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Film / Thoroughly Modern Millie

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"Good-bye, good goody girl
I'm changing and how
So beat the drums 'cause here comes
Thoroughly Modern Millie now!"
— The title number

A 1967 musical comedy film directed by George Roy Hill and starring Julie Andrews as the title character, with Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Channing, James Fox, John Gavin, and Beatrice Lillie in supporting roles.

New York City, 1922. Millie Dillmount (Andrews), a "thoroughly modern girl" from Kansas, aspires to be the stenographer — and then the wife — of a wealthy man. After remaking her image, she meets Miss Dorothy Brown (Moore) at the Priscilla Hotel, which is headed by a Mrs. Meers (Lillie). Millie takes a liking to salesman Jimmy Smith (Fox), but true to her ambition soon sets her sights on rich Trevor Graydon (Gavin). Things get complicated for all when it's revealed that the hotel is a front for a white slavery ring, and that Miss Dorothy is their latest target.

The film thrives on meta humor, most notably the roadshow-esque intermission, the diegetic intertitle card and outrageous physical comedy (such as Channing's character blasting herself from a cannon into an acrobatic vaudeville act or an elevator that's operated through tap-dancing). The result is an odd combination of 1920s comedy and 1960s sensibilities, swerving between parody and straight-up comedy. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, with composer Elmer Bernstein winning the only Oscar of his career for his score.

Adapted into a stage musical in 2002, featuring a score expansion by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan (and Gilbert and Sullivan, and Tchaikovsky, and Walter Donaldson), with lyrics by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis. The stage show adapts the movie rather faithfully, with some overhauls to fit the theatrical format as well as some modifications of the old-fashioned gender politics and racism of its time. The original production was a star turn for Sutton Foster (replacing Kristin Chenoweth in tryouts) and won six Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Lead Actress for Foster. The production ran for 903 performances before closing on June 20, 2004.

