Mary Tyler Moore Double Feature: ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ And ‘What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?’
by Rachel Bellwoar
Between The Dick Van Dyke Show ending and The Mary Tyler Moore Show beginning, Mary Tyler Moore would star in a handful of movies. Two of those films are available now from Kino Lorber.
Thoroughly Modern Millie
The musical where Carol Channing would coin the catchphrase “raspberries,” Thoroughly Modern Millie follows Julie Andrews as Millie, a young woman looking for a job in New York City, but secretly hoping to snag a husband, too. With that in mind, Millie’s only criterion for a job is that her boss be single, and in John Gavin’s Mr. Graydon she thinks she’s found the perfect employer.
The film begins with Millie making up her mind to become more modern by adopting the latest fashion trends. Modern Millie takes place in the flapper 1920s, and while this kind of makeover would make sense if Millie had just arrived in New York City, it’s never really explained in the film why Millie suddenly notices now that everyone’s wearing beads and cutting their hair short. It’s Moore’s character, Dorothy, who’s new to the hotel where Millie lives and where the elevator is powered by people tap dancing. Millie gives Moore the chance to play a different kind of comedy role. She’s terrific as the kind of airhead you would see Marilyn Monroe play, and she and Andrews bounce wonderfully off each other, especially as Dorothy’s sheltered upbringing causes her to lean on Millie a lot.
More than the music, though, it’s the film’s homages to silent film (specifically Harold Lloyd’s thrill comedies) which pay off the most, as you don’t know whether to roll your eyes or laugh at the outrageous antics, especially James Fox’s attempt at Lloyd’s building climb from Safety Last!. Andrews is equally game to join in the slapstick fun, and Gavin comes alive in the second half with some straight face reactions.
The comic book machinations of the film’s villains are great, but can’t be separated from the ingrained racism of yellow face and trying to pass off made-up words as Chinese. Film historian and author Lee Gambin and art historian Ian McAnally talk about the history of yellow peril in the movies in their commentary, as well as the film’s approach to color, the director, George Roy Hill, not getting final cut, and the contradictions in Millie’s modern ideals. Not only will you come out of their commentary with a better understanding of the movie, but you’ll come out with some reading recommendations as well.
What’s So Bad About Feeling Good?
Given how long it’s taken What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? to be released on physical media (it never got a VHS, and this is the first time it’s been available on Blu-ray and DVD), the fact that it came out this year is almost uncanny. Before Tookie in George of the Jungle, there was Amigo, the toucan who starts a pandemic in New York City where, instead of becoming ill, New Yorkers are becoming happy. Pete (George Peppard) is one of the first people infected and, even though the illness is happiness, he’s still trying to infect his beatnik friends and girlfriend, Liz (Moore), against their will.
What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? is a satire, but the fact that a film made in the 60’s could be this prescient is spooky. Certain details, like there being a shortage of better masks, politicians downplaying the contagiousness of the disease, or people finally starting to act when the economy is affected are scarily on point, while in the film there’s a universal mask that everyone can get for free (which is something we still don’t have today during the COVID-19 pandemic). While the film is more a kooky curiosity than anything else, there’s no denying the smart writing from Tedd Pierce, Robert Pirosh, Bill Danch and George Seaton. There’s definitely a lot of sitcom-like antics and physical comedy, which Moore is a natural pro at. In one scene, her sunglasses slip off her head while she’s talking, and it just seems like a happy accident that Moore completely rolls with. At one point, Pete dons a disguise and while it should be cringey, his knowledge of the person he’s pretending to be makes it a lot more entertaining than it should be, and the comic book bubbles to have Amigo talk are a fantastic invention, especially since the bubbles move and aren’t flat or static.
Film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson provide the commentary track, where they talk about some of the common denominators in Seaton’s movies, like character’s with arrested development, and the decision to have conformity be the answer to everyone’s problems.
Thoroughly Modern Millie and What’s So Bad About Feeling Good? are both available on Blu-ray.