Have you ever seen Julie Andrews do a strip tease? I have. I just watched the 1970 film "Darling Lili"
In it, Julie - inspired by a strip tease of a little known but very attractive actress Gloria Paul - decides to incorporate one of her own in a musical number on a stage. And it is very well done. She was - and is - beautiful and in 1970, she was physically and vocally in her prime at age 35.
But, don't get your hopes up. This is a "G" rated movie. (One wonders about the rating system, however, as this movie is all about seduction.)
Set during World War I, it centers on Lili Smith (Julie Andrews), a popular British music hall performer who is regarded as a femme fatale. She is actually a German spy, and the uncle she dotes upon is really Colonel Kurt Von Ruger (Jeremy Kemp), a fellow spy and her contact with the German military. In hopes of gaining valuable information, Lili begins using her feminine wiles on Major William Larrabee (Rock Hudson), a top American pilot. However, Lili soon falls in love with Larrabee and cannot find the courage to betray him. When Larrabee discovers Lili's secret, he refuses to turn her in.
I always thought this movie was considered a clunker so I watched it tonight thinking I was taking one for the OPPO team. (I bought it about two years ago before I smartened up and started renting, but never got around to watching it until tonight.) I was wrong. It's really a very good film. A top notch cast, a great director in Blake Edwards (who is the husband of Julie Andrews), new songs by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini (plus plenty of WW I era authentic songs), musical numbers staged by Hermes Pan, great costumes and ancient automobiles, realistic WW I flying combat scenes with replica planes, it has everything!
So why a box office flop?
The film's distribution was badly managed by Paramount executives and barely got a release in most of the United States. Despite setting box-office records at Radio City Music Hall, the film was a critical and commercial failure. Budgeted at $25 million, it grossed only $5 million in the US, and later earned $3.3 million in videotape rentals.
A knowledgeable commentator notes:
I remember seeing DARLING LILI when it ran its short original theatrical release. I also remember being the only person in the theatre during the particular showing I attended. It saddens me now as it did then that this beautifully crafted and delightful film was so sneered at and snubbed by critics and audiences alike. Movie musicals made a brief comeback in the early sixties and peaked with THE SOUND OF MUSIC in 1965. Hollywood continued to make them and even though two of them, OLIVER! and FUNNY GIRL, were mildly successful, the genre was again on the decline. The movie musicals of the late 60s all died at the box office including DOCTOR DOLITTLE, CAMELOT, FINIAN'S RAINBOW, GOODBYE MR. CHIPS, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, PAINT YOUR WAGON, HALF A SIXPENCE, SWEET CHARITY, HELLO DOLLY! as well as Andrews' other underrated drama with music, STAR! which I consider a companion piece to both DARLING LILI and Andrews' comeback film, VICTOR,VICTORIA. But even in 1970 the movie musical struggled to survive with not only DARLING LILI but two other large scale musical extravaganzas, ie: ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER and SCROOGE. Much salt was added to the wound when not only 'LILI' but also 'CLEAR DAY' and SCROOGE tanked at the box office. These films failed not because they were bad films but because audiences had grown cynical and no film was any good unless it was "realistic". It seemed that going to the movies was no longer an exercise in temporarily putting one's troubles aside for a few hours of nurturing the spirit and soul with beautiful singing and dancing...
It's the Director's Cut, 136 minutes long on a SD DVD released in 2005. OAR 1.85:1 Panavision. Technicolor. DD 5.1 audio. Top drawer in every way. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song and won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song. Andrews was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress, Musical or Comedy and the film was also nominated for Best Picture, Musical or Comedy.
Thoroughly enjoyable, something I can't say about every film I watch.