Thursday, June 6, 2019


What made Rex Harrison want to be in Dr. Doolittle (1967)? Was he strapped for cash? Did he screen Barabbas (1961) or Fantastic Voyage (1966) or The Vikings (1958) and have an overwhelming urge to be on a set with Richard Fleischer? Was he hankering to deliver dialogue written by the insipid Leslie Bricusse, or sing-speak his mind-numbing songs, with their canned Broadway blandness, about the virtues of vegetarianism? Did Harrison think that his style of drawing-room urbanity would be complemented by the obnoxious Anthony Newley, whose acting career was distinguished by broad yuk-yuks and refrigerated ham?

Did Harrison think that audiences in the late sixties—Film Generation college audiences who were getting turned on to European directors and experimental styles—wanted gut-busting dances and stale, phoned-in stupidity from a bygone age of movie musical crap, an anachronistic big-studio production that’s too long for kids to sit still through and too asinine for normal adults to stand?

Maybe Harrison had a more practical motive. Did 20th Century-Fox offer to put his grandchildren through college?

Seal abuse. Rex Harrison
This monstrosity of a musical achieves a dubious distinction: even at a time of awful musicals from the major studios, it’s completely devoid of merit. Not a single scene, not a single song, not even a single sentence has any charm or appeal. It’s in another universe entirely from the sometimes brilliant and reliably entertaining Freed Unit musicals from MGM—Singin’ in the Rain (1952), The Band Wagon (1953), It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), and a few of those dazzling Judy Garland musicals.

It’s hardly surprising that this waste of celluloid has absolutely nothing in common with the craftsmanship and energy of Arthur Freed. What is surprising is that contemporaneous movie musicals—blubbery movies at the time like Camelot (1967), The Happiest Millionaire (1967), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), Hello, Dolly! (1969), Paint Your Wagon (1969), and Sweet Charity (1969), nearly all of which were ruinous disasters that ultimately sank the big Hollywood studios financially—have moments with some appeal: a passable number here, a clever bit of comedy there. Dr. Doolittle stands apart even in such a crowd; it may be the worst stinking musical of its time.

Every response you’re likely to have, scene by scene, song by song, seems inadvertent. Watching the posh, sexless Harrison in his silk opera hat sing a love song to a seal doesn’t exactly generate tender feelings in you; you’re more likely to react with revulsion. For hapless viewers, including the kids whom parents probably dragged to this thing in droves in 1967, this beached whale of a movie is human–animal abuse.

No comments:

Post a Comment