Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Happiest Millionaire

Here's a re-post from 2008. Enjoy. Or not.
So Big! So Romantic! So Full of Life! So What? THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE is famous for being the last film that Walt Disney oversaw before his death. It was intended to be the next MARY POPPINS, but was a huge critical and box office failure. For years I've wondered about it, so I finally decided to rent it and see what all the hate is about. The film opens in 1916 Philadelphia, as John Lawless (creepy-looking Tommy Steele), an optimistic lad, is seeking employment as the butler for the wealthy Drexel-Biddle family. He is supposed to be charming, but I find him annoying - especially when he's singing "Fortuosity" repeatedly and talking directly to the camera. He's like an obnoxious human cousin to Jiminy Cricket. Next we meet the long-suffering family maid, Mrs. Worth (played by the great Hermione Baddeley, better known as Mrs. Naugatuck from MAUDE).Finally we meet our star, the scowling patriotic patriarch Anthony Drexel-Biddle, (the usually likable Fred MacMurray), who runs a bible study class and fight club in his stately manor. He also raises pet alligators and is obsessed with the Marines Corps. He's loud, opinionated and supposedly a happy millionaire.His gay-ish sons (who only appear in one scene) are very protective of their tomboy sister  Cordy (the perky Lesley Ann Warren), who announces her unconventional plans to go away to school...much to her overbearing father's disappointment.
Once away, and living on campus, Cordy begs her sassy, rogue-wearing (i.e. slutty) roommate (future MATCH GAME star Joyce Bulifant) to teach her how to flirt. As a result, she meets a dashingly ambitious young man named Angier Duke (future HOLLYWOOD SQUARES host John Davidson), who's big dream is to move to Detroit and work in the auto industry. Wasn't this also a plotline from John Waters' FEMALE TROUBLE?When Cordy and Angie's plans to wed are announed, Mr. Drexel-Biddle loses his shit, but relents after Duke kicks his ass in jujitsu.Subplots about Anthony's frozen pet alligators......the revolving-door household staff, and Anthony's desire to join the Marine Corps(even though he is clearly over 50 years of age) do nothing to advance the plot.

Angie's snobby New York mother, Mrs. Duke (Geraldine Page) is not impressed by the Drexel-Biddles. I don't blame her.There's a whole Phillie vs. New York feud thing going on - and it becomes apparent when Cordy's Aunt Mary (Gladys Cooper) has a bitchfest with Mrs. Duke  (my favorite scene so far) - and things go from bad to worse when the Duke family's wedding invitations get misplaced! When it looks like the wedding is off, the butler takes Angie out drinking at a rowdy bar populated only by singing and dancing men. A brawl ensues and Angie is arrested. Mrs. Biddle (Agnes Moorhead, um, I mean Greer Garson) is not amused. Cordy declares the wedding is off and the whole gang shows up to bail out Angie - and then the happy couple decide to elope! It all ends with Mrs. Biddle explaining to her husband that "It Won't Be Long Till Christmas" while they lament growing old - and oh yeah, Anthony get accepted to join the Marines! Whatever.

THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE turns out to be a big, boisterous overblown un-magical musical about absolutely nothing! Unlike many Broadway and film musicals of this era (FUNNY GIRL or MAME, for instance), this one has barely anything in it to hold the viewers interest. Certainly children would not know to make of this - especially if they were fans of this:  I cannot imagine the average Disney fan to be enthralled by this humdrum outting. Even this comic book adaptation grasped at straws to find something entertaining about it:I think Disney wanted his own MY FAIR LADY or HELLO, DOLLY but ended up with HELLO, MY BORING LADY. Like MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, the story is based on a true story about a stubborn father and his brood - but unlike that MGM classic, this film lacks interesting characters, enjoyable musical numbers and a compelling reason to watch it. At almost 3 hours in length, you'd think we'd get to know and care about these characters - but I found myself loathing most of them. The songs, written by Disney legends the Sherman Brothers, are not their best work and are quite unmemorable. Overall, a pretty dreary experience, considering how "Happy" this was supposed to be. So there you have it . Once again, I've watched it, so you never have to. If you do decide to check it out, watch with caution and lots of caffeine!


Anonymous said...

Um . . . I actually like this movie! A lot! Some of the music is actually quite memorable (Are we dancing? . . Detroit. . . Watch Your Footwork - lots of fun).
I agree it's quite long and some of the plot lines die out and don't really finish, but overall it's a good time and has lots of quotable lines: "Only if absolutely necessary, Mother!"

Anonymous said...

Are We Dancing is written by the Sherman Brothers. Their father is of Ukrainian origin.

Doug said...

All the songs in this film are by the Sherman Brothers.

For more about them, go here: