|A striking shot from "Happiest Millionaire"|
THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (1967). Director: Norman Tokar.
Walt Disney decided to try and get another blockbuster musical like The Sound of Music or its own Mary Poppins by adapting a play about the real-life Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Sr. of Philadelphia. Frankly, Biddle seems an unlikely subject for a light-hearted musical, as he sounds like a rather grim, conservative soul -- despite his eccentricities, which sound more like childish curmudgeonliness -- who started an athletic-religious movement and probably never had to work a day in his life. As embodied by the ever-likable Fred MacMurray, Biddle is made more palatable in this screen treatment, which could have used a little more of a story. The chief plot has to do with the 1916 courtship and ensuing marriage of Biddle's daughter Cordy (Lesley Ann Warren) and Angier (John Davidson) of a prominent New York family. Biddle has two sons but they seem to disappear early in the picture, and even the maid, played very well by Hemione Baddeley, takes a hike after the intermission [the film is nearly three hours long!]. On the other hand, Tommy Steele's winning personality as the butler is on display throughout the film. Greer Garson is cast as Biddle's wife, and while she adds a bit of class to the film, she doesn't really seem to be in the same movie -- you just can't see her as thinking anything but that Biddle is utterly declasse. Garson doesn't make any attempt to be funny, which may have been wise of her. Speaking of class, Gladys Cooper as Aunt Mary and Geraldine Page as Angier's mother nearly steal the picture, especially in the parlor scene when they have a sophisticated verbal cat-fight. An unexpected cast member is Joan Marshall [who starred in Homicidal as Jean Arless] playing a maid who is terrified of Biddle's collection of pet alligators. [More than once we see Tommy Steele pulling one of the larger gators by the tail.] The songs by the Sherman Brothers are vaguely pleasant at times, but not very memorable.This was the first film for both Warren and Davidson, both of whom are excellent. The Disney studio later teamed them in The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band. MacMurray is fine.NOTE: The restored, expanded DVD of this movie actually has a kind of vague double-image on the picture and is certainly not as crisp and clear as it should be.
Verdict: The movie is not terrible, it's just too long and aimless and needs a stronger story. **1/2.