Doctor Dolittle (film)

Doctor Dolittle (film)
Doctor Dolittle

Theatrical release poster by Tom Chantrell
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Produced by Arthur P. Jacobs
Screenplay by Leslie Bricusse
Based on Doctor Dolittle by
Hugh Lofting
Starring Rex Harrison
Samantha Eggar
Anthony Newley
Richard Attenborough
Music by Leslie Bricusse
Cinematography Robert L. Surtees
Editing by Samuel E. Beetley
Marjorie Fowler
Studio APJAC Productions
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) December 19, 1967 (1967-12-19)
Running time 152 minutes
145 minutes (FMC Library Print)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $18 million
Box office $9,000,000[1]

Doctor Dolittle is a 1967 American musical film directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Rex Harrison, Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley and Richard Attenborough. It's adapted by Leslie Bricusse from the novel series by Hugh Lofting, primarily The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, The Story of Doctor Dolittle, and Doctor Dolittle's Circus. Doctor Dolittle is taught by his pet parrot Polynesia how to talk to animals and embarks with his friends on a series of adventures.

The film had a notoriously protracted production with numerous setbacks along the way such as complications from poorly chosen shooting locations and the numerous technical difficulties inherent with the large number of animals required for the story. Rex Harrison was so difficult as the lead throughout the production that he was temporarily replaced by Christopher Plummer until he promised to be more cooperative. The film exceeded its original budget of $6 million by three times, and only recouped $9 million upon release in 1967.

The film received generally negative critical reviews, but through the studio's intense lobbying, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and won awards for Best Original Song and Best Visual Effects.

A comedy film of a similar title, Doctor Dolittle, also based on the character, was later released in 1998.

Contents

Plot

During the early Victorian period, in the town of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, England Irishman Matthew Mugg (Anthony Newley) takes his young friend Tommy Stubbins (William Dix) to visit eccentric Doctor John Dolittle (Rex Harrison), explaining to the young boy that, eccentric or not, why Doolittle is My Friend the Doctor. It is Matthew's wish that the Doctor tend to an injured duck Tommy has found and upon arrival, Tommy finds that Dolittle, a former people's physician, lives with a houseful of animals - pigs, sheep, goats, ducks, horses, cows, a chimpanzee named Chee-Chee (Cheeta), a dog named Jip, and a talking parrot named Polynesia (the uncredited voice of Ginny Tyler) among them.

The night is stormy, so Tommy and Matthew stay with Dolittle. He tells them the story of how he learned to speak animal languages, almost 500 at last count. He was once a doctor, but he preferred animals to people. He kept a menagerie, which was causing havoc and losing him patients. A casual comment by Polynesia revealed that animals can talk to each other, prompting Dolittle to study the languages of the animals so that he could become an animal doctor instead. The following day, a short sighted horse named Tubble seeks Dolittle's assistance, but the horse's owner - General Bellowes (Peter Bull) - takes offence to Dolittle's notions of talking animals. Bellowes' niece Emma Fairfax (Samantha Eggar) chides Dolittle for his irresponsibility and rudeness to her uncle. Matthew becomes somewhat smitten with her.

Long Arrow, a friend of Dolittle's, sends him the rare two-headed Pushmi-Pullyu from Tibet. Matthew, Tommy and Dolittle take the creature to a nearby circus, run by the lovable yet greedy Albert Blossom (Richard Attenborough), who makes the Pushmi-Pullyu the star attraction. Meanwhile, the doctor befriends a circus seal named Sophie who longs to return to her husband. He sneaks her away and throws her into the ocean from some cliffs. However, two fishermen mistake the seal for a woman, and haul Doctor Dolittle off to court. Dolittle is horrified to learn that General Bellowes is the judge. Dolittle proves he can converse with animals, but the judge and jury agree that Dr. Dolittle belongs in a lunatic asylum. Dolittle's friends break him out of prison, and he, Matthew, Tommy, Polynesia, Chee-Chee and Jip take the doctor's ship, the Flounder, out onto the ocean to search for the legendary Great Pink Sea Snail. Emma sneaks aboard as well. After sticking a hatpin at random into an atlas to determine their destination, they set their course for Sea-Star Island, a floating island.

