M-G-M’s The V.I.P.s (1963) presents a collection of poignant stories that interlock in the tradition of Grand Hotel (1932). The delay of flights from London to the United States forces several “very important” travelers to confront life-altering crises while stuck overnight at London’s Heathrow Airport. The principal storyline focuses on possessive business tycoon Paul Andros (Richard Burton), whose neglected wife Frances (Elizabeth Taylor) plans to leave him for a gigolo, Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan). A secondary plot thread has self-made Australian businessman Les Mangrum (Rod Taylor) fighting to save his tractor company, assisted by his loyal secretary, Miss Mead (Maggie Smith), who is secretly in love with him. Two relatively minor stories add comic relief: the plucky but impoverished Duchess of Brighton (Margaret Rutherford) plans to take a job working at a Florida hotel in order to save her ancestral home; and larger-than-life filmmaker Max Buda (Orson Welles) must flee England with naïve starlet Gloria Gritti (Elsa Martinelli) in order to evade a crushing income tax. Each story somehow impacts another: Frances opts to stay with Paul when he proves he cares about her, but not before her newly vulnerable husband bails Les out of financial trouble; Max, who solves his tax problem by marrying Gloria, chooses to shoot his next film at the Duchess’s ancestral home, relieving her of the need to work abroad.
The film was inspired by a true story that actress Vivien Leigh had related to playwright-turned-screenwriter Terence Rattigan, in which she planned to leave husband Laurence Olivier for Peter Finch. When Leigh and Finch were grounded by fog at Heathrow, she reconsidered and returned to her Olivier. Rattigan developed the three other plot threads to anchor this story and producer Anatole de Grunwald purchased the script for $100,000, populating the production with some of Hollywood’s most powerful (and difficult) players—all skillfully managed by director Anthony Asquith. The film was the first to re-team Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor after their scandalous affair during the filming of Fox’s Cleopatra (1963), which was still in theaters when The V.I.P.s premiered. The couple’s volatile chemistry (and Burton’s real-life alcohol abuse) is evident on screen, and their popularity helped make the film a box-office success. Critics were surprised to discover the supporting performances equal to—if not more engaging than—those of Burton and Taylor. The standouts included Maggie Smith’s lovelorn secretary (whom Burton reportedly accused of stealing the movie) and Margaret Rutherford, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her brief but disarmingly human portrayal of the Duchess of Brighton. Not all of the players were as affecting or committed: Rod Taylor recalled Orson Welles confessing that he had taken on his role simply to finance a production of Don Quixote.
Enhancing the film’s melodrama is Miklós Rózsa’s score, a romantic work that binds the stories together through the use of two related themes: the film’s signature tune (“Theme From The V.I.P.s”), representing Paul’s strained relationship with Frances, and the “Prelude Theme” for Frances’s suitor, Marc. The two melodies are somewhat similar in shape (with prominent sevenths at the beginning of each) and when Rózsa develops them, it is often difficult to ascertain with which theme he is toying. This technique deliberately plays to the challenge Frances faces in choosing her man, as she slowly comes to recognize the same qualities in Marc that she no longer tolerates in Paul. Still, the themes are subtly different: Paul’s theme is calmer, with “softer” harmonies (a major ninth chord supports the first eight notes), while Marc’s is more tortured, its opening leap of a seventh creating a strong dissonance with the underlying major harmony.
Rózsa derives two more ideas from his main themes and applies them to the film’s second love triangle between Miss Mead, Les and his girlfriend Miriam (Linda Christian): one variation speaks to Les’s depression, the other to Miss Mead’s unrequited love for her boss. Max Buda appears almost entirely without music but the Duchess receives her own playful material for a small Baroque ensemble—her music is relaxed and dignified even in the face of upheaval.
Rózsa’s long-running contract with M-G-M had ended in 1962 on an unhappy note, with the composer feeling that his copious contributions were not sufficiently appreciated. (It was a dark time for the Hollywood studios, and many long-term personnel—even top actors—shared this sentiment.) The composer was enticed back to the studio to score The V.I.P.s by Rudolf Monta, the Romanian head of the studio’s copyright office and “a dear friend and a very cultured man,” as Rózsa wrote in his autobiography, Double Life. “He persuaded me to take the job as a personal favor to him.” Concerned about the cost of employing Rózsa, the studio had wanted to hire a “local” (i.e. British) composer, and ended up paying Rózsa not in currency but in a painting (“not exceeding two thousand pounds,” per a studio memo) that the composer would choose and the studio would purchase.
