THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, 1967
Directed by George Roy Hill
Starring: Julie Andrews, James Fox, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing, John Gavin, Jack Soo, Pat Morita
Review by Jayvibha Vaidya
Small-town girl Millie Dillmount arrives in New York City intent on finding a husband. But first she must become a modern city girl, befriend naïve Miss Dorothy, seduce her boss, stop a white slavery ring and decide between love and money when she meets smitten paper-clip salesman, Jimmy Smith.
WON an OSCAR – Best Music – Original Score.
“I’m a modern!”
Opening with a suspenseful kidnapping which cuts to the wide-eyed Millie arriving in the big city, Thoroughly Modern Millie weaves together an evil plot to exploit young women with an amusing tale of a woman’s search for love and friendship. Spoofing the Roaring Twenties, Millie (Julie Andrews) transforms into a flapper or ‘modern’ in order to blend in and find herself a suitable husband. At the women’s hotel where she stays, Millie befriends Miss Dorothy (Mary Tyler Moore) as owner Mrs. Meers (Beatrice Lillie) sets her eye on Miss Dorothy for her next kidnapping victim.
See, Mrs. Meers is making some extra cash by selling young women with no family ties to the underground Chinese slavery business. In dark shadows lurk her two ‘oriental’ henchmen with their laundry basket of drugged bodies to smuggle into their lair. It’s a silly plot which turns Mrs. Meers into a caricature villainess, complete with poisonous apple and tranquilizer darts. But this plot is played for comedy and is thankfully balanced out with young Millie’s search for the perfect husband.
At a dance Millie meets Jimmy Smith (James Fox), a paper-clip salesman. After an energetic and well choreographed dance, she informs him that her intention is to find a handsome, single boss and become his stenographer. And eventually, his wife. Even after Jimmy proclaims his affections for her, she turns him down, intent on marrying her boss Mr. Graydon (John Gavin) who has no romantic feelings for her at all. Graydon only has eyes for Miss Dorothy who returns his affections but gets kidnapped before they can even have a first date. And to complicate it further, Millie sees Miss Dorothy running into Jimmy’s bedroom, causing her to believe they are having a torrid affair. Millie’s complications are eased when she meets eccentric Muzzy Van Hossmere (Carol Channing) who advises Millie to “Follow your heart, no raspberries!”
As all the players gather to save Miss Dorothy, a chase through Chinatown ends in an acrobatic showdown. The bad guys are defeated and Mrs. Meers sits drenched in a pool, her evil plan completely foiled. A twist at the end of the film reveal the secret identities of Millie’s friends as Muzzy clears away all confusion leaving two happy couples at the end of the film. Millie, despite becoming a modern finally finds love, exclaiming, “I don’t want to be your equal any more – I want to be a woman!” Well then! It appears that thoroughly modern Millie isn’t so modern after all.
Hilariously cutting to ‘20s-style title cards to represent Millie’s reactions to the city and people, the film contains many moments of humour expertly executed by Julie Andrews. Her looks at the camera display perfect comedic timing and a natural sweetness in her performance. She’s utterly adorable and her voice is exquisite, especially in “Trinkt le Chaim,” the Jewish wedding song. Mary Tyler Moore is sweet and naïve; especially charming in the scene when she calls snobby socialite Judith Tremaine a “bitch!” Andrews and Moore’s sensational tap number in a moving elevator is a real highlight, showcasing their chemistry and dancing skills.
The choreography and dance numbers are thoroughly entertaining, from the Tapioca Dance to the Jewish wedding. Carol Channing is wonderful in a bizarre and exhilarating acrobatic number. She’s fearless and steals scenes with her humour and personality. John Gavin as Mr. Graydon is in on the joke playing part playboy, part airhead, hilariously checking out of scenes due to a tranquilizer dart.
Winning an Oscar for original score, the film successfully maintains its comedic energy because of the music that runs through each of the scenes. The jaunty ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ tune plays repeatedly during the film, reminding Millie and the audience of her goals in the big city.
Although the last half of the film becomes cheesy and wraps up in a most bizarre fashion, Thoroughly Modern Millie is laugh-out-loud funny and entirely entertaining. The cast is delightful and the songs are fun, raised to a higher level by the talent of Julie Andrews. Finding love and friendship in New York City isn’t easy, but Millie gets a taste for what life is like for the ‘modern’ girl, taking the audience along on an exciting adventure.