‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ Blu-Ray Review – Madcap Julie Andrews Musical Takes A Satiric Look At The Past

When you have monumental hits such as The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins to your name, it comes as no surprise when an enterprising producer wants some of the magic. Super producer Ross Hunter (Magnificent Obsession) looked at Julie Andrews and had the notion of adapting the 1953 musical The Boy Friend, a 1920s musical spoof which made Andrews a Broadway name, for the silver screen. Unfortunately for him, the rights were too rich for his blood. Not to be deterred, Hunter decided on creating a whole new musical for the screen which would share many elements with the previous play but with its own unique spin. The film borrows elements from other works liberally, but this sweetly outlandish musical establishes an identity all of its own. Audiences apparently took to this new piece as it became one of the highest grossing films Universal had ever produced at this time, not to mention the seven Academy Awards for which it was nominated. While not without its issues, the film really goes for broke in its execution in a way that is to be admired. 

In the fast-paced New York City of 1922, the titular Millie Dillmount (Andrews) is a fresh-faced, small-town girl who has big ambitions for her life. Well, satirically ambitious for this time period. This aspiring flapper wants to keep up with the changing of the times by landing a job as a stenographer and, more importantly, finding a wealthy businessman to marry. Millie lives in the women-only Priscilla Hotel where she befriends Miss Dorothy Brown (Mary Tyler Moore), an innocent, young woman with a secret. She claims to be an orphan, which unbeknownst to others catches the ear of house mother Mrs. Meers (Beatrice Lillie). In one of the oddest choices of the narrative, Mrs. Meers is behind a recent spate of kidnapping in which young, family-less white girls have been sold into “white slavery.” Yes, you read that right. While over-the-top and unfortunately racist in its depiction of Chinese individuals, this particular thread cleverly plays on the actual fears that were prevalent at this time in history. The repeatedly foiled attempts to kidnap Dorothy are some of the funniest moments in the film. 

Less narratively wacky but still bizarre in its own way is the romantic entanglements. Millie has her sights set on a rich man, but her heart draws her towards carefree paper clip salesman Jimmy Smith (James Fox). In her mind, she would be much better off with wealthy company president Trevor Graydon (John Gavin), who eventually seems to fancy Dorothy quite a bit more. A trip to a Long Island mansion brings about the meeting of the fabulously wealthy free-spirit Muzzy Van Hossmere (Carol Channing, stealing the film and the sole Oscar nominated performance), which brings about an entirely new perspective for Millie. The narrative is straightforward, but the odd stylistic detours it takes along the way are what either will charm or alienate its audience. This movie is very campy and self aware as it does some fourth-wall breaking with silent movie-esque intertitles from Millie’s brain. The broad physical comedy which also echoes these early days of film do not always land, but are not so cloying as to ruin the endearing sweetness of the picture. This movie is like candy that will hurt your teeth, but the hurt is so good. 

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How does the film fare in its most important element: the music? The titular tune is a clever blast that starts the film off on the right note, and the production of “The Tapioca” brings about a craziness that ranks as among the most enjoyable throughout the film. “Poor Butterfly” is a beautiful tune of heartbreaking realization. Not all songs feel as necessary, though; the lengthy “Jewish Wedding Song” represents a part of the movie that feels as if it could have been easily excised. This goes to the overarching issue with this film; the gargantuan two-and-a-half hour runtime was instituted so it could be presented in a “Roadshow Version” with increased prices to reflect the value, but the show itself does not need such a runtime. The first half of the film is fairly spry, but the second half feels bogged down by scenes that bring about neither suspense nor laughter. Scenes just seem to drag on for no particular reason. 

None of this falls completely on the direction of director George Roy Hill (The Sting, A Little Romance); the director is somewhat out of his comfort when it comes to musicals, but makes up for it when it comes to bringing to life the 1920’s movie tropes. Most of his instincts enhance the fun with a saggy script hindering his creativity late in the game. Even with less-than-thrilling moments, Julie Andrews gets to shine in her playful mugging for the camera and with her unparalleled voice. Mary Tyler Moore unfortunately is overshadowed by Andrews in a role that is not given depth worthy of her talent. Overall, Thoroughly Modern Millie works more than it does not with its unique brand of humor, strong performances and memorable songs. With a stronger hand in the editing room, the film could have been nearly perfect. 

Video Quality

Kino Classics presents Thoroughly Modern Millie with a beautiful new 1080p master transfer in 1.85:1 sourced from a 4K restoration conducted by Universal Pictures. The film features some splendid colors within the costumes and 20s production design that pop off the screen with a great vibrancy. The film is practically pristine with no noticeable instances of damage or dirt detected here. The level of minute detail and clarity is stunning with a lovely amount of natural film grain intact. The black levels are incredibly deep with a pleasing stability throughout. Compression artifacts, banding and other such issues do not pop up as an issue in this transfer. This presentation is another instance of Kino Classics showing off their impressive skills. 

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Audio Quality

Kino Classics has provided a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio presentation that pulls out all of the stops. Dialogue comes through perfectly clear from beginning to end without ever being overshadowed by competing elements. Every element seems to present with a nice fidelity, as all sounds are clearly defined and in balance. Music pulses throughout numerous moments of this feature, and this track handles it beautifully with nothing ever sounding crunchy or unstable. These tunes have never sounded better than on this disc. This is a track that mercifully does not exhibit any signs of age-related wear-and-tear. Kino Classics has allowed this film to sound the best it ever has on home entertainment. The disc comes with optional English (SDH) subtitles.

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary: Author/Film Historian Lee Gambin and Art Historian Ian McAnally provide a pretty entertaining and informative commentary track in which they share their own memories of the film, the themes and social commentary of the film, the aesthetic employed by George Roy Hill, the nuances of the performances, the idea of a Roadshow Version and much more that helps you appreciate the film. 
  • Trailers: There are two trailers provided for Thoroughly Modern Millie (2:39, 2:35). There are also trailers provided for What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?, Daddy Long Legs, Never Steal Anything Small, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Sweet Charity

 

Final Thoughts

Thoroughly Modern Millie is an off-kilter movie musical that charms for the very same reasons it alienates certain audiences. The unyielding cuteness of the film can be a bit much for some, but it works for the tone they are trying to strike with this nostalgic look back at decades past. Even those who really enjoy the film will probably admit it is too long, but the movie still offers up a great time. Kino Classics has delivered a Blu-Ray featuring an amazing A/V presentation and a wonderful commentary track. This was a film in desperate need of appreciation from a distributor, and Kino Classics has served up a disc that fans will flip over. Recommended 

Thoroughly Modern Millie is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Kino Classics has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.

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