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After Disney had HUGE success with “Mary Poppins”, they naturally looked for a way to recreate that success. This is where “The Happiest Millionaire” comes in.
Based on a non-musical play which was in turn based on a true story of an eccentric millionaire in early 1910s Philadelphia, this movie musical featured much of the same crew who worked on “Mary Poppins”. And sadly, this was also the last film that Walt Disney personally worked on as he died during its production in 1966. The film would be released to theaters in 1967.
And would the film be a hit? Umm….no.
The film didn’t do well at all, not even coming close to the unprecedented success of “Mary Poppins”. One factor that may have caused its downfall was its extremely long running time. The film was actually 172 minutes long, making it the longest live-action Disney film till date. Heck, it’s STILL the longest live-action Disney film ever!
So, due to the failure of the film, it was later cut down to 164 minutes and even later cut down to 144 minutes!
But, we are lucky to be living in this era because the film in its entirety (all 172 minutes of that entirety) would be released on DVD in a special “Restored Roadshow Edition” of the movie. Yay, us!
So, the film takes place in the year, 1916, and our first character we see is an Irishman named John Lawless, played by Britain’s (supposedly) first teen idol, Tommy Steele.
John, recently arrived from Ireland, is heading to the house of the Drexel Biddle family to apply for the position of butler. And as he heads down to the house, he sings a song entitled, “Fortuosity”, which basically sums up his attitude towards life: goals in life are achieved through hard work as well as other happenings beyond one’s control. I personally love this song and the message that it sends.
Anyway, he finally reaches the house and quickly becomes familiar with the Biddles. The patriarch of the family, Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, is played by the nigh unanimously loved Fred MacMurray. Anthony is the supposedly “happiest millionaire” in the title of the movie. I don’t know if “happiest” is the adjective that I would use. The man has Bible/boxing classes in his stable
and keeps alligators (notice I used the PLURAL) as pets!
Yeah…eccentric is more the word that I would use.
Anyway, he’s married to Cordelia, played by Greer Garson (in her last film role),
and they have a daughter named Cordelia, played by Lesley Ann Warren (in her film debut).
Ok, so BOTH the mother and daughter have the same name?! I mean, Lesley’s character isn’t even Cordelia Jr. (or whatever the feminine version of Jr. is)? And one of them is played by an actress who’s leaving films while the other is played by an actress who’s entering films?
Ok, so to keep track of the characters, the movie (as well as I) will refer to the mother as Cordelia and the daughter as Cordy. Fair enough?
Great! So, Anthony and Cordelia
also have two sons, Tony and Livingston, who very briefly appear in this movie and have no purpose whatsoever, so I’m just going to ignore the fact that they exist.
Ok, so to recap: Irish immigrant John Lawless
is hoping to work for the Drexel Biddle family which composes of Mr. Anthony J. Drexel Biddle,
Cordelia Drexel Biddle,
and Cordelia…I mean, Cordy Drexel Biddle,
two random unimportant sons,
and the “Mary Poppins” maid.
Everyone got that? Great, let’s move on.
So, the movie focuses mainly on Anthony Biddle and his daughter, Cordy. You see, Cordy was raised very strongly by her father. She learned how to box and do “guy things”.
Now she herself questions whether this is the type of girl she wants to be. Does she want to be a tomboy or would she rather be a more feminine girl with feminine desires and proud of her femininity? This dilemma is expressed by her beautifully in the song entitled, “Valentine Candy”.
What conclusion does she come to in the end? She decides that she wants a little more femininity and freedom in her life, so she tries to persuade her father to send her to the Laleta Wingfield School for Young Ladies. Her father is against it, but due to pressure from Cordy, her mother, and Aunt Mary,
he eventually gives in.
Oh, what happened to Mr. Lawless, you ask? Well, he ended up getting hired by the Biddles, but only after a few misunderstandings and “fortuitous little happy happenstances” occur. In other words, the message of his “Fortuosity” song is evident not but half an hour after he sings it. Great timing!
So you’re probably wondering exactly WHAT misunderstandings occur to get Mr. Lawless hired. Well, it’s really not thrilling to write about nor is he an important character in the movie (at least not in the beginning), so we’ll just skip those minor details much like we’ve skipped Cordy’s brothers’ existences.
Ok, we on the same page? Great, let’s get back to Cordy.
Cordy ends up going to the school where she learns…well, we never see exactly what they teach at this school, so we can just make assumptions.
One day, she receives a letter from one of her relatives inviting her to a quite upper-class, posh, social get-together. She’s excited to go, especially to meet men, but doesn’t really know anything about being feminine and flirty. So she asks her roommate, Rosemary, to give her advice on how to present herself to be attractive to other guys. Rosemary does this through a song entitled, “Bye-Yum Pum Pum”.
Yeah, did I mention that these songs were written by the awesome Sherman Brothers?
