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THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE – Elmer Bernstein

thoroughlymodernmillieMOVIE MUSIC UK CLASSICS

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Julie Andrews was the toast of Hollywood in the 1960s and her success in Mary Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1966) made her the most popular and highest paid actress of the day. Universal Studios and producer Ross Hunter sought to capitalize on her popularity and so decided to adapt the British musical “Chrysanthemum” (1956) for her next musical. Richard Morris was hired to write the screenplay and George Roy Hill tasked with directing the film. Hill brought in a fine ensemble to support Julie Andrews (Millie Dillmount), which included Mary Tyler Moore (Dorothy Brown), James Fox (Jimmy Smith), John Gavin (Trevor Graydon), Carol Channing (Muzzy van Hossmere) and Beatrice Lillie (Mrs. Meers).

Our story is set in New York City during the roaring twenties. Millie Dillmount, a flapper, is determined to secure work as a stenographer for a wealthy executive, and then charm and marry him. She befriends orphan Dorothy Brown who joins her living at the Priscilla Hotel for Single Young Ladies, run by the nefarious Mrs. Meers, who sells young women into white slavery with a local Chinese gang. Millie, in New York for three months, has shed her small town roots and has adopted a new modern sensibility, complete with bobbed hair and dresses with hemlines above the knee. Well she and Dorothy undergo a number of adventures including Mrs. Meer selling Dorothy into white slavery by a Chinese mob. They never the less succeed in overcoming all obstacles as Millie manages to rescue her. Reunited, they eventually pair up with beaus Jimmy, a paper clip salesman and Trevor a company executive for the Sincere Trust Insurance Company. Unbeknownst to the two girls is that both men are the stepsons of Muzzy a millionaire who dispatched the boys to make it on their own without her assistance. In the end, all things are made right and Millie marries Jimmy and Dorothy marries Trevor, thus securing the best and happiest of endings. The film opened to good reviews and an excellent box office, which only added to Andrew’s luster. It secured seven Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, Best Adapted Score, Best Original Score and Best Song, winning one for Best Score.

Elmer Bernstein was hired to provide the incidental underscore and Andre Previn was tasked with arranging and conducting the numerous source songs. Bernstein understood that he needed to capture the free flying and unabashed spirit of the roaring twenties. He therefore infused his soundscape with the musical sensibilities of the 1920s. For the songs, which were essential to the musical, Bernstein sought new tunes from Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, “Tapioca” and “Jimmy”. Source songs from the 1920s were also interpolated, including “Baby Face”, “Jazz Baby”, “Poor Butterfly”, “Rose of Washington Square”, “Do It Again”, and the Jewish wedding song “Trinkt le Chaim”. Absolutely essential to the musical’s success was to showcase Andrew’s voice, as well as Channing’s. Both Bernstein and Previn received Academy Award nominations for their work, with Bernstein securing a well deserved win.

In “Prelude: Thoroughly Modern Millie” Andrews sings the Title Song, which perfectly showcases her vocals, capture’s Millie’s flapper spirit, and the film’s emotional core. The music is upbeat, confident and just infectious! “Overture” is a score highlight, which offers an orchestral parade of several song themes of the film. We open with the sweet, tender and endearing “Baby Face”. We segue at 0:51 into a free-flowing, dance-like “Do It Again”, that is just wonderful. At 1:24 we down shift into an intimate slow dance rendering of “Poor Butterfly”, but not for long as we move up-tempo into the happy go lucky “Stumbling”. At 2:33 we conclude with the Swing melody of “Japanese Sandman”, which brings us to a very satisfying conclusion! Wow, this was nicely done! In “Jimmy,”, a tender love song, Millie at last realizes that she loves Jimmy and you feel this in the lyrics and their on screen embrace. This is a perfect music-film moment!

