Rod Taylor

The Catered Affair (1956)

The Catered Affair Poster

Just as cab driver Tom Hurley (Ernest Borgnine) finally saves enough money to fulfill his longtime dream to own taxi cab, his daughter Jane (Debbie Reynolds) is engaged to her boyfriend Ralph Halloran (Rod Taylor). Since Jane and Ralph don’t have a lot of money, they decided to get married after Ralph was presented with the opportunity to drive a car across the country so the trip could be their honeymoon. Since they plan on being married a week later, Jane insists the wedding will be a small, simple affair with the guest list very strictly immediate family only.

Tom and his wife Aggie (Bette Davis) try to fulfill her wishes for a small wedding, but Aggie’s brother Jack (Barry Fitzgerald) lives with them and if they invited Jack, they’d have to invite a slew of other people. Jack is very upset when he finds out he isn’t invited, and as word of Jane’s impending nuptials spreads to friends and neighbors, everyone questions what the rush is and why they aren’t having a bigger wedding. While Jane comes from a working-class background, Ralph’s family is more well-off and wants them to have a more elaborate wedding. Between all the pressure from others and Aggie’s own regrets over her own rushed wedding, Aggie insists on a bigger wedding, even though it would cost everything in Tom and Aggie everything, including Tom’s opportunity to own that cab.

As they start planning the lavish wedding, unexpected expenses start popping up left and right. First Jane’s matron-of-honor’s husband loses his job and can’t afford a dress. Then Ralph’s mother invites far more many people than she was supposed to. Everything costs way more than Tom expected it to.  As the expenses mount, so does the tension between family members. Eventually things get bad enough for Jane to call the whole thing off and go for the small affair she and Ralph had originally envisioned. In the wake of Jane’s decision, Aggie is faced with the realization that for the first time since they were married, their household will soon just be her and Tom.

The Catered Affair is like the more dramatic counterpoint to Father of the Bride. Wedding plans spiraling out of control isn’t exactly fresh material for movies, television, and plays, but The Catered Affair is still a rock solid, nuanced drama; a real career highlight for Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, and Debbie Reynolds. Despite the done-before premise, the writing is strong enough to easily stand out from the crowd. The cast is phenomenal; Bette Davis is particularly great with her sensitive, restrained performance. With Aggie’s insistence on having a big wedding, it would be really easy for her character to turn into an over-the-top tyrant. Instead, Aggie has a lot of complexities and extremely sympathetic moments. Debbie Reynolds’ performance impressed me since at the time, she was mostly doing more fluffy, lighthearted material, but she held her own quite nicely with the likes of Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine.

The V.I.P.s (1963)

On any given day, you’re bound to encounter all sorts of characters at an airport.  On this particular day, it seems that all the drama is happening in the V.I.P. lounge of Heathrow Airport.  Movie director Max Buda (Orson Welles) is there with aspiring actress Gloria Gritti (Elsa Martinelli), trying to get out of the country so that he won’t have to pay a massive tax bill.  Frances Andros (Elizabeth Taylor) is about to leave her mogul husband Paul (Richard Burton) and run off to New York with her boyfriend, Marc Champselle (Louis Jourdan).  Then there’s Les Mangrum (Rod Taylor), who desperately needs to get to New York so that he can get a loan to save his tractor company.  He’s accompanied by Miss Mead (Maggie Smith), his loyal secretary who is secretly in love with him.  And last, but not least, there’s The Duchess of Brighton (Margaret Rutherford).  She’s fallen on hard times and in order to afford to keep her family’s estate, she has to go to Florida to take a job.

All of these personal dramas become even more tumultuous when all flights out of Heathrow are delayed by fog.  At first, they expect to only be delayed an hour, but it soon becomes clear that they won’t be able to fly out until the next morning and they are all put up in a hotel for the night.  By then, Paul has found out about Frances’ plan to leave him and shows up to put a stop to it.  Les makes a few last-ditch attempts to get the money he needs, and just when he thinks he’s ruined, Miss Mead saves him in just the nick of time.  Max finds a way out of his tax woes, but not a particularly desirable one.  Even the Duchess is able to find a way to keep her family home.

The V.I.P.s may be regarded as one of Elizabeth Taylor’s lesser movies, but I actually enjoyed it.  It’s a guilty pleasure of mine.  If you go into it hoping for straight drama, look elsewhere because it doesn’t really work on that level.  However, if you’re in the mood for something campy, then you might have some fun with The V.I.P.s.  Essentially, it’s Grand Hotel, but set in an airport and campier.  The writing isn’t particularly good, but it was over the top enough to be fun.  Elizabeth Taylor seemed kinda bored most of the time, apparently she only took the role so she wouldn’t have to worry about Richard Burton getting distracted by Sophia Loren.  But boy, does she ever look fabulous!  Richard Burton hams it up big time and Orson Welles’ accent is pretty ridiculous.  And Margaret Rutherford’s boozy, pill-popping Duchess of Brighton is just a hoot.  But I think the most hilarious part of this movie is the hotel the airline puts these people in.  If that were the hotel you really got to stay at when your flight gets delayed, travel delays wouldn’t be quite so bad.  But we all know in reality, you’re really going to the nearest Best Western, not a swanky, stylish place like that.  Also, if you’re into 1960s fashions, this is worth checking out if only for the eye candy factor because it is a very stylish movie.