The Happiest Millionaire (1967)
A lovely Disney film for the entire family.
In The Happiest Millionaire, Fred MacMurray plays Anthony Biddle - an alligator-loving, boxing enthusiast millionaire of the early 20th century from a famous Philadelphia family. His daughter Cordelia Drexel Biddle (Lesley Ann Warren) -feeling suffocated by her heritage- attends a ladies college in a different state. While there, she meets and becomes engaged to New Yorker Angier Buchanan Duke (John Davidson) who is just as obsessed about cars as Mr. Biddle is about boxing.
The rest of the film is father vs fiance, Philadelphia vs New York City, old money vs nouveau riche. There's even a song about it called "There are Those," sung serviceably and acted beautifully by Gladys Cooper and Geraldine Page as members of the two warring families.
Keeping the peace and winking to the audience now and again is John Lawless (Tommy Steele), a man recently from Ireland who is hired as butler to the Biddles. His soliloquies to the camera, breaking the fourth and such would be perfect for the Kyle Crichton play on which this movie is based, but he is not in the stage version. Lawless is a film invention to give the audience a bit of Disney fantasy.
He is aided in this task with a bright and lively score by Jack Elliott and upbeat, clever songs by Richard and Robert Sherman, aka The Sherman Brothers. The film could have been a straight comic drama, but the songs do elevate it to a lush, almost-real-but-not-quite fantasy.
During the song "I'll Always Be Irish," Lawless sings about enjoying his heritage and rounds it out with, "and I'll bet someday we'll get an Irish president." In this the lyricist refers to the 35th U.S. President -John F. Kennedy- who had been assassinated four years prior to the release of this film, fifty years after the setting of this movie, bringing in a little note of sobering reality to what could easily have been a saccharine movie. You'll see this a lot throughout the film -it brings you to the edge of reality and eventually snaps you back into a fictionalized world.
This film reminds one of Meet Me In St. Louis in that it is based on a true story and is a beautifully-costumed, period family drama where there are no great stakes, but you're invested in it anyway. Recommended for the entire family.