4 May 2006 | phillindholm
''Let's Have A Drink On It!''
Yes, "The Happiest Millionaire" was Walt Disney's last film. Yes, it was obviously made to top "Mary Poppins" and yes, like many late-sixties musicals, it flopped at the box office. But the fact remains that it is a glowing, beautifully made musical (with songs by the Sherman Brothers who were responsible for "Poppins") and it never got the recognition it truly deserved. The cast, headed by Disney Stalwart Fred MacMurray and legendary star Greer Garson (in her last film appearance) is excellent. The musical numbers are fun and engaging and the players do them well. Both Lesley Ann Warren and John Davidson were introduced in this film and proved an ideal pair of romantic leads. Warren, who became an overnight star courtesy of her delightful performance as Cinderella in the 1965 Rodgers and Hammerstein television musical, literally shines as Cordelia Drexel Biddle. Many scenes are stolen by Geraldine Page playing Davidson's haughty mother, and Tommy Steele can sing and dance with the best of them. There is also a grand performance from Gladys Cooper as the family matriarch. And, for "Poppins" fans, Hermione Baddely appears as the Irish housekeeper. There is also a brief bit by Joan Marshall, the star of William Castle's "Homicidal" (billed as Jean Arless) as a maid. The fact that this story is (loosely) based on the prominent Biddle family of Philadelphia, adds to the fun. Because the film was released after Disney's death and exhibitors complained about its long running time, it was drastically edited, shortening and removing several scenes, as well as one musical number ("It Won't Be Long Till Christmas"), and here is where the controversy comes in. Garson was originally cast as Mrs. Duke, after the part was turned down by several actresses, including Geraldine Page. Just before filming began however, Page changed her mind, and Greer ended up as Mrs. Biddle. (a part she was not anxious to play). She agreed to the switch when she heard the score--especially "It Won't Be Long Till Christmas" which was her one musical number. Indeed she COULD sing, and she did so in a few of her '40's films. Because her song was subsequently cut from the film (after it's Hollywood world premiere) she declined to attend any further premieres, though she had been at the Hollywood opening. Thanks to the newly restored roadshow edition, the song has been restored, and Garson and MacMurray perform it to perfection, truly the highlight of a warm and wonderful story that makes for perfect holiday viewing.