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DARLING LILI(director/writer: Blake Edwards; screenwriter: William Peter Blatty; cinematographer: Russell Harlan; editor: Peter Zinner; music: Henry Mancini; cast: Julie Andrews (Lili Smith), Rock Hudson (Maj. William Larrabee), Jeremy Kemp (Col. Kurt Von Ruger), Lance Percival (T.C.), Michael Witney (Lt. George Carson), Gloria Paul (Crepe Suzette), Jacques Marin (Major Duvalle, French Intelligence), Andre Maranne (Lieutenant Liggett, French Intelligence), Carl Duering (General Kessler), Vernon Dobtcheff (Kraus, Kessler’s assassin), Bernard Kay (Lili’s butler), Doreen Keogh (Lili’s maid); Runtime: 136; MPAA Rating: G; producers: Owen Crump/Blake Edwards; Paramount; 1970)
“It seems to be not that bad if you view it more as a love story than as a war story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Big-budget WWI British musical comedy that was a commercial bomb (nearly bankrupting Paramount) and was widely panned by critics. Watching it today, it seems to be not that bad if you view it more as a love story than as a war story. It has Julie Andrews (wife of the director) as Lili Smith, changing her squeaky clean image by playing a British music hall singer who doubles as a German spy wooing American ace pilot and squadron leader of the Eagle Squadron, Maj. William Larrabee (Rock Hudson), for valuable information, and then falling madly in love with him. Director Blake Edwards (“Operation Petticoat”/”Days of Wine and Roses”/”A Shot in the Dark”), who co-wrote the story with William Peter Blatty, puts in plenty of slapstick comedy, dogfights (the Rock takes on the the infamous Red Baron, German ace von Richthofen), singing, lush photography, a comical striptease and romance to keep the stylish film moving along at a mostly bearable pace (there were some flat moments) despite its lengthy 136 minutes.

It opens when popular British singer Lili Smith, her father is German and her mother English, is gallantly leading a frightened London theater audience through some patriotic choruses of “Pack Up Your Troubles” during a German air raid. In the next scene, German Colonel Kurt von Ruger (Jeremy Kemp) gets off of a U-boat and ends up in Lili’s house, where we learn that he poses as her uncle but is really her espionage boss here to give her an assignment to develop a friendship with American officer Maj. William Larrabee. While Lili is in France to receive the Legion of Honor award for patriotism and is singing in hospitals for wounded soldiers, she runs into the Major and hopes to find out about a top-secret operation named “Crepe Suzette” that he’s involved with. This leads to confusion and counter-spy measures, and then spies changing their allegiances when Lili comes to Larrabee’s rescue after he’s arrested in London as a spy. This puts her life in jeopardy with her German bosses, as events force Lili to flee to Switzerland with Ruger and they’re pursued by German assassins–whereby Larrabee swipes the Red Baron’s plane and helps save Lili’s train from a German plane raid. After the war, the lovers happily reunite in London when Larrabee visits her onstage while she’s singing and gives her a big kiss.

Andrews does a great job singing the traditional songs: “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary,” “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile,” “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” and “Mademoiselle From Armenti√®res.” It also includes the Oscar-nominated “Whistling Away the Dark.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”