The ship is torn apart during a fierce storm, but everyone makes it to what turns out to be Sea-Star Island. The party is met by the natives, who are highly educated and cultured due to all the flotsam and jetsam that have floated ashore from shipwrecks over the centuries; their leader is William Shakespeare the Tenth (Geoffrey Holder). Sea-Star Island is endangered by climate changes due to its drifting further north than usual into colder waters. When Dolittle persuades a friendly whale to help push the island south, a balancing rock is shaken into fire mountain and the party are sentenced to "the death of ten thousand screams." However, when the whale pushes the island so that it rejoins the mainland, the doctor and his friends are freed. While treating the animals on the island, Dolittle encounters a surprise patient - the Great Pink Sea Snail itself, who has caught a severe cold. Dolittle cures him and discovers that the snail's shell is watertight and can carry passengers. Dolittle sends Matthew, Tommy, Emma, Polynesia, Chee-Chee, and Jip back to England with the snail.

Doctor Dolittle himself cannot go back, since he is still a wanted man; furthermore, he wishes to investigate the natives' stories of the Giant Lunar Moth. As his friends leave, however, Dolittle finds he is not so impervious to feelings as he thought and pens a letter to Emma. Dolittle is still living amongst the tribe when Sophie the seal turns up, accompanied by her husband, with a message: the animals of England have gone on strike without him, the people have changed their views towards him, and even Bellowes has agreed to pardon him if he returns home. Dolittle and the tribesfolk then construct a saddle for the Giant Lunar Moth, and he flies back to England over the end credits and choral reprise of "My Friend the Doctor".

Cast

Musical numbers

  1. "Overture"
  2. "My Friend the Doctor" - Matthew
  3. "The Vegetarian" - Dolittle
  4. "Talk to the Animals" - Dolittle, Polynesia
  5. "If I Were a Man" - Emma
  6. "At the Crossroads" - Emma
  7. "I've Never Seen Anything Like It" - Blossom, Dolittle, Matthew
  8. "Beautiful Things" - Matthew
  9. "When I Look in Your Eyes" - Dolittle
  10. "Like Animals" - Dolittle
  11. "After Today" - Matthew
  12. "Fabulous Places" - Dolittle, Emma, Matthew, Tommy
  13. "Where Are the Words?" (deleted scene)
  14. "I Think I Like You" - Dolittle, Emma
  15. "Doctor Dolittle" - Matthew, Tommy, Emma, the Islanders
  16. "Something in Your Smile" (deleted scene) - Dolittle
  17. "My Friend the Doctor" (reprise) - Company

Both "Where Are the Words?" and "Something in Your Smile" were cut from the general release version of the film, and continue to be missing from all home video versions on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD.

The film's 1967 release was accompanied by an enormous media blitz, with over a million copies of the soundtrack issued to stores. The advertising campaign failed, and soundtracks from the original release could be found in "bargain bins" for decades after the film's theatrical run.

Production

Alan Jay Lerner was originally chosen to write the script, but was fired by producer Arthur P. Jacobs on May 7, 1965 for his endless procrastination. Jacobs then tried to get the Sherman Brothers, but they were tied to Walt Disney. Instead, Lerner was replaced by Leslie Bricusse, who was in high demand after his success with the musical Stop the World - I Want to Get Off. This gave Rex Harrison the chance to sit out his contract, and he was to be replaced by Christopher Plummer, but when Harrison agreed to stay, the producers paid Plummer his total agreed-upon salary to leave the production. The film was originally budgeted at $6 million, but the budget eventually tripled.

The village scenes were filmed in the village of Castle Combe in Wiltshire. Unfortunately, the producers did not anticipate that the necessary trained animals for the production would all have to quarantined upon entering the UK, forcing them all to be replaced with other animals at considerable and redundant expense to meet regulations. Furthermore, the producers chose to ignore climate reports of the area's frequently rainy summers and were frustrated with the resulting weather continually interfering with shooting, while also caused health problems with the animals. In addition, the producers' arbitrary set design decisions such as removing TV aerials from personal residences in town irritated the population. This antipathy went to as far as an artificial dam built by the production on the Castle Combe set being blown up by British Army officer (and future explorer) Ranulph Fiennes, using explosives he obtained from being in the service, because he believed it ruined the village.[2] Eventually, the producers decided to rebuild relevant sets back in California for costly reshoots.

The film was also shot in Marigot Bay, Saint Lucia; this location was equally difficult, with considerable problems with insects and frequent tropical storms halting production. In addition, Rex Harrison was becoming more difficult still, with frequent drunkenness, continually denigrating his co-stars, and isolating himself on a three mast ship he used for his personal accommodation, which he deliberately steered into camera range during a shoot and refused to move for hours. Furthermore, the finale scene of the characters sailing home on a giant snail was complicated not only by the poor design of the large prop, but because the locals, who had just suffered a children's gastrointestinal illness epidemic caused by freshwater snails, took it as a personal insult severe enough to have mobs throw rocks at it.[3] The Marigot Bay Hotel, now located there, has the Pink Snail Champagne Bar in honor of Dr. Dolittle. The walls of the bar are adorned with original pictures from the film.

