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USA 1970
Directed by
Blake Edwards
136 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
1.5 stars

Darling Lili

Blake Edwards, whose work is best known from the Peter Sellers/Pink Panther franchise made more artistically awful but commercially successful movies than any other director I can think of. Darling Lili which he also produced and co-wrote (surprisingly) with William Peter Blatty who would go on to write The Exorcist (1973) gets the awful right but it tanked at the box office, the star presence of Edwards’ wife, Julie Andrews, being unable to hide the film's inanity.

Andrews plays the title character, an English music hall star, who also doubles as a spy for her German “uncle” Col. Kurt Von Ruger (Jeremy Kemp). He orders her to seduce ace pilot Major William Larrabee (Rock Hudson) and get the skinny on Allied activities.  In the blink of an eye she falls for Larrabee’s irresistible charms and, of course, love changes everything. Whatever!

Darling Lili starts off looking like a modern musical with Andrews on stage singing  Henry Mancini’s and Johnny Mercer’s Oscar-nominated song "Whistling Away the Dark” (they were also nominated for Best Score but won neither) before segueing into a spy caper comedy with a couple of Inspector Clouseau-like nincompoop agents on the trail of Lili’s Mata Hari-like traitor.

This is all supposed to be side-slapping fun but Edwards’ and Blatty’s script is cobbled together from familiar narrative precedents and Edwards directs it with a similar lack of inspiration setting a series of mostly unfunny gags against the garishly opulent background of belle époque Paris and early WWI militarism.

Whilst there is not the remotest attempt to make Andrews into a credible spy, Hudson who’d been playing dashing leading men for over a decade and whose career pretty much represented the decline of Hollywood over the same period dials in a performance the only sign of life in which is the up-and-down progress of his Elvis-Presley side-burns. Edwards apparently had no problem with setting Hudson up for extensive snogging sessions with his wife and presumably for Andrews’ fans raunches her up with a semi-burlesque musical number that reveals gams worthy of Cyd Charisse. Andrews floats through this ungainly twaddle with the serenity of a Maria Von Trapp or Mary Poppins.

If you fit the “fan” category Darling Lili will provide some pleasures but everyone else can avoid it.

FYI: The film was such a dud that Edwards chopped out 30 of the original 137m run-time for what was grandly called a Director's Cut. It in no way improved the film.




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