Here’s one for you. Julie Andrews and Rock Hudson star in a Great War spy thriller. ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ I thought to myself. What a fucking idiot I was. I’d not heard of my film fayre for today until it turned up whilst I was researching some of the details for my last review, ‘Von Richthofen and Brown’. The star names on display made one of my eyebrows raise in a Roger Moore-ish manner as I contemplated the potential of what I was about to watch. Her majesty Dame Julie Andrews of Perrywinkle BBC, QVC, VSOP and Bar. She wouldn’t put her name to anything rubbish would she?
‘Darling Lili’ (1970) is, as mentioned above, a Great War spy thriller that doesn’t take itself at all seriously. It’s a knockabout tale of a British music hall singer with a German heritage who is secretly a spy for her Hun fatherland. She falls in love with fighter pilot war hero Rock Hudson against her spymasters’ orders and the rest of everything happens within these simple confines. Sadly it’s not very good. There were some issues in pre-production apparently and the film took a long time to get off the ground. The studio stuck its’ oar in throughout the production and the film was largely edited without Director Blake Edwards’ input. His 1981 film ‘S.O.B’, which I’ve not seen, satirizes the details of Paramounts’ interference in ‘Darling Lili’. Interesting ‘S.O.B’ was distributed by Paramount, oh the irony.
The score is halfway decent even if everyone seemed to be singing ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ every five minutes. And, in reality, it should be halfway decent seeing as it came from the treble-cleffed parchment of Henry Mancini in his first Great War Film outing. He would return to this golden tinged genre a few years later when he scored ‘The Great Waldo Pepper’ for George Roy Hill. I had hoped the potential comparisons to The Pink Panther films would stop there but quite early on in the film we meet a couple of clouseau-esque police detectives who proceed to prat fall about the place and catch colds after standing out in the rain.
Actually, it was when I first met the stupid cops that the film began to fall apart for me. It’s really uneven. There’s a Le Carre style spy thriller in there somewhere but there’s also a slapstick 60’s Peter Sellers film, a love story, a musical, a French farce and who knows what else. It’s trying to be lots of things, too many things and none of them are any good. The love story has some really cheesy ‘Walking in a park on a cold day in chunky jumpers holding hands’ kind of moments and I didn’t feel for one moment any of the affection Julie and Rock were trying to portray was in any way real.
On a positive note the aerial sequences are good. Shot by the same crew as ‘Von Richthofen and Brown’, we get the same quality cinematography and stunt piloting. Also just like in ‘Von Righthofen and Brown’ we see the rolling fields of Ireland resplendent with dual carriageways, industrial estates and electricity pylons. There are also a few seconds of internal and external Zeppelin footage that I think were borrowed from ‘Zeppelin’ (1971) which would’ve been in production around the same time. It’s the kind of thing only the sad likes of me would notice.
I really was expecting more from the cast and crew on this one. The opening scene is a musical number with Andrews showing her music hall credentials. It’s a strong, well shot start but from there it’s downhill all the way. The slapstick isn’t funny, the characters are two dimensional stereotypes, the ‘Spy Thriller’ isn’t thrilling, the musical is good but not anywhere near musical enough, the love story is void of any love. Get the picture? It’s a shame though because it really could’ve been so much more if they’d focussed on just one thing rather than trying to cover all the angles.
I also think the casting is off. Julie Andrews struggles with the required edginess of portraying a spy willing to kill and be killed for her country. She’s just too nice. Rock also seems a bit out of his depth just like he did in the 1957 version of ‘A Farewell to Arms’. I think I made the (Dad) joke in my review for that film that for someone called ‘Rock’ he’s incredibly wooden……..I thank you, spent ages on that one. Together they both waltz through scene after scene without any sign of acting chops or emotion.
So what we have with ‘Darling Lili’ is a no thrills spy thriller with singing bits, people with silly voices falling over and a love story without any love. A film that the director disowned and which the studio spent $16 million (1969 money) to make and then proceed to ruin by not allowing the director to direct it. Basically it’s not good. The money and the people meant it should’ve been a contender, but it’s just not. It’s a facepalm of a film, a cry for help, an unwelcome clammy hand on a shoulder. Watch it if you want but don’t blame me if you do.