Tuesday, March 21, 2023

‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ Silly Fun 1967

"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!

Finally, 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!"



Thursday, March 2, 2023

Jean Harlow is a Hilarious ‘Bombshell’ 1933


Lee Tracy as a pugnacious PR man & Jean Harlow as the dervish movie diva,
in 1933's screwball comedy "Bombshell."

Bombshell was one of the first movies that Jean Harlow showed she had a flair for comedy, with Red-Headed Woman and Red Dust as the intro the year before. MGM’s Bombshell, from 1933, is a still-funny comedy, with Hollywood getting skewered even then.

Director Victor Fleming and screenwriters John Lee Mahin and Jules Furthman were inspired by the scandalous life and media frenzy surrounding “It” girl Clara Bow. Fleming was once engaged to Bow and familiar with her life story. But Bombshell also spoofs Jean Harlow's own life and career, from her own family of hangers-on, the sex bomb reputation versus the real Harlow, and some zingers even aimed at MGM. It's a smart, clever movie still and you realize how things don't really change all that much in showbiz. Look at today's stars who are more famous for their scandal ridden “personal” lives than any particular talent.

Jean Harlow as movie star Lola Burns & Lee Tracy as PR flack "Space" Hanlon
make a terrific team in MGM's "Bombshell."

Jean Harlow was a live wire in Bombshell, with a natural sense of humor, and a good-hearted screen persona. As Lola Burns, I love how her character puts on studio-trained ladylike airs, but in the next scene she's yowling at her ingrate family, scoundrel press agent, and problematic boyfriends. Yet, Jean never goes overboard, and keeps it real. Harlow was a working class Carole Lombard, once Jean got to lighten up her femme fatale image, and played the sex bomb and her scripts for laughs. The movie blurs the on-screen Lola Burns with real-life Jean Harlow by having Burns do re-takes for Red Dust and showing Harlow with Gable in Hold Your Man.

Jean Harlow as Lola Burns in MGM's Hollywood satire, 1933's "Bombshell."

Lee Tracy is personifies the fast-talking wise-cracker, studio PR hound “Space Hanlon.” Tracy practically trademarked this archetype when he became a Broadway smash as “Hildy” Johnson in the original The Front Page. He is hilarious, changing his tune on a dime, with a “Can you believe I’m getting away with this?” attitude. There's something very appealing about him. He’s impishly baby-faced, yet looks like he’s seen a few late nights, and not from colic. You totally believe Jean falling for him. One also forgets how handsome Pat O' Brien was in his young days, no-nonsense as always, as the director who is sweet on Lola. Oh so handsome Franchot Tone amusingly spoofs his cultivated gentleman image as the suitor who seemingly comes out of nowhere.

Lee Tracy reminds me a little of Michael Keaton in this photo. Tracy's a motor mouth
 riot as "Space" Hanlon to Jean Harlow's movie "Bombshell."

Frank Morgan's a hoot as Jean's irrepressible father, a lovable blowhard always in need of cash for booze and horses. Louise Beavers gets off some pre-code one-liners as Jean's good-hearted maid.

Frank Morgan's one of many scene-stealers to Jean Harlow's exasperated "Bombshell!"

There are some sly zingers about Hollywood and the whole dog and pony show of presenting stars to the press and gossip columnists in the best light, and hoping they don’t dig too deep beneath the shiny surface.

But this is ultimately a great vehicle for Jean Harlow, stylishly done in high spirits, right from the opening credits by MGM's top studio director Victor Fleming, to the stars still battling it out at the finale. 

FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie page. 

Check it out & join!  https://www.facebook.com/groups/178488909366865/

"Bombshell" director Victor Fleming with star Jean Harlow.