DARLING LILI is a positive delight, though sadly the film was a huge box-office flop and virtually sunk Andrews' film career until "10", S.O.B. and VICTOR/VICTORIA came along a decade later. This film stars Andrews as Lili Smith, a beautiful and adored singing star in England who moonlights as a WW1 German spy. One night, "Uncle Kurt" (Jeremy Kemp) gives Lili her latest assignment: Major Bill Larrabee (Rock Hudson). Lili must make Larrabee fall in love with her, and hopefully let slip some important confidential information that could come in handy for the Germans. Once Lili has Bill firmly in her sights, it becomes clear that this is not her usual "kiss-and-tell" seduction job....she has truly fallen in love with him.
Julie Andrews simply glows as Lili, and delivers a deft performance. Although she indeed plays a spy working for the "Enemy", the audience oddly enough loves her anyway and wants her to escape in the tension-filled final sequence. Rock Hudson is a comical and romantic delight as Larrabee. The support cast includes Lance Percival, Gloria Paul, Jacques Marin, Doreen Keogh and Bernard Kay.
The musical score by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer is truly beautiful, one of the best of the entire decade. When Andrews emerges out of the blackness in the first scene to sing "Whistling Away the Dark", it is indeed one of those chill-inducing moments. Andrews' musicality in this film was quite accomplished; she sings with a smokey timbre in her voice which she rarely displayed before or after DARLING LILI. Other choice moments come in the Music Hall-schmaltz of "I'll Give You Three Guesses" and the sobering "Girl in No Man's Land". Costume designer Donald Brooks decks Julie out in a splendid array of period-perfect ensembles (he also costumed Julie in STAR!).
The film was nominated for 3 Academy Awards that year: Best Costume Design (Donald Brooks); Best Song "Whistling Away the Dark" (music Henry Mancini, lyrics Johnny Mercer); and Best Music Scoring (Henry Mancini).
I simply adore this film. DARLING LILI was never made available on videocassette, and appeared only rarely on cable. Director Blake Edwards, in a bid to make the film more palatable for audiences following it's disastrous theatrical release, re-cut the film in a "Director's Cut", and that is the version you get on this DVD. The original theatrical length was 136 mins (the "Director's Cut" runs for a brisk 107 mins, not counting Overture and Exit Music sequences). The transfer is very sharp and the audio is offered in both 5.1 and 2-channel stereo. The cut scenes are all offered as bonus material, so in effect the entire film is here, albeit in pieces. Paramount might hopefully release the uncut LILI one day, but until then, you could do a lot worse than the "Director's Cut". Highly-recommended from this corner.
POSTSCRIPT (29th May 2007): DARLING LILI is now available in it's original uncut form, via the new Paramount DVD editions from the UK and Australia.