Arriving in London to write and record his score, Rózsa was surprised by a phalanx of reporters and photographers at the gangway of his airplane as if to greet him—before realizing their attention was directed at the Beatles, who were also aboard the flight. After viewing the film, the composer suggested to the filmmakers that their picture was badly in need of additional explanation as to “why Taylor should be leaving a rich and young Burton for a penniless, aging Louis Jourdan.” While the producer, director and writer agreed, the actress refused to shoot any additional footage for the picture, finally agreeing to film one additional scene in exchange for the mink coat she had worn at one point in the production. Rózsa had to be kept away from the stars, however, “because I could easily have had my eyes scratched out” as Taylor “was furious that a mere composer like myself should have dared to express an opinion.” The production ended on a sad note for Rózsa when he learned of Monta’s death in Hollywood.
The London orchestra used for the original soundtrack to The V.I.P.s might have been an established group (possibly either the London Philharmonic or the Philharmonia Orchestra) rather than a pick-up ensemble, but no screen credit was given, as it might have complicated the studio’s ability to issue the recording on LP (due to pre-existing record contracts). In fact, the credits fail to identify Rózsa as the conductor of the score, only listing him as its composer. As it happened, Rózsa re-recorded the music for an MGM Records LP (E/SE-4152) in Italy with the Rome Symphony Orchestra. In 1986 MCA Records reissued the album on LP (MCA-25001) and cassette tape.
The re-recording features the film’s most prominent cues, with certain pieces substantially extended and re-orchestrated. The original soundtrack recording heard in the film has been lost, so only the album version survives, previously released on CD by Chapter III Records (CH 37501) but newly remastered for this box set from a 1630 digital tape of the ¼″ stereo album master. For clarity, the tracks are discussed below in (approximate) film order.
- 1. Prelude
- A montage introduces the film’s players against a grandiose statement of Marc’s theme, although the album re-recording features an alternate opening fanfare that instead foreshadows the forthcoming material for Paul. A red carpet unrolls, welcoming an exultant setting of Paul’s melody (“Theme from The V.I.P.s”), which plays out over decadent images: a cigar box, a martini glass, a Rolls-Royce, etc. Rózsa extended the conclusion of the cue for the album, elaborating on the triumphant first phrase of Paul’s theme, while the film version of the cue instead follows the action to Heathrow, with a bustling passage for the arrival of Max Buda (Orson Welles).
- 2. The Duchess of Brighton
- A deceptively naïve theme for the Duchess (Margaret Rutherford) plays as the feisty, first-time flier is greeted by Sanders (Richard Wattis), the reception manager for British Overseas Airways. The melody is distinctly English, recalling Rózsa’s music for Prince Edward in Young Bess. It spotlights strings, flute (a recorder was used on the soundtrack) and harpsichord. Rózsa expanded this album version of the cue considerably, adding a B section (never heard in the film) that features a stately trumpet solo.
- 3. The Bracelet
- Paul Andros (Richard Burton) accompanies his wife, Frances (Elizabeth Taylor), to the airport terminal. A shy introduction for woodwinds leads to Paul’s music, as the millionaire presents his wife with an expensive bracelet. The gift causes Frances to break down; Paul comforts her, with their shared theme enhancing her heartbreak. The melody suddenly turns foreboding when they reach the terminal, hinting at upcoming trouble. The cue ends in the film when Paul spots Marc, unaware that Frances intends to elope with him, but Rózsa added a few bars of music to the album track for a more satisfactory conclusion.
- 7. The Letter
- In the airline’s V.I.P. lounge, Sanders informs passengers that their flights have been delayed due to fog. The score offers impending doom as Rózsa’s theme for gigolo Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan) plays on angry muted brass with martial snare drum accompaniment. Marc voices his concern over the break-up letter Frances has left for Paul, who could conceivably return to the airport after reading it and find the lovers still waiting. Marc’s theme gives way to Paul’s as Frances calls her housekeeper to instruct her to tear up the letter, but Paul answers the phone. In the film, the music ends abruptly as she hangs up; for the album, Rózsa added a coda featuring a portentous low brass version of Paul’s theme.
