Cinema: Quarter Chance

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To his growing list of endangered species, Walter Hickel should now add the American movie star (Astra americana). Take Julie Andrews—a feat that many people now claim is hard to do. In the '50s, she was My Fair Lady, a patch of sunlight on the American stage. In the '60s, she starred in the most successful film of all time, The Sound of Music. Ah, but then . . . sprinkled with Disney dust in Mary Poppins, way back in 1964 she began to turn into a pillar of sugar. Her marriage came apart, her "big" movie, Star, was the H-bomb of musicals, and she became the girl that Hollywood gossipists loved to hate.

A pity. Beyond the cyclamatic publicity and the pain of her private life, Andrews, 34, is one of the last of the great English music-hallmarks. She can sing effortlessly, make a mug or a moue with equal facility, throw away a line and reel it back in with the best—when she is given half a chance. Her latest, Darling Lili, is only a quarter of a chance.

At the height of World War I, air aces dogfight across European skies. In a startling revelation, the Red Baron's nemesis is shown to be a Major Larrabee (Rock Hudson), not Charles Schulz's Snoopy. No need to worry. Hudson's canine grin and acting prowess render him a close second to the vincible puppy. All that is missing is Linus, Lucy, Schroeder & Co. Standing in for them is a series of second-banana-peel comedians. Among them: a down-at-the-heils German agent, a couple of farceurs from the French intelligence, and a pip-pip righty-o Englishman.

Andrews blends the nostalgia of Keep the Home Fires Burning and It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary with some creaky new Johnny Mercer-Henry Mancini numbers. The performance is enough to restore the star—but not her film. Director Blake Edwards (Julie's new husband) seems to believe that if a man failing off a roof is funny, then two men falling should be hilarious. After 136 minutes, Darling Lili's gags and garrulity make it as aseptic, smooth and foursquare as an ice cube.

Still, despite its G-rated upbeatness, Darling Lili leaves an ineradicable aura of melancholia. A major talent is still settling for that vanilla species, the common, overproduced, unclerinspired feature (Cinema vulgaris). ∙Stefan Kanfer