Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Happiest Millionaire (1967)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Costume Design - Bill Thomas

Of the thousands of films remaining to view for the Every Oscar Ever project, a nearly three hour musical family film that flopped at the box office and was nominated for a single award wasn't too high on my viewing list. I likely would have waited a long time to view the film, if not for the fact that it was a childhood favorite of my wife, who regularly sings "Fortuosity" and "Let's Have A Drink On It," and who asked to view it while we celebrated her birthday. So before watching such esteemed films as Gandhi, On Golden Pond, or Judgment at Nuremberg, I sat down to watch The Happiest Millionaire.

The film tells the story of the family of Anthony Biddle (played by Fred MacMurray), a real-life eccentric Philadelphia millionaire known for his talents in boxing, training soldiers for combat, and promoting Christianity. The film's extremely loose plot centers around the arrival of an Irish butler, played by Tommy Steele, and the engagement of Biddle's daughter Cordy, played by Lesley Ann Warren. Much of the film moves along with little plot development, and it's easy to imagine that when Walt Disney Pictures cut the film's running time, not much was sacrificed in the way of narrative or character development. The film's central conflict is that the family of Cordy's fiance, particularly his mother (the legendary Geraldine Page), does not approve of the eccentric Biddles, and the young couple must work to overcome the gulf between the two families. This is a classic plot, seen in films such as La Cage aux Folles and The Birdcage, and nothing happens that is terribly surprising or unique.

Yet despite the film's lack of creativity, there are moments of real joy in it that make it obvious to me why my wife loved the film so much as a child. Tommy Steele is impossibly likeable in the film, and his performance of a few songs, particularly "Let's Have A Drink On It," are classic Disney numbers. The songs were written by the famed Sherman Brothers, and while not every song is a gem, there are plenty of winners, and Steele was perhaps the second best match for the Sherman Brothers style, trailing only Dick Van Dyke.

I'll never understand the deep love for this film held by my wife, as it's impossible to explain the deep love of childhood favorites to those who come to the films later in life, which is why my wife will never understand my dedication to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Pee Wee's Big Adventure. Yet I can still see the charm in The Happiest Millionaire, and if the viewer is able to look past the wandering plot and over-the-top performances by several of the film's leads, there is a lot to love in The Happiest Millionaire.

Remaining: 3178 films, 869 Oscars, 5457 nominations

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