Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USA, 1967. Universal Pictures, Ross Hunter Productions. Screenplay by Richard Morris. Cinematography by Russell Metty. Produced by Ross Hunter. Music by Elmer Bernstein. Production Design by Alexander Golitzen, George C. Webb. Costume Design by Jean Louis. Film Editing by Stuart Gilmore.
Julie Andrews is a jazz baby who is determined to be the very definition of “modern”: it’s the roaring twenties and women have a freedom and equality to men that she plans to use to her best advantage, flattening her chest, bobbing her hair, getting a job (as a secretary) and hoping for a handsome, rich boss to marry (oh brother). Things are going perfectly according to plan after she lands a gig in the office of handsome John Gavin, but a few complications reveal themselves: her new best friend Mary Tyler Moore catches Gavin’s eye, while a boy with no wealth in his future (James Fox) who thrills her in the back seat of his car is stealing her heart, and, worst of all, the landlady of her rooming house (Beatrice Lillie) is drugging girls and selling them into white slavery. Thankfully, we have the assistance of Carol Channing (“RASPBERRY!”) as a dizzy society dame who always enters her scenes mid-flight and manages to dole out some helpful advice when not performing a colourful musical number or entertaining one of her many lovers. This dazzling, energetic musical made up of period standards and a few new numbers is a strange and campy experience, acceptable in its incredible silliness (provided you can stomach the blatantly racist portrayal of cardboard Asian villain types) but confused about its pedigree. A number of sixties movies were fascinated with the pre-Depression era as an examination of a time when culture seemed as out of control as it was looking in the free love era (another period when women’s rights were only gaining ground depending on your point of view), and this film particularly seems to vascillate between lampooning the era’s changes in social norms as it does celebrating them. The film moves like a shallow farce that never takes itself seriously, replete with plenty of broad winks to silent filmmaking (title cards, fourth wall-breaking asides, even the aforementioned racial stereotyping) but at the same time is a two and a half hour blockbuster musical with an intermission and some dazzling musical numbers. Trying to have it both ways leaves the audience confused (especially as it is a bit too long), but the energy here is infections, Jean Louis’ costumes are stunning and a great many aspects of the screenplay are genuinely very funny. The song selections are hit and miss, but Elmer Bernstein’s deservedly Oscar-winning incidental score is a knockout, while Fox is the cast standout whose nerdy charm gives off quite a sexy charge. Lillie appears in her last film as the nefarious landlady who never saw an orphan she couldn’t sell, while Pat Morita makes his film debut as one of her cohorts.
Academy Award: Best Original Music Score
Nominations: Best Supporting Actress (Carol Channing); Best Art Direction; Best Costume Design; Best Sound; Best Scoring of Music-Adaptation or Treatment; Best Song (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”)
Golden Globe Award: Best Supporting Actress (Carol Channing)
Nominations: Best Picture-Musical/Comedy; Best Actress-Musical/Comedy (Julie Andrews); Best Music Score; Best Song (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”)