I grew up on a healthy dose of the classic live-action Disney films. I can quote The Apple Dumpling Gang verbatim and still prefer the original Escape to Witch Mountain than any remake they’ve done since. I was, however, not a big fan of the Love Bug movies – weird I know. I somehow missed The Happiest Millionaire until now. My sister should be pleased – she would have hated it. Me, on the other hand, I would have dug up the soundtrack and driven my parents crazy singing “Fortuosity” continuously while wishing I could have a pet alligator.
The Happiest Millionaire tells the story of the eccentric Biddle family, millionaires in 1916 Philadelphia. As the story opens, a new butler, John Lawless joins the family and Cordy, their teenaged daughter is having trouble growing up when her Father won’t let her. So, Cordy goes off to a girls’ school, falls in love with a car happy young man from New York and then chaos ensues as the wedding approaches when their two very different families clash.
The look of this film was so familiar – it’s a musical in the best of traditions. The sets look like a cross between My Fair Lady and Hello, Dolly! In fact, the opening number “Fortuosity” has a dance routine to it that was a cross between Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” number and a little bit of “Elegance” from Hello, Dolly! The songs, written by the Sherman Brothers, are fun and engaging and I really enjoyed the casting. Fred MacMurray is perfect as the irate yet loveable Father, a much more huggable Rex Harrison-type. Lesley Ann Warren made her screen debut in this film; while I loved her as Cordy, I just kept seeing her as Miss Scarlett.
The length of the film was daunting; I was impressed by the attention spans of kids in the 60s. The film even includes an overture, intermission and entr’acte – its set-up was a lot like The Great Race which is also marathon length (but so worth it if only for the characters Jack Lemmon plays and an epic food fight). However, at no point does the film drag which, at almost 3 hours, is impressive. However, it’s worth the commitment. The last 30 minutes of the film are the best part, including a dancing sequence in a small, crowded bar, that as a choreographed scene, is extremely well done. I know I sound like a dance geek and a musical nerd, which I am, but I think anyone could enjoy this film. So don’t be intimidated with the length, make a batch of popcorn and resign yourself to humming “Fortuosity” for the next week.