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    Original Movie Tropes 
  • '60s Hair: The film gives a '60s spin on the '20s Bob Haircut, with Dorothy sporting artichoke bangs and Muzzy having a cropped bouffant.
  • A-Cup Angst: Inverted, with the fashion of a small chest being a bother to the slightly buxom Millie.
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: The film averts this trope, but it does have some similarities to a British musical called Chrysanthemum.
  • Anachronism Stew: Millie sings “Baby Face”, a song from 1926. The story takes place four years prior.
  • Aside Glance: Millie does this a lot, and addresses the audience via silent movie dialog cards.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Subverted. Millie seems to think that Jimmy is cheating on her with Miss Dorothy. She's wrong, of course, but it's made rather disturbing after The Reveal shows them to be siblings.
  • Catchphrase: Muzzy's "Raaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaasspberrieeeeeeeees!" and Mrs. Meers' "Sad, to be all alone in the world".
  • Innocent Innuendo
    Trevor: Bolt the door, take off your things and let's have a test!
    Millie: Excuse me?
    Trevor: Take a letter!
  • Insistent Terminology: Miss Dorothy. In the movie, it gets to the point where other people start correcting it for her.
  • Ironic Echo: When Miss Dorothy first arrives at The Priscilla, she annoys the cab driver by trying to pay her 35 cent fare with a check. Millie steps in and pays with cash. At the end of the movie, Jimmy asks Millie what she wants for a wedding present, and she immediately says a checkbook.
  • Jukebox Musical: Both the original film and the stage musical incorporate vintage 1920s songs into the score.
  • Knockout Gas: Played with when the antagonist is pumping a white sleeping gas into the room of someone she plans to kidnap and sell into slavery, the problem is that she is in the room with the gas. As the gas gets thicker in the room she starts to yawn, slows down, and finally just falls over onto the bed; the gas has dissipated by the time she is found, still asleep.
    • She tries again later while wearing a gas mask, with more success this time.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Done a lot in the form of silent movie dialogue cards. Usually about how well rich people can wear beads.
  • Leitmotif: A heroic fanfare is heard every time Trevor Graydon is shown parked outside the Priscilla Hotel while Millie and Jimmy are investigating Miss Dorothy's disappearance ... despite the fact that he's been shot with a tranquilizer dart and is completely unconscious.
  • Lost Aesop: In the end, Millie falls for the seemingly-broke Jimmy, agreeing that marriage out of love is more important than seeking a wealthy suitor for money. The Reveal then crushes this moral by revealing that Jimmy is related to Dorothy and Muzzy, and is extremely wealthy himself.
    • The moral being lost actually precedes the finale when Muzzy tells her story of the "green glass" her lover gave her, and how she accepted him and the glass out of love...and then reveals that they were actually emeralds, and her lover was also secretly wealthy.
      • The Aesop is at least partially retrieved by Muzzy's summing-up statement: "Even though I really do prefer emeralds, we could have made it on green glass."
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Julie Andrews plays Millie, who is from Kansas. Andrews herself uses her normal British speaking voice throughout the film.
  • Not with Them for the Money: After Millie has Character Development.
  • One-Man Song: "Jimmy."
  • Opium Den: A front for the white slavery ring.
  • Percussive Maintenance: The elevator works only when you tap dance on it; in fact, the first time, it Mickey Moused right into the title number.
  • Plot-Irrelevant Villain: Mrs. Meers spends most of the film trying to add Dorothy to her collection of slaves and her actions have little to no effect on the overarching plot and Millie’s personal goals.
  • Really Gets Around: Muzzy and her international stable of handsome "teachers."
  • Relative Error: A major plot point.
  • Rich Bitch: Judith Tremaine.
  • The Roaring '20s: With the lyrics in the title song giving the year as 1922.
  • Running Gag:
    • Dorothy prefers to be addressed as Miss Dorothy.
    • Dorothy tries to pay the taxi driver with a check, twice. Millie comes to her rescue with coins.
  • Secretly Wealthy: It's the Twist Ending.
  • Shout-Out: Jimmy climbing the exterior of the building up to Millie's office is a nod to silent comedies, particularly Harold Lloyd's Safety Last!. Jimmy's general look, with the round glasses, is also likely modeled on Lloyd.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Millie and Jimmy.
  • Sleeping with the Boss: This is the standard way to land a husband, it seems (give or take actual sex): you meet a successful man by becoming his secretary, then he falls in love with you and you get married.
  • Slumming It: Miss Dorothy.
  • Smoking Is Glamorous: In the film, Millie sees some Chinese prostitutes doing this, and fails to mimic them properly. This leads to her accidentally blowing up the opium den and saving the day.
  • Socialite: Muzzy van Hossmere.
  • Title Drop: Almost.
    Miss Dorothy: You're a modern!
    Millie: Thoroughly.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Millie and Dorothy.
  • Tranquillizer Dart: The darts work instantly, though the earlier Knockout Gas was not played as straight.
  • Underdressed for the Occasion: Millie in her plaid day dress at Muzzy's evening party.
  • Wardrobe Wound: Judith Tremaine, when Millie gets soy sauce on her dress at Muzzy's party.
  • Wealthy Ever After
  • Weddings for Everyone: Dorothy and Trevor, along with Jimmy and Millie.
  • Work Off the Debt: Jimmy purposefully neglects to pay for dinner to wash dishes with Millie. This is rather moot when it's revealed that Jimmy is absurdly rich.
  • Yellow Peril: Mrs. Meers and her assistants are Chinese white slavers, who are portrayed in the most Orientalist way imaginable. Possibly, it's meant as a spoof of this trope's pervasiveness in 1920s pulp fiction, the very works that prompted Father Ronald Knox to decree that a Fair-Play Whodunnit must contain "no Chinaman." This would make it fit into the movie's overall parody/pastiche of 1920s pop culture. But to modern audiences, it just seems to be playing the trope straight.

