NOT SO DARLING
Absolutely true that the critics were gunning for Blake Edwards’ Darling Lili long before it opened. The advance publicity on the picture was negative, not necessarily because anyone outside of Edwards, stars Julie Andrews and Rock Hudson and the heads at Paramount had viewed any footage, but primarily because Edwards and the studio had locked horns in battles during production and over the final cut, nearly the identical skirmishes waged over The Great Race a few years before. (The very limited attribute in that one is how good Natalie Wood looks in those improbable Edith Head outfits.) Most quarrels over cuts are predictors of less than satisfying results and the critics—still licking their chops over Andrews’ previous bomb Star!—fell all over themselves with stronger slams than warranted. Darling Lili isn’t an altogether terrible picture, it’s just terribly anachronistic and flimsy, with Andrews playing of all things an English pris version of Mati Hari and Hudson a WWI flying ace. The movie went hugely over-budget, though we can’t really tell from what we see on screen where the money went. According to know-it-alls, delays due to endless students strikes in Paris in the spring of 1968 mounted so expensively that major filming was transferred to Brussels. (The production originally started in Ireland but early-on a studio exec objected and the locale shifted to Paris.) Looking at Hudson, who’s often puffy and haggard, with stained teeth in need of whitening, and with hair in need of a trim, we could believe Edwards didn’t spend enough on retakes. Probably to no improvement: during both filming and delays, Rock spent his nights in smoky bars and then at the baths. The director’s animus against the studio became the subject of his sour comedy S.O.B.; but no studio head forced him to make a comedy with music that had neither much comedy nor good music in it. He also rather annoyingly allowed Hudson to holler and Andrews to scream too much. Andrews gets to sing one barely decent number—the Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer Oscar-nominated “Whistling Away the Dark”—and she’s fun letting loose with a rather defiant striptease that is the movie’s best moment. Intended to be a reserved-seater, plans changed when, one, Star! took an embarrassing bath at the box office and, two, Paramount became increasingly unhappy with Edwards’s results. The excruciating exit music is by Mancini’s chorus but it sure sounds an awful lot like those barfy Ray Conniff Singers. In 1990, Edwards provided TNT with a “director’s cut” that ran 114 minutes. Original release, with overture and exit music, running at 143 minutes, airs infrequently on TCM. With Jeremy Kemp, Lance Percival, Jacques Marin, Michael Witney. Michel Legrand the translator for French lyrics; Hermes Pan the choreographer; Edwards and William Peter Blatty wrote the script. Oscar noms for original musical score and costume design (Donald Brooks and Jack Bear). In Panavision.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2002 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.