“The Tapioca” is a fun dance number, where we see Jimmy just smitten with Millie. It is however regrettable that the opening of the cue contains dialogue! Despite this imperfection, the song is enjoyable, full of fun, and has the energy to support the scene. The onscreen chemistry of Millie and Jimmy just sparkles. “Jazz Baby” reveals Carol Channing’s gift with her singular talent on full display. She perfectly captures the soul of this song, makes it her own and offers a very entertaining act as she dazzles us during a party at her estate. “Jewish Wedding Song (Trinkt Le Chaim)” accompanies a scene where Millie and Dorothy attend a Jewish wedding and the scene is full of merriment as they dance, sing and celebrate with a very proud grandfather! What a fun scene! The traditional song starts off with customary solemnity, but then becomes festive and celebratory! Mazel Tov! “Intermission Medley” offers a wonderful parade of themes, which showcases Andrew’s voice! We open with “Thoroughly Modern Millie”. At 1:04 we segue into the heartfelt love theme “Jimmy”. At 2:20 we launch into an up tempo and festive “Jewish Wedding Song (Trinkt Le Chaim). We conclude at 2:38 with the tender “Baby Face”. What a perfect and enjoyable piece!

In “Poor Butterfly”, regretfully, we are once again plagued by dialogue throughout the cue. At 1:20 Millie finally gets to this tender and heartfelt song, which offers wonderful old fashioned romance at its finest. “Rose of Washington Square” is a short song which flows with the sensibility of a classic cabaret song. “Baby Face” reveals Millie falling in love with Trevor. She is so taken by him and his embrace that she bursts into one of the musical’s finest song, which perfectly captures her feelings.

“Do It Again!” is a hoot of a scene! Millie, Dorothy and Trevor go out to the theater together and it becomes very apparent by Dorothy and Trevor’s eye contact that they are smitten, and Millie is a third wheel! Well we are in for a blast as Muzzy is shot out of a canon on stage! Muzzy sings a song that is classic Carol Channing and one of the musical’s most entertaining! We end our story with Millie and Jimmy, and Dorothy and Trevor paired up and off to the happiest of endings! Millie closes the film as it began with her signature song. “Exit Music” features a parade of the musical’s themes. Fanfare, which alludes to “Baby Face” launches our suite and ushers in “Jazz Baby”. At 0:50 we flow into the love theme “Jimmy” and then come to a wonderful and satisfying conclusion with a reprise of the signature theme “Thoroughly Modern Millie”.

Folks, this is one of Hollywood’s most entertaining musicals, but it is incomplete and the cues with dialogue, detract. A reissue of the complete musical with the dialogue extracted is long overdue. Having said that, I must say that Bernstein and Previn delivered the goods. This musical has a lot to offer and you just have to surrender to it’s feel good vibe. It features some of the finest songwriters and lyricists in Hollywood, and the vocal performances by Andrews and Channing are superb. This musical is great fun, very entertaining and fully deserves to be part of your collection. I have embedded a YouTube link for the delightful Title Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWS1Sz5IKJc

Buy the Thoroughly Modern Millie soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Prelude: Thoroughly Modern Millie (written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, performed by Julie Andrews) (2:42)
  • Overture – Baby Face/Do It Again/Poor Butterfly/Stumbling/Japanese Sandman (3:34)
    Jimmy (performed by Julie Andrews) (3:05)
  • Tapioca (written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn) (2:57)
  • Jazz Baby (written by M. K. Jerome, performed by Carol Channing) (2:41)
  • Jewish Wedding Song (Trinkt Le Chaim) (traditional, performed by Julie Andrews)(3:43)
  • Intermission Medley: Thoroughly Modern Millie/Jimmy/Jewish Wedding Song (Trinkt Le Chaim/Baby Face (performed by Julie Andrews) (3:40)
  • Poor Butterfly (written by John Golden and Raymond Hubbel, performed by Julie Andrews) (3:32)
  • Rose of Washington Square (written by James F. Hanley and Ballard MacDonald, performed by Ann Dee) (1:15)
  • Baby Face (written by Harry Akst and Benny Davis, performed by Julie Andrews) (2:43)
  • Do It Again! (written by Buddy DeSilva and George Gershwin, performed by Carol Channing) (2:01)
  • Reprise: Thoroughly Modern Millie (written by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn, performed by Julie Andrews) (0:58)
  • Exit Music – Jazz Baby/Jimmy/Thoroughly Modern Millie (2:36)

Running Time: 36 minutes 23 seconds

MCA Records MCAD-10662 (1967/1993)

Music composed and conducted by Elmer Bernstein. Orchestrations by Jack Hayes, Albert Sendry and Leo Shuken. Songs arranged and conducted by Andre Previn. Score produced by Elmer Bernstein. Album produced by Ross Hunter

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