Monday, November 27, 2023

The V.I.P.s and The Fog

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
The V.I.P.s
(1963).  A fogged-in London airport provides the setting—and serves as the catalyst—in playwright Terence Rattigan’s The V.I.P.s. This collage of mini-dramas shares the same structure as films such as Grand Hotel and Rattigan’s own Separate Tables. The principal characters include: an emotionally-withdrawn tycoon (Richard Burton); his ignored wife (Elizabeth Taylor), who plans to leave him; her lover (Louis Jourdan); a businessman (Rod Taylor) fighting a hostile takeover of his company; his secretary (Maggie Smith) who secretly loves him; an elderly, financially-strapped dowager (Margaret Rutherford); and a blustery filmmaker (Orson Welles), who stands to pay a hefty tax bill if he can’t leave the country by midnight. As expected, some subplots are engrossing (Rod Taylor’s dilemma), while others are filler (the plight of Welles’ filmmaker). The standout performances come from Richard Burton and Maggie Smith. Burton’s initially one-dimensional character gains depth as the film progresses, while Maggie Smith shines brightly from start to finish. A scene between Burton and Smith toward the end is a master class in acting. Dame Margaret Rutherford won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar as the befuddled dowager. She’s good, delivering a more reserved portrayal than usual. However, I would have given that award to the luminous Maggie Smith. 

Adrienne Barbeau in the lighthouse.
The Fog
(1980). In his theatrical follow-up to Halloween (1978), John Carpenter opts to create a different kind of horror film with a supernatural tale set in an atmospheric Northern California coastal community. The premise is set up with a nifty recounting of a local story in which a clipper ship’s crew of six died in a crash against the rocks after mistaking a campfire for the lighthouse on a foggy night. A hundred year later, as Antonio Bay prepares to celebrate its centennial, a glowing fog engulfs the town—and brings forth the vengeful ghosts of the ship’s crew. But why are the murderous spirits seeking the lives of six town residents? The answer is somewhat interesting, but therein lies the problem with The Fog. It’s a middle-of-the-road effort that rarely lives up to its potential. The ghosts aren’t frightening, the characters lack interest, and Carpenter fails to generate adequate suspense (a surprise coming on the heels of his superbly-crafted Halloween). The cast—which includes real-life mother and daughter Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis—is game, but just doesn’t have enough quality material. One suspects Carpenter recognized these flaws as he shot additional footage after viewing the rough cut. The director certainly rebounded, with his next two movies, Escape from New York (1981) and The Thing (1982), ranking among his best.


Ron said...

As to The Fog, I agree that the story and ghosts are lacking, but for atmosphere Carpenter delivers, as usual. The star here is the cinematography.

Mike Doran said...

Another True Story About Moviegoing In Chicagoland (1970s):
When The Fog opened in Chicago, I went to the Ford City plex (since sort-of defunct) on a Saturday afternoon.
I settled in with my popcorn & pop ... and found myself sitting behind three garrulous teenage (I think) girls, who carried on a highly vocal conversation throughout the opening of the show.
Through the ads, through the trailers ... and through the beginning of The Fog.
The movie opens with a bunch of kids sitting around a campfire, where a grizzled John Houseman is telling them a ghost story - which happens to be the set-up for the whole movie.
The three giggly girls kept up their conversation (in several senses of that phrase), effectively drowning out Houseman's monolog.
When they finally stopped talking, the movie proper started - and they immediately restarted the conversation, which became an ongoing complaint about how they couldn't understand what was going on.
At which point, a disgruntled patron (it might have been me) pointed out that "... if you dumb girls had kept your yaps shut, you would know what was going on!"
That, at any rate, was the gist of what was said ...
The things you remember as you get older ...

Rick29 said...

I have had similar annoying movie theater experiences!