    Stage Show Additions 
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: This musical is an adaptation of the original 1967 film of the same name.
  • Alto Villainess: Mrs. Meers, the show's villainess, is the ringleader of a white slavery ring who can sing in the alto range.
  • Beta Couple: Subverted in the stage version where it looks like Dorothy and Trevor will hook up, but Dorothy hooks up with one of Those Two Guys instead.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: It's traditional for Miss Flannery to be a heavyset, intense, old-fashioned woman who can still tap dance with the best of them.
  • Big Damn Heroes: When it seems like Mrs. Meers will escape justice in the end, Bun Foo appears and reveals his ability to speak English, promising to testify against the villain. Then, when she tries to run for it, there's another of these moments when the chorus girls in the hotel join forces and capture her.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Ching Ho and Bun Foo, on top of being Named by the Adaptation, get to talk (and sing) in full, character developing dialogue in actual Chinese.
    • Alas, the translations of the lyrics are an example of "Blind Idiot" Translation (e.g. “burn the bridge, bet the store” is translated literally as “burn the bridge down, and place a wager on the store”)
  • Book Ends: The musical ends with a hopeful-looking girl who walks onto center stage carrying a suitcase, much like Millie did at the start.
  • Canon Foreigner: There's no character examples (unless you count the miscellaneous named girls of the Priscilla and Barney Schreiber, C.P.A.), but the score is notable for including not only songs from the film (which had its own share of Jukebox Musical selections) but also an interpolation of Theatre/Ruddigore, a jazz rendition of The Nutcracker Suite and a cover of "My Mammy", popularized by Al Jolson.
    • "Mammy" can be considered a literal Canon "Foreigner" as it's sung by two Chinese immigrants in their first language.
  • The Casanova: Jimmy. He even has a whole number about how his mission in life is to enjoy the company of as many women as possible, rather than settle down.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Millie's abilities as a stenographer prove invaluable in the heroes' plan to thwart Mrs. Meers.
  • Evil Gloating: Mrs. Meers has a whole song about it—"They Don't Know." Towards the end of the musical, she also brags to Bun Foo about how she's tricked him into thinking she'll eventually rescue their mother from Hong Kong, which she never intends to do. This turns out to be her undoing, as it's revealed that Bun Foo can speak English well enough both to understand her and testify to her actions in court.
  • "I Am" Song: In addition to the title number, the Screen-to-Stage Adaptation adds "Not for the Life of Me".
  • "I Want" Song: this is Zig-Zagged with the song "How the Other Half Lives." Millie wants to be rich, and Miss Dorothy wants to be poor. See also "Gimme Gimme."
  • Hoist By Her Own Petard: The chorus girls who capture Mrs. Meers use her own knockout gas guns as a way of keeping her from escaping.
  • Leitmotif: The same few bars of music crop up each time Mrs. Meers tries something "evil" in the musical.
  • Meet Cute: Unlike in the movie, where Millie and Jimmy were introduced at a "friendship dance," the play opens with Millie quite literally running into him.
  • Motor Mouth:
    Ruth: [Rapid fire] Well, hello! You're new. You an actress? I'm an actress, but we couldn't be more different, so we'll never be up for the same part, which is a good thing, don'cha think? Ruth Devereaux—my stage name, anyway.
  • Not So Above It All: The intimidating Miss Flannery is largely no-nonsense, but even she chimes into the man-hating party in "Forget About the Boy," and joins in with a surprising tap solo.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: In the stage version, it turns out that Bun Foo can speak English a lot better than he lets on. So when Mrs. Meers mocks his apparent inability to understand her and gloats about how she'll never save his mother from Hong Kong, he's more than happy later to testify to the crimes she committed.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Done intentionally. Mrs. Meers does this when she gets frustrated.
  • Pair the Spares: Parodied in the stage show, when Trevor is seemingly the only one left without a love interest...and laments the loss of Millie, who was a fantastic secretary. Bun Foo reveals that he's a great typist, and the two go off together.
  • Patter Song: "The Speed Test," which is based on the song "My Eyes Are Fully Open" from Ruddigore, in which Trevor Graydon begins by singing slowly and the music gets increasingly faster. By the end of the song, Graydon is singing really fast.
  • Plucky Girl: Millie, especially in the stage version. In case you couldn't tell from the opening number, she drives it home in the "Not for the Life of Me" tag by turning the Dark Reprise into Triumphant Reprise.
  • Significant Anagram: "Zazu Rosy Schmevmen! You couldn't make that up!"
    • "Or could you?"
  • Southern Belle: Miss Dorothy, depending on how she is played.
    • There's also Ethel Peas, the first girl who we see "disappear,"; she comes from the South and even uses expressions like "Good night!" to express shock.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: in Act 2, Muzzy tells Millie that's she's a boob for planning to marry only for money and not true love.
  • The Stinger: At the end of the stage show, Bun Foo and Ching Ho reunite with their mother.
  • Those Two Guys: Bun Foo and Ching Ho. In a subversion, Ching Ho ends up affecting the plot pretty heavily on his own.
  • Villain Song: "They Don't Know," in which Mrs. Meers hams it up as she describes her evil plans and plots.
  • Whatever Happened to the Mouse?: Ethel Peas, the first girl we see "disappear" just... disappears. She's sold into white slavery and never seen again.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Mrs. Meers is an evil example; her failure as a Broadway actress drove her to a life of crime. Notably, she thinks she's still a fantastic performer, but her skills are questionable at best.


Video Example(s):


A Thoroughly Modern Decade

Millie adjusts to the "thoroughly modern" 1920s

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheRoaring20s

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