On paper, The Happiest Millionaire must have seemed like a sure-fire musical hit in the profitable Mary Poppins vein. The score was by the Poppins boys, the milieu was populated by servants and their employees, and the cast included talented, appealing performers, both fresh-faced and veteran. Unfortunately, Millionaire onscreen lacks the charm and (more importantly) the focus of its predecessor. Norman Tokar's direction is workmanlike but uninspired; the musical numbers generally come off okay, but "okay" is not enough when fireworks are called for. The pacing is also a problem, although how problematic depends upon which of the three versions one is watching: the 118-minute version is entirely too choppy, while the 164-minute version drags unbearably. The 141-minute version is probably the best, although it too is a little long. The score is fine, with "Fortuosity" very engaging, but it's not good enough to cover the flaws in the screenplay and direction. Tommy Steele is quite good, obviously more comfortable here than when he had to carry an entire movie, as in Half a Sixpence, and Fred MacMurray is fine, if a bit too low key in places. Lesley Ann Warren makes an auspicious and appealing debut, and Geraldine Page comes close to stealing every scene she's in. Millionaire is perfectly acceptable family entertainment but nothing more.
by Craig Butler review