- 4. Conflict
- Marc and Frances discuss Paul in the V.I.P. lounge. She implores the gigolo not to disappoint her, just as Paul arrives and joins them, with a low, forbidding version of his theme stirring the tension. Paul is initially cavalier and insults Marc, whose theme Rózsa subtly weaves into the texture. When their flight is announced over the public address system, Sanders escorts Frances and Marc to their gate with Paul following; his hand clings to a gun in his pocket and the score creates suspense with a series of disturbed statements of his theme over a descending three-note idea drawn from the same material. The piece builds to a climax as Paul descends on the couple, giving way to lumbering low brass readings of his theme when he grabs Frances and threatens to kill her. Once she and Marc break away from him, a sorrowful version of Paul’s theme plays for Frances crying due to the look of devastation on her husband’s face. (Rózsa expanded and repeated the concluding brass statement of the theme for the album).
- 5. Mood for Truth
- Paul seizes the opportunity provided by yet another flight delay to summon Marc to a private office in the airport. He attempts to buy him off and writes him a check but Marc declines the offer. A somber variation of the gigolo’s material develops while he declares his love for Frances, with the descending figure from “Conflict” set persistently against his melody. Marc elaborates that Paul lost his wife by showering her with hollow gifts, and the score blends the themes for both competitors as they verbally dress each other down. Marc offers his sympathies and abandons Paul in the office, the defeated husband’s theme building dramatically as he rips the check in half. The score gives way to a declarative brass statement of Marc’s theme, with the gigolo looking back in time to see Paul walking through the terminal, accompanied by a gloomy, low-register statement of his melody. The cue dissipates with a tentative hint of Marc’s theme on clarinet.
- 6. Adorable Invitation
- In a luxurious hotel suite where they are waiting out the fog, Marc and Frances discuss their future as a couple, with Marc’s theme painting a bright picture for them. She confesses that she has not brought any money with her and gauges his reaction. When he is suitably unfazed, she reveals that her father left her $300,000. Marc does not appreciate the test: his theme is intermittently warm and threatening, with its final fateful turns ringing with uncertainty for their relationship. Once she calms him down, he notes her beauty, calling her eyes “a perpetually adorable invitation,” but when she teases him about the description, he again becomes angry. She says that she loves him for who he is on the inside while he, tellingly, offers that he loves her for how she looks. A fragile statement of Marc’s theme plays on solo violin, ending their conversation with a romantic air of hope. In the film, the cue ends with a suspenseful chord for a knock at the door interrupting their kiss.
- 8. Consolation
- Les Mangrum (Rod Taylor) learns that his delayed flight has likely cost him his company. An aching melody developed out of “Theme From The V.I.P.s” plays for a pained reaction to the news by Mangrum’s secretary, Miss Mead (Maggie Smith), giving voice to the love she cannot express to Les in words. She attempts to cheer him up by telling him that he can start over, but he is inconsolable. A final miserable variation of “Theme From The V.I.P.s” is used to enforce Les’s depression as he calls his shallow girlfriend, Miriam (Linda Christian), and invites her to the hotel for one last celebration before his life falls apart. To his dismay, Miriam is unable to attend and he asks Miss Mead to dinner instead; her impassioned melody returns as she accepts his offer. The cue’s final contented setting of Mead’s theme does not appear in the film.
- 11. Doubts
- After an explosive confrontation, Paul bids farewell to Frances. The tycoon’s bittersweet theme creates sympathy for him as he leaves his wife in her hotel suite with Marc. The score builds cautiously when the gigolo notes a bandaged wound on her wrist (caused by Paul in a fit of rage) but she lies and dismisses it as an accident. Marc asks to spend the night with her, accompanied by a pure clarinet statement of his theme, but he mars the request when he becomes too possessive and reminds Frances of what she has come to hate about her husband. His theme turns anguished before giving way to a collapsing melodic line when she dismisses him and he leaves the room dejected.
- Paul’s Exit
- Paul’s theme plays threateningly against an unnerving brass and tremolo string pedal as he leaves a letter at the hotel’s front desk to be mailed to Frances in New York. He walks outside and dismisses his driver before disappearing into the night. The film version of this cue is slightly re-orchestrated to feature biting muted brass.
- 10. Emotional Cost
- Les wallows in self pity at his dinner with Miss Mead, his forlorn string theme becoming increasingly entangled as he opens up to her. They toast to better days and the music takes a chipper turn reminiscent of certain bright passages in Rózsa’s score for Lust for Life (FSMCD Vol. 5, No. 1), bouncing optimistically and trilling through Miriam’s unexpected arrival at the hotel restaurant. Les is grateful to see her while Miss Mead suppresses her disappointment. (The final 0:10 of this cue does not appear in the film.)
