museum on the east coast of Sjælland. I totally want that chair.

Posted by annika, Feb. 6, 2007 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: Let's Go To Hollywood


you can get a facsimile of it at Ikea, I'm not shittin you.

Posted by: kyle8 on Feb. 7, 2007

BTW I always thought Taylor was an underated actress. In the sense that she was more the "super star" and object of tabloids than just a person plying a trade. But in certain rolls she was excellent. She was also a great beauty. Far better looking to me than the many blond bimboes who were all the rage in the fifties and sixties.

Posted by: kyle8 on Feb. 7, 2007

"Brangelina of their day", I have a hard time seeing Richard Burton as a mimbo. Maybe Liz was the 60's version of AJ, but she never reached her level of steamy sexuality/freak. No, Larry Fortenski is the Brad Pitt iteration.

Why would I want a chair, that doesn't look comfortable to sit in?

Posted by: Casca on Feb. 7, 2007


Because you sit on your ass not your eyes, but you knew that, right?

Posted by: strawman on Feb. 7, 2007

I heard you did something else with your ass straw.

Posted by: kyle8 on Feb. 7, 2007


rEALLY? SOunds like you have been sitting in too many public toilets waiting for that knock on the door that you pine for.

Posted by: strawman on Feb. 8, 2007

Where's Radical Red when you need him?

Posted by: Casca on Feb. 8, 2007