Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: Thoroughly Modern Millie
Ah, musical comedies about young women being sold in to sexual slavery, there’s just not enough of them. Or at least someone thought that in the sixties and so this hit our screens, with Julie Andrews (fresh off of The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins) in the lead role. Set in the 1922 Millie Dillmount (Andrews) is new to the city and wishing to make a name for herself by marrying in to money, and soon finds herself looking for love in all the wrong places. Well, one wrong place at the very least.
Very early on in the film Millie meets Miss Dorothy Brown (Mary Tyler Moore) at the hotel they live in for single women which is run by Mrs Meers, a supposedly Asian woman who kidnaps anyone without a family and sells them in to white slavery. Her drugging them is played for laughs most of the time in scenes which might have worked in the sixties when they hoped that there wasn’t any longer such a thing as white slavery, but they do unfortunately feel a little dodgy in this day and age.
A little better at least is the romance element, where at a dance Millie meets Jimmy Smith (James Fox, geeky but fun) who wants to seduce her but she’s obsessed with the idea of marrying her boss – even though she doesn’t have one at this point. Such a situation is soon remedied when she works for Mr Graydon (John Gavin) but he falls for Dorothy, and it looks like Jimmy may have too, so Millie is not happy in the slightest – but then Dorothy is kidnapped and it’s up to Millie and the men in her life to find out what happened.
Despite tackling such an unusual topic it’s not the most exciting of plots and there’s a certain amount of filler with the women searching for men to lust after, but mostly it’s a selection of fun vignettes with Millie and Dorothy exploring this new exciting post war world. These include Millie being taught how to drive, Jimmy taking the girls up in a plane, and their going to various parties and dances and having a ball of a time. Despite the sexual slavery element it does have a strong feminist message some of the time as Millie tries to show just how modern she is, and though all of the women’s reliance on wanting to be married isn’t quite as progressive a message most of the time it’s about how women were finally free and for the first time (supposedly) equal to men, and how they were going to go out and make a life for themselves.
The songs are a little bit of a mixed bag, the opening title tune is a fantastic number and “Babyface” is very funny from start to finish, but others are a little bland, “Jimmy, Oh Jimmy” being the worst offender, and disappointingly in the final third the director seems to have forgotten he’s making a musical completely with their not even being a final rousing singalong and we have to make do with getting to hear the title track again over the end credits. It’s representation of the Asian community is a tad suspect too – all of the women are being shipped off to “Big Mary’s Tart Shop, Peking” for instance – but if you’re prepared to be a little forgiving then most of the time this is a fun ride.
Certainly the dialogue shines and Julie Andrews turns in an impressively strong lead performance, Carol Channing is weird but fun as their friend Muzzy Van Hossmere, James Fox makes for a damn fine male lead and Mary Tyler Moore is also on form playing it rather naive even if she is quietly manipulative. At 2 hours and 20 minutes it’s of course a little overlong, but the majority is zippily and playfully directed by George Roy Hill and even despite it’s faults this an engaging glimpse in to 1920’s life.