- 9. Daffodils
- The Duchess explains her plight to a sympathetic hotel employee. Her spirited material is restated at a more relaxed tempo while she describes the vast estate that she is in danger of losing; Shakespeare once stayed there and she wonders if a bit of his prose was inspired by their renowned daffodils.
- 12. Question of Pride/Suicide Threat/Finale
- The conclusions for two of the film’s storylines are scored with music that does not appear on this album: Max Buda decides to film his next picture at the Duchess’s estate, with the money he offers relieving her of her need to work in America; the Duchess’s theme is given a final reprise after their fortuitous exchange. Meanwhile, Miss Mead has managed to save Les’s business by playing to Paul’s sympathy; moved by her genuine plea, he writes her a check covering the money Les needs, and the next morning the grateful Australian boards his plane with renewed confidence. Before Les departs, he acknowledges Mead’s feat and affection by giving her a passionate kiss, to a glowing send-off of her theme.
- Mead’s material lingers into the opening of “Question of Pride” for Frances discovering Paul hung over at an airport bar. Frances begs him to go home and the score once again blurs the line between the themes for Paul and Marc, with the descending motive from “Conflict” refusing to definitively associate itself with either character. On the LP, horns take up an anguished wail of Paul’s theme; in the film this same material is orchestrated with only strings. Paul restates his love for her and his words make an impression, his theme ringing pure as he apologizes for not doing a better job of showing his affection. They say their goodbyes and Frances storms into the lounge demanding that Marc show her the letter that Paul left at the hotel.
- The score is briefly dialed out for this confrontation but re-enters with a foreboding treatment of Paul’s theme once she has read his suicide note, in which he reveals that he cannot live without her. She refuses to leave with Marc and recites Paul’s words aloud, to a pure setting of his theme. The film dials out Marc’s cathartic music when he tries to convince her not to go; she still loves him but she is resolute in her decision. The cue re-enters the film with a brassy outcry of the gigolo’s theme as he watches Frances run off through the terminal in search of Paul. She wanders through a sea of people with the music generating chromatic suspense from Paul’s theme until she finally spots her husband slumped over near a bookshop. A sincere version of his theme offers relief and the score settles into a solo violin statement of the idea that is dialed out of the film as they make peace: Paul refuses to be forgiven out of pity, prompting her to confess that they will remain together out of “need for each other.” The score fades back in with a final defeated statement of Marc’s theme as he watches them leave the airport.
- A new day has come and busy strings toy with the score’s principal material as Sanders welcomes a new group of V.I.P.s, presumably with their own set of issues. The music builds into a grand reconciliatory arrangement of Paul’s theme, bringing the film to a triumphant close as the reunited couple drives off together (the closing material is expanded slightly for the album). —
From the original MGM Records LP
The last four pictures for which I composed music before The V.I.P.s were all biblical or historical (Ben-Hur, King of Kings, El Cid and Sodom and Gomorrah), therefore their musical style had to be archaic. As The V.I.P.s is a contemporary drama, it needed, of course, a different musical treatment.
It is a set of parallel stories of different people, all assembled in the V.I.P. lounge of the fogbound London airport, waiting to take off toward New York. We meet (in order of appearance) Max Buda (Orson Welles), film producer and director, who has to leave England in a hurry to avoid British taxes, with his protegée and star, Gloria Gritti (Elsa Martinelli), Paul Andros (Richard Burton), an industrial tycoon, who accompanies his wife Frances (Elizabeth Taylor) who is supposed to fly off for a short Jamaican vacation. In reality, she is eloping with Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan), a French gigolo. The impoverished Duchess of Brighton (Margaret Rutherford) is flying to Miami Beach, to become Assistant Social Manageress in a hotel. And Les Mangrum (Rod Taylor), chairman of a small tractor manufacturing company, has to get to New York for an important board meeting and is accompanied by his efficient and devoted secretary Miss Mead (Maggie Smith). The plane, however, is grounded owing to the London fog which enters the lives of these people, and we watch their individual stories unfold until the fog lifts and a take-off is possible.
Band 1) PRELUDE After a short introduction we hear the two love themes of the picture: first, the more sophisticated Marc and Frances theme and then the romantic and ardent love theme of Paul and Frances, the main theme of the picture.