“Bye-Yum Pum Pum” is a very….in…teresting song, which basically describes how women can move and talk to seem mysterious, sensual, and attractive to men. And I guess it can be a sort of “sexy” song…if you happen to have a crush on Lesley Ann Warren or her friend. I don’t, but I’ll say that the song can be quite catchy.
We then cut to the party in question where we see Cordy practicing all the new things that her friend taught her. But it’s obvious that she doesn’t fit in with this crowd. But, that doesn’t stop her from being noticed by Angier Buchanan Duke, played by John Davidson, in his film debut as well.
Angier likes Cordy’s attitude and the fact that she’s not “pushy” like the other girls and they share a romantic dance together. And with all romantic dances, a romantic duet is sung by them entitled, “Are We Dancing”, which seems like a stupid thing to sing about since it’s quite obvious that they ARE indeed dancing!
They quickly fall in love and share their first kiss. This eventually leads to them seeing each other often as the
days weeks months immeasurable periods of time go by and having “ice cream dates” together. During one of these dates, we learn a little bit more about Angier. He’s from a socialite family as well and has his mother plan his life for him. But his biggest dream is to get into the automobile industry! How do we know this? He sings about it, of course, in a song entitled, “Detroit”.
Eventually their romancing leads to Angier proposing and Cordy accepting.
When Cordy tells her parents about this, they are a bit shocked, understandably, especially her father. Let’s just say that Mr. Biddle is not exactly the “happiest” millionaire when he hears this bit of news. But after a brief (And I mean extremely brief, like only a few lines of dialogue) talk with his wife, he realizes that he has to let Cordy make her life on her own.
The Biddles then invite Angier Duke to their house one night for dinner in order to get to know him better. And, big shock, they all learn to love him, especially Mr. Biddle who’s impressed by Angier’s jujitsu skills.
Time goes by as the marriage becomes a topic of conversation amongst American socialites everywhere and we get to see Angier Duke’s family, his mother in particular, played by Geraldine Page.
But as luck (or lack of) would have it, the Dukes and the Biddles are somewhat different extremes in the social world. Neither side is extremely happy about the upcoming marriage, hence a lot of tension is built up between both families. This is most plainly evident in a song entitled “There are Those”, which is song between Angier’s mother and the Biddles’ Aunt Mary during a party at the Biddles’ house.
The song is basically both women “dissing” each other, each other’s families, and each other’s different attitudes towards being socially famous. And let me say that this is my FAVORITE song in the movie!
In the end, all this tension between the elders ends up seeping its way into the hearts of Cordy and Angier. They get mad at each other, have an argument, and cancel the wedding.
Angier then heads to a pub to drink his sorrows away and John Lawless follows him in an attempt to bring him home and set matters right.
Oh, you remember John Lawless? The butler guy from the beginning of the movie who was supposed to be an important main character, but really hasn’t done anything of importance until now?
Anyway, John Lawless uses reverse psychology (or some such medical term) on Angier by showing what the alternatives Angier has regarding his life if he doesn’t marry Cordy. And how is this reverse psychology administered? In a song, of course, entitled, “Let’s Have a Drink On It”, which is, hands down, the funnest song in the entire movie. It’s sad that it can’t be found on Youtube (as of now), but the music can be heard in the Main Street loops in the Disney parks.
When the song finishes, drunkards get tough, a fight breaks out, and Angier gets arrested and incarcerated. Great work, Mr. Lawless!
When they hear about this, both Cordy’s parents and Angier’s mother, head to the jail to bail him out. And after a talk with Mr. Biddle, Angier decides to resume the marriage and make a life of his own without interference from his mother. He carries off Cordy and they go away to live happily ever after!
Ok, one thing that may seem obvious is that for a 172 minute film, not much has happened. The problem with the movie is that, since it’s so long, there’s SO MUCH padded and unnecessary scenes that I haven’t even told you about. I mean, there’s a guy who tries to court Cordy in the beginning of the movie,
a boxing match between Mr. Biddle and a member of the Marine Corps,
and even a scene where Mr. Biddle’s alligators almost freeze to death that’s taken so seriously!
And I didn’t just omit scenes, there are at least half a dozen other songs in this movie that I didn’t mention as well!
So, as you can see, the film has problems with pacing as well as focus problems. Sometimes the film focuses too much on some things, while not focusing enough on others. It’s quite evidently disorganized and sloppy.
Is that to say that everything about the movie was bad? Not at all! The acting in the movie is extremely good, with amazing, believable performances by all the actors, even by the ones who are pretty much pointless.
Also the sets, costumes, and overall feel of the movie are very likable and interesting, so much so that the film was actually nominated for an “Academy Award for Costume Design”.
So to answer our original question, it does seem that the extremely long runtime was the main reason why this movie didn’t do well at the box office. What do I think of this movie? Personally, I really enjoy this movie almost as much as I do “Mary Poppins”. If you’ve never seen the movie, I say to definitely get that taken care of!
Now to rate the film!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final rating for this film is 28/35 = 80% (B-) !