|“Thoroughly Modern Millie,” a ’20s musical with the ’60s biggest singing movie star!|
That Thoroughly Modern
Millie, a puffed up piece of fluff, was a huge hit in 1967 was rather amazing. Millie wasn’t from a hit Broadway
musical, as often was the case in the 1960s. Perhaps audiences who wanted
something more mainstream than Bonnie and
Clyde and other ’67 gritty films flocked to Millie.
|Julie Andrews is Millie, here before she gets her modern makeover.|
Producer Ross Hunter couldn’t get the rights to Julie
Andrews’ old Broadway hit The Boyfriend.
So Hunter hired talent to cook up Thoroughly
Modern Millie. Ironically, wholesome
Millie was Julie’s last hit movie until
a dozen years later, with husband Blake Edwards’ racy 10.
Thoroughly Modern Millie stars a diverse trio of leading
ladies: Julie Andrews, at the height of her film stardom; Carol Channing, the
toast of Broadway in the megahit Hello,
Dolly; and Mary Tyler Moore, who just finished her run as the perfect TV
wife on The Dick Van Dyke Show.
|Mary Tyler Moore is Miss Dorothy, the latest boarder at the women’s hotel.
She becomes besties with Julie Andrews’ Millie in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
Though Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore are more than a
tad past the age of playing ingénues, the leading ladies are both appealing,
especially Julie in the title role. Julie is high-spirited and fun, in
great voice and a game dancer. Moore plays the role of Miss Dorothy, the
pampered princess, who arrives at the ladies’ hotel. Mary may seem stilted in
the role, but apparently she wanted to gently spoof the sweet young thing role.
There are some fun numbers, like Julie’s opening title number that shows her
transformation from goody girl to flaming flapper. The tap dance scene with
Julie and Mary, to make the creaky hotel elevator run, is charming.
|Bea Lillie as Mrs. Meers, who runs a women’s hotel & white slavery ring.
She’s flanked by henchman Pat Morita & Jack Soo, who would find fame in the ’70s.
In another galaxy, there’s Carol Channing as the outrageous ex-showgirl,
now-rich Muzzie Van Hossmere. Even though Carol’s only in a handful of scenes, with
two numbers, her outrageous persona is at full tilt and the Academy saw fit to
give her a Best Supporting Actress Nomination for 1967. While I’ve always had a
low tolerance for Carol Channing’s charms, her “Jazz Baby” is an over the top
camp classic. It’s as if Baby Jane Hudson made her comeback and was a smash.
|I half expected to hear Carol Channing caterwaul “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy!”
But she sings “Jazzy Baby” and prances all over the set. Must be seen to be believed!
there’s British icon Beatrice Lillie, who plays the comic villain Mrs. Meers.
She’s dryly amusing, as the henchwoman who runs a white slavery ring as well as
the women’s hotel.
John Gavin spoofs his square-jawed looks good-naturedly as Trevor
Graydon. The tall, dark, and handsome star really fills the bill here and then
some! Gavin has gotten much criticism as acting wooden in Millie. Well, Gavin wasn’t the world’s most relaxed actor, but I’m
surprised that people don’t get that his hero is supposed to be deliberately
stiff, like Mr. Peterman on Seinfeld.
|John Gavin’s a good sport as the square-jawed hero in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”|
James Fox is the surprise here as Jimmy Smith, who longs for
Millie. I’ve only seen Fox in intense dramatic roles like The Servant, King Rat and
Performance. Imagine my surprise when
I saw he is not only dashing and adorable, but a most pleasant singer and
dancer, to boot. Okay, so his singing was dubbed by Jimmy Abbott, who also
provided the voice for Richard Beymer in West
Side Story. But Fox looks like he’s having great fun. He really captures
the high-spirited male ingénues of the early part of the 20th century show biz.
|James Fox is a total charmer as Jimmy, the free spirit in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”|
The film merrily mixes fun song and dance styles, and movie
conventions from the era. But at two and half hours long, there’s so much
padding that could have been cut. Apparently, Ross Hunter can be thanked for
this. The producer liked to think big, while director George Roy Hill thought this
was a light musical comedy. Hence, the superfluous numbers and Hunter’s insistence
on an overture and intermission made Millie
a “road show” event instead of a two hour film.
|In “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” our heroine mulls over her attraction to both
John Gavin’s dashing boss or James Fox’s darling Jimmy.
For instance, Andrews’ Millie singing the “Trinkt Le Chaim”
number at a friend’s Jewish wedding—which has nothing to do with the rest of
the film. As sweet as “The Tapioca” may be, introducing Jimmy’s character and
Mrs. Meers’ antics, goes on much too long. The later Harold Lloyd-type physical
comedy scene with Andrews and Fox, while game, is also lengthy.
|Bea Lillie as the comic villain Mrs. Meers. This is about how serious 1967’s “Thoroughly Modern Millie” gets.|
Some viewers will be sensitive and object to the subplot of
a white slavery ring run by Chinese villains as rightly racist—who weren’t even
played by Chinese actors, to add insult to injury. I took it as cartoonish camp
and spoofing old movie serial tropes. Also, Julie’s Millie gives up goals of
independence to be an old-fashioned wife to rich Jimmy! However, I doubt
high-spirited and outspoken Millie would remain demure for long.
|As Miss Dorothy, Mary Tyler Moore when she first sees John Gavin’s Trevor,
in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”
George Roy Hill, who loved period movies, directed Thoroughly Modern Millie. He brought a
lot of research, skill, and style in his vision of this earlier era, much as he
did with 1973’s The Sting. Unlike the
film’s producer, the director thought of this movie has light, clever fun—which
comes off well. Hill had just directed Julie in a commercially successful epic,
Hawaii, so they worked well together,
and it shows.
|Julie Andrews has great fun as “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” comically vamping here.|
The mix of old and new songs blend together smoothly;
costumes by classy Jean Louis are sleek and at times comical, as with
Channing’s glitzy glamour. The new songs are by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy
Cahn, plus “Jimmy” by Jay Thompson. Elmer Bernstein was bemused to have won an
Oscar for his non-musical score—it was shoehorned in between all the songs,
plus meddling producer Ross Hunter had arranger Andre Previn goose up Bernstein’s
more era-appropriate score.
|Carol Channing toasts the stars to a happy ending in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”|
Given the background goings on, I’d say that Millie made a splash was almost a fluke,
given that movie-goers tastes would quickly change. The next year, Julie
Andrews’ Star! and 1970’s Darling Lili would bury her career as a
top film leading lady. Compared to these latter two behemoths, Thoroughly Modern Millie is the model of
simplicity in entertainment. Just remember Millie
was a movie made over 55 years ago, about the Roaring Twenties!
Here’s my look at director George Roy Hill’s other period
comedy-drama, The Sting: https://ricksrealreel.blogspot.com/2021/08/redford-newmans-star-power-sting-1973.html
|Carol Channing as Muzzie literally acts like she’s been shot out of a cannon in “Thoroughly Modern Millie!”|