Millie Dillmount (Julie Andrews) has recently arrived in the big city, but doesn't feel she fits in as well as she might. It is 1922, and she perceives herself to be behind the times with her curls and her long, below the knee skirt, so there's something she can do to to solve that and get a makeover: hair cut in a bob, skirt above the knee, and beads to wear around her neck (she'd prefer them to hang straighter, but her latest underwear lets her down). She has moved into a "middle class boarding house" so as to pursue her dream of getting a job with a rich businessman and marrying him, but the best laid plans and all that...
Actually, although Millie's best laid plans do go off the rails for a while, rest assured she is back on track before the end. Thoroughly Modern Millie was a bright musical that spoofed the attitudes of yesteryear, when, as with every era, people think they're being very up to date when the passage of time denotes that they will go the way of the dinosaurs eventually, and in fashion terms sooner rather than later. All that matters to the heroine is that she is as of the minute as possible, while making allowances for her future by securing herself an eligible male; it would be nice to say that she manages to be entirely self-reliant, but after she does take things into her own hands she gives all those new responsibilities away at the end for the life of a housewife.
A rich housewife, sure, but it would have been more satisfying if she had favoured her own heart over her own bank balance instead of reaching a compromise of sorts. Yet all the signs are that the film was not to be taken seriously, as it resembles a bunch of sitcom episodes strung together only with the laugh track removed. It even looks like a sitcom with obvious sets, overlit appearance and general air of something rustled up for a TV special. Not only that, but there's a sitcom star as one of the principals, where Mary Tyler Moore shows up as Miss Dorothy, a newcomer even more naive than Millie who is taken under the wing of the protagonist. The role was intended to make Moore a movie star, but the fact that her best prospects lay in television three years later should tell you how that went.
The other intention was to provide a vehicle for Julie Andrews, who was proving difficult to cast in anything apart from musicals; fair enough, the public wanted to hear her sing, but the genre was already beginning to fall out of favour and the fact that this film harkened back to an earlier era spoke to how outdated the style was seen as. She is very good in this, though, and while there's nothing dramatic she's required to do, she has a lightness of touch about the humour and a slightly knowing aspect to her performance that shows she was well aware what was required of her. Millie finds herself torn between two men, first the cheerfully persistent but not marriage material (so she thinks) paperclip salesman Jimmy Smith (James Fox, doing a not bad at all accent) and second a genuine rich businessman in Trevor Graydon (John Gavin, proving he made a fine light leading man). The way they are brought together is through a white slavery ring, no, they don't all organise it, they do their best to break it up, which builds to a madcap finale that still seems a little flat, as if everyone was working too hard at making this fun. The cast are willing, the tunes are there, but Thoroughly Modern Millie never really takes off. Music by Elmer Bernstein.
American director, more at home with character than story, with a wide range of subjects under his belt. He started in television and theatre, and his first films were stage adaptations, but with The World of Henry Orient he appeared to find his voice in film. Other nineteen-sixties work included the epic Hawaii and musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, but he enjoyed a monster hit with light hearted western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.