Sunday, June 20, 2010

Doctor Dolittle

This is the story of Dr. John Dolittle, a doctor who learned to speak animal languages and become a great veterinarian, and his quest to find the cryptid Great Pink Sea Snail. It was a long musical of a type that was done quite often at the time. I was left with one big question. How the hell did this movie get nominated for Best Picture? I don’t know what the deal is with the Academy. Sometimes they get it right on the money and they are usually in the right neighborhood, but every once in a while they hit me with a wild pitch that leaves me confused and irritated. This film lands squarely in the irritation zone.

On first viewing, I didn’t like the film at all, but I gave it a second watch and it started to grow on me a bit. The songs were not outstanding, but I found myself humming a couple of them later in the day. All in all, it was a hit or miss film with moments both good and bad. Certainly nowhere near Best Picture level in a year as good as 1967.

Let’s break down the good from the bad and from the ugly.

The flashback scene where Dolittle’s sister and patients are horrified and knocked around by the household’s rambunctious animal residents was really funny.

I laughed out loud and rewound and watched that bit about three or four times. Unfortunately, that was the only laugh-out-loud moment in the whole two and a half hour movie. I also enjoyed Richard Attenborough’s performance as circus owner Albert Blossom. His song, “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It”, expressing Blossom’s astonishment on first viewing of the exotic two-headed Pushmi-Pullyu was, by far, the best song in the movie. 

Rex Harrison was good in the lead, but the performance paled in comparison to his Oscar-winning turn as Professor Henry Higgins just three years earlier. Geoffrey Holder was quite good as Willie Shakespeare, the leader of Sea-Star Island. He’s always good. You might remember him as Punjab in 1982’s Annie or from his famous series of 7-Up commercials.


On first viewing, I found Anthony Newley somewhat off-putting. I didn’t like him at all. I liked him more the second time when I realized that he sounded a little bit like David Bowie. Still, though, I didn’t care for any of his songs. 

I can say the same for Samantha Eggar who I had considered worthy of the Best Actress Oscar of 1965 for The Collector. Her character, at least for the first half of the movie was very unpleasant. The song “I Think I Like You” that she sang with Rex Harrison was just awful.

The film was nominated for nine Oscars and won two of them. It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Sound, Best Music – Original Music Score, and Best Music – Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment. The wins were L.B. Abbott for Best Effects – Special Effects (He had been nominated once before in the category for 1959’s Journey to the Center of the Earth) and Leslie Bricusse who wrote the screenplay and music for the film and won Best Music – Original Song for “Talk to the Animals.” This Best Song Oscar was another poor choice from the Academy when you consider that it beat The Jungle Book’s “Bare Necessities” and Casino Royale’s Burt Bacharach-Hal David classic “The Look of Love.”  

When I start making my own Oscar picks, the following performers will receive consideration…

For Best Actor, Rex Harrison for playing Dr. John Dolittle. It wasn’t his best performance and parts felt really phoned in, but it’s still Rex Harrison, so he’ll be in the brackets.

For Best Supporting Actor, I’ll include three names.

Anthony Newley for playing Matthew Mugg. I’m including him just because I liked the way he passed out funny when they threw that spear at him.

Geoffrey Holder for playing Willie Shakespeare. He was good and I always enjoy him, but it was a rather small part.

Richard Attenborough for playing circus owner Albert Blossom. I think he was the best thing in the whole movie.

For Best Supporting Actress, Samantha Eggar for playing Emma Fairfax. I’m picking her mostly because she’s attractive and it gives me a chance to post some nice caps of her.

It didn’t do as well at the box office as they had hoped, but it did get a lot of Oscar nominations at the end of the year. It also campaigned for those Oscars very aggressively. I’d give the film two and a half out of five.