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Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

Zany, crazy, tongue-in-cheek, just a bit over-the-top and, in its irony, light-heartedly insightful. Thoroughly Modern Millie is, all-in-all, fun — and a good example of filmic celebration of the beauty of laughter and the odd ways of our inconsistencies. On the surface, Millie recounts the travails of a small town girl who goes to the city to become a modern, liberated, equal-with-the-men, woman — an aspiration which most certainly has merit, yet which also has great comic potential. The film operates mostly on this surface, yet its contrasts and juxtapositions lay deeper questions before us: For a woman, what is the core and substance of one’s liberation or enslavement? What limits has one artificially placed on oneself — or stubbornly butted one’s head against? For a man, how does one participate in the enslavement of the women in one’s life — or women in general? Although the film does not so much explore these questions, they are the foundation upon which its ironic surface is laid, and thus they maintain their presence throughout.

Its lightly exaggerated musical presentation — complete with overture at the beginning and intermission in the middle — serves to reinforce Millie’s fun and light-hearted smirking at our fears and foibles. The exaggeration extends to its ironic tone, allowing gags that would otherwise come off as weak and contrived to swim strongly in a current of swirling self-reflection. The filmcraft is strong in its singular focus on this tone which, to an actor, is wonderfully captured in the performances of the whole cast. Some might say it is goofy but, though its on the long side, if you sit back and go with its particular groove, Thoroughly Modern Millie is worth its zany, crazy, mildly thought-provoking 2.5 hours. If you wanted to, you could even take that mild provocation of thought and carry it an interesting distance — the film contains multiple plot and character elements that could support a deeper discussion.

Early in the roaring ’20s, freshly after the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution culminated a struggle for women’s suffrage, newly liberated, small town Millie charges into the city to show what she’s worth. Though career opportunities for women are limited, a stenographer position is a sufficient platform for her to prove she’s equal with the men — and to land a rich husband. Along the way, her problems and road blocks include her female form, a ditsy brunette, a conniving landlord, the lure of true love, and a ring of hoodlums that enslaves liberated young women. Running time: 152 min. (or 138 min.)

On the whole, there is very little directly sensitive content in Millie. Though there are scenes of peril, they are enveloped in the film’s light-hearted tone. The film’s plays on romance are basically clean, though a few innuendos may peek through. The content most likely to raise an eyebrow involves a sequence of Millie — quite in opposition to attitudes of late — lamenting the large size of her breasts, which she seeks to hide and suppress, just as she does with her femininity. There is the slightest bit of language.

  • Director: George Roy Hill
  • Screenplay: Richard Morris
  • Leads: Julie Andrews, James Fox, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing, Beatrice Lillie, John Gavin
  • Cinematography: Russell Metty
  • Music: Elmer Bernstein


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