World War I. Lili Smith (Dame Julie Andrews) is a beloved British music hall singer, often providing inspiration for the British and French troops and general populace singing rallying patriotic songs. She is also half German - her real last name being Schmidt - and is an undercover German spy, using her feminine wiles to gather information from the high ranking and generally older military officers and diplomats she seduces. Masquerading as her Swiss uncle, Colonel Kurt Von Ruger (Jeremy Kemp) is not only her German handler, but her lover. Kurt's boss, General Kessler (Carl Duering), doesn't fully trust Lili as she is still half British. That is why it irks him that Kurt has entrusted Lili with the important mission of finding out more about the Allied air defense plans, the air which is becoming a more important battleground of the war. Of the five men who are most privy to such information, Kurt believes the best target is American pilot Major William Larrabee (Rock Hudson), as he ...Written by
After 35 years, I've seen this film again; the 136 minute version at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City's East Village. They also showed the 114 minute version which, according to their production notes, is darker in tone, since it's missing some of the comedy of the piece. Certainly some of the cutesy comedy, which Blake Edwards, the director/producer/writer, also seems to be enamored of in his Pink Panther movies, could be cut.
The film is an attempt to make a mature, romantic musical and was a big flop at the time. Edwards was married to Julie Andrews, the female star of the movie. Andrews had a great success with "Mary Poppins" a few years earlier, and a phenomenal success with "The Sound of Music." She tried repeating the success with the awful (but, perhaps, commercially successful) "Thoroughly Modern Millie," and had a stinker with "Star!", the Gertrude Lawrence story. "Star!" was an adult musical, but it didn't take, so "Darling Lili" was another try at breaking Andrews' goody-two-shoes image. She says "ass" in the movie twice and "bastard" once! The scenes I remember most from the first screening in 1970 are the striptease by Suzette (Gloria Paul) and the aerial sequences, which are pretty dazzling (except for the obvious process shots). In fact, the whole movie is quite lavish and Andrews is gowned and bejeweled beautifully. Edwards seems to have studied the films of Vincente Minnelli and is better at creating some of the Minnellian tone than George Cukor was with the dull "My Fair Lady." In fact, Minnelli was making a movie - "On A Clear Day..." - at Paramount the same time "Darling Lili" was being produced. "...Lili" went into major cost overruns, which could account for "...Clear Day..." being so lackluster in its modern scenes, since major money was being pumped into the Andrews/Edwards film.
The movie isn't terrible. In fact, it's quite charming, if a little long. But the movie-going public is fickle, and Julie Andrews musicals fell quickly out of favor. Rock Hudson is enormously likable as always, but has little to do. The production design is delightful, and it's fun to see Andrews do her striptease (which may not be in the shorter version, and I'm thinking that must have been the version I saw in 1970, because I think I would have remembered it).
Maybe the movie will come out on DVD now that they are showing two versions in NYC. The print was beautiful, by the way. It even included the overture. The audience was a poignant collection of solitary film nerds, not excluding myself!
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