Band 2) THE DUCHESS OF BRIGHTON A gay little tune, written in the manner of 18th century English music, stands in contrast to all other music of the picture. It characterizes the Duchess, a bit of Old England, standing alone in the modern world. The use of a recorder (in the score) and a harpsichord underlines this also in the instrumentation.
Band 3) THE BRACELET (Love Theme From The V.I.P.s) The first time we hear the theme which connects Paul with Frances musically, is in the car, as they are driving to the airport and Paul gives her a diamond bracelet as a parting present. The romantic theme expresses Paul’s love for his wife.
Band 4) CONFLICT Paul finds out from a letter written to him by Frances that she intends to leave him for Marc. He returns to the airport and finds them still there, as the plane couldn’t leave. A tense and dramatic scene follows, as Paul tries to stop them. He threatens to kill her before he will allow her to pass through the immigration gate. However, she manages to slip through. The music, which is based on the distorted love theme, follows the tense drama of the action.
Band 5) MOOD FOR TRUTH Paul manages to meet Marc and tries to buy him off for £10,000. Marc refuses and explains why Paul lost his wife to him. He even offers his sympathy, as he is “in the mood for truth.” Paul remains in the airport office, a beaten man, and as we hear a tragic variation of the love theme, he slowly leaves the airport.
Band 6) ADORABLE INVITATION Marc and Frances are discussing their future and he is very pleased to find out that she is well off. He turns his “charme” on and tells her that she has “eyes that are a perpetually adorable invitation.” She laughs at his “special love-making voice, which makes the old countesses swoon.” The Marc and Frances theme dominates this scene, which ends gently, with a solo violin playing the melody.
Band 7) THE LETTER Frances writes a letter to Paul, telling him of her plans, but she changes her mind and calls her housekeeper to tear it up. A nervous and insistent snare-drum rhythm goes through the whole scene, building up to a climax and breaking off when Frances hears Paul answering the phone, instead of the housekeeper.
Band 1) CONSOLATION Les Mangrum finds out through a transatlantic telephone conversation that he has lost control of his company, and Miss Mead, his secretary, tries to console him. After his girlfriend (Linda Christian) turns him down, he invites Miss Mead for a champagne dinner. The music starts sadly and resignedly but ends on a hopeful and romantic note.
Band 2) DAFFODILS The Duchess of Brighton, together with the other passengers, has to stay overnight at the airport hotel. She talks to an old waiter nostalgically about her estate which she cannot keep up, but “where there is a better show of daffodils than anywhere else in the country.” Shakespeare might have been influenced by them when he wrote these immortal lines:
That came before the swallow dares
And takes the wind of March with beauty.
The music is a recapitulation of her tune, with a low flute and harpsichord, in a slower and nostalgic manner.
Band 3) EMOTIONAL COST Les and Miss Mead have their champagne dinner and Les waxes philosophical about the emotional cost that high-powered executives must pay for their position. He gets gayer and gayer as the champagne gives him new courage to continue life, even in defeat. The music starts serenely, but ends gaily.
[Note from FSM: For reasons unknown, Rózsa’s LP notes failed to mention the penultimate album track, “Doubts and Paul’s Exit.”]
Band 4a) QUESTION OF PRIDE The fog has lifted and the plane is ready to leave. Before boarding, Frances notices Paul sitting at the coffee bar, in a stupor. He has been drinking all night and didn’t go home. He declares that he has always loved her “with all his life,” and says goodbye to her. A new theme, characterizing musically his state of mind, and the love theme, accompanies this scene.
Band 4b) SUICIDE THREAT Frances is bewildered, goes to Marc and demands Paul’s letter, addressed to her in New York, which the hotel porter, in order to save a stamp, had given them. She reads the letter, which announces his intended suicide, as he cannot face life without her. Frances decides to go back to Paul, as she feels that he needs her more than Marc does. Marc tries to hold her, but her mind is made up. We hear the desperate theme of Marc, and as Frances storms out, moving through the crowd hoping to find Paul, the music becomes turbulent and passionate, and reaches the climax as she discovers him standing at a bookstall, and the love theme relieves the tension.
Band 4c) FINALE She reaches him and says gently, “Take me home, Paul.” They promise each other that they will try again and leave the airport together, while the desperate and abandoned Marc watches them from the balcony of the Main Hall. New V.I.P.s are arriving in the busy hall and, as we see Paul and Frances driving home, the love theme swells triumphantly and the music finishes happily with the rising sounds of the brass. — Miklós Rózsa