It was photographed in 70 mm Todd-AO by Robert Surtees.

Just prior to release, 20th Century Fox was sued for $4.5 million by Helen Winston, a previous would-be producer, when she discovered an original plot point from her own rejected screenplay written by Larry Watkin, of animals threatening to go on strike on Dolittle's behalf, was used in the film. It turns out Bricusse, who had read Winston's script, assumed it was from the books and included it in his own treatment by mistake. Since the producers only had rights to the content of the original books, they had no legal defense and were forced to settle out of court.[4]

Remake

A remake starring Eddie Murphy, Dr. Dolittle, was released in 1998. This remake was directed by Betty Thomas and was a box office success as compared to the bomb that the original was. This film inspired two sequels, one theatrical and one direct-to-video.

Reception

The film's first sneak preview in September, 1967 at the Mann Theatre in Minneapolis proved to be an alarming failure: for instance, the audience had few children, indicating little interest in the source material with its intended primary audience. Furthermore, the general audience response was muted during the screening while comment cards rated it poorly with frequently complaints about the film's excessive length. A shortened edit of the film previewed in San Francisco was no more successful while a still shorter edit previewed in San Jose was marginally better received enough to be approved as the final cut.[5]

In his annual Movie Guide, critic and historian Leonard Maltin called the film a "colossal dud". Maltin admired the film's photography, but was quick to point out how it nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox Studios. He admitted, however, that "The movie has one merit: If you have unruly children, it may put them to sleep."[6] Other critics were similarly harsh.

Furthermore, the film also faced strong competition with the Walt Disney animated feature film, The Jungle Book opened on the same week to considerable critical acclaim and children's audience enthusiasm. To make matters worse, Doctor Dolittle's appeal as family fare was seriously undermined as the film's publicity drew attention to the original books and its virulent racist content, which drew calls to have them removed from public schools.[7]

When Oscar nomination time came around, according to the book Behind the Oscar, Fox mounted an unparalleled nomination campaign at which Academy members were wined and dined. As a result, the film was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, in what is considered a major example by some of how a Best Picture nomination can be acquired based on blatant campaigning rather than artistic merit.[citation needed]

A number of critics found the film's musical score by Leslie Bricusse "too sophisticated for the kiddies".[8]

Influence

The failure of the film is credited with hastening the demise of the roadshow theatrical release in favor of the more general release which continues to this day. The resulting poor sales of related merchandise also significantly discouraged enthusiasm for similar forms of marketing until George Lucas took advantage of the attitude to gain those rights and profited spectacularly with his 1977 film Star Wars.

In 1998, the film was adapted into a stage musical, starring Phillip Schofield as Doctor Dolittle, a pre-recorded Julie Andrews as the voice of Dolittle's parrot Polynesia, and the animatronic wizardry of Jim Henson's Creature Shop. The show ran for 400 performances in London's West End and at the time was one of the most expensive musicals ever produced. The musical also starred Bryan Smyth, a former milkman and full time actor and singer who then went on to host his own TV game show for RTE.

A newly recorded version of "Beautiful Things" was used in a Christmas 2008 TV commercial campaign for the United States retail chain Kohl's.

Academy Awards

The film won Academy Awards for Best Effects, Special Effects and Best Music, Song (Leslie Bricusse for "Talk to the Animals").[9]

It was nominated for Best Picture, Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Mario Chiari, Jack Martin Smith, Ed Graves, Walter M. Scott, Stuart A. Reiss), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Music Score, Best Music, Scoring of Music, Adaptation or Treatment and Best Sound.[10]

References

  1. ^ "Doctor Dolittle (1967) - Box Office Data". The Numbers. http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/1967/00295.php. Retrieved 16 August 2011. 
  2. ^ "I am not a madman". The Guardian. 5 October 2007. http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2007/oct/05/features11.g21. Retrieved 4 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Harris, Mark Pictures at A Revolution, Penguin Press, pg. 242-43
  4. ^ Harris, pg. 357-58.
  5. ^ Harris, pg. 353-57.
  6. ^ Maltin, Leonard, ed (2007). Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide. New York: Signet. p. 362. ISBN 978-0-451-22186-5. 
  7. ^ Harris, pg. 378.
  8. ^ Bosley Crowther, The New York Times
  9. ^ "NY Times: Doctor Dolittle". NY Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/62153/Doctor-Dolittle/awards. Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  10. ^ "The 40th Academy Awards (1968) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/ceremony/40th-winners.html. Retrieved 2011-08-25. 

External links



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