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Thursday, August 11, 2016

THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (1967)

Caught between two record-breaking musicals (MARY POPPINS/’64; SOUND OF MUSIC/’65) and two career-deadening ones (STAR!/’68; DARLING LILY/’70*), TMM’s the hit mid-sized Julie Andrews musical that got away. Julie’s winningly cast as a self-starting, Roaring ‘Twenties country mouse who gets in step with Modern Big City ways in the tunefully clever opening number. Alas, nothing else lives up to the prologue. And filmmaker George Roy Hill misses a trick by doing it as voice-over rather than gaining proper musical-comedy stylization by having her sing on screen. If he did, we’d probably see her tonsils since lenser Russell Metty gives everything such an alarmingly bright look (like a shopping mall), coarsening an already broadly satiric storyline about Julie hunting up a rich boss to marry while ignoring perfect soulmate (and generally adorable goofball) James Fox. Worse, the romantic farce is buried under a misconceived White Slavery racket run by ‘Orientals’ and an ethnically-challenged Beatrice Lillie. Still, thanks to the incredibly assured Ms. Andrews, the first half totters along well enough. Things really bog down after Intermission. (Big Family Musicals might as well have been bloated on purpose to meet the expectations of RoadShow engagements. A blight that helps explain why Carol Channing’s eccentric millionairess pads out the running time with needless musical specialties.) Mentally separate the wheat from the chaff, and a sweet little demi-musical is hiding in here.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Those two musical flops are wildly uneven, but ultimately more interesting than MILLIE. After they sank, Andrews waited more than a decade for movie-musical redemption with VICTOR VICTORIA/’82.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Neither Andrews nor Channing got to make the film version of their B’way successes. But this ‘20s period piece at least gives some idea of Andrews in THE BOY FRIEND (a decade aft) and Channing in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES two decades on. (A few years after this film, Channing played in a revised version of BLONDES retitled LORELEI.)

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