Darling Lili

Darling Lili is a 1970 American musical and spy film written by William Peter Blatty and Blake Edwards, who also directed. It starred Julie Andrews, Rock Hudson, and Jeremy Kemp. It was the last full musical to have song lyrics written by Johnny Mercer.

Darling Lili
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBlake Edwards
Produced byBlake Edwards
Written byWilliam Peter Blatty
Blake Edwards
StarringJulie Andrews
Rock Hudson
Gloria Paul
Music byHenry Mancini
Johnny Mercer (lyrics)
CinematographyRussell Harlan
Edited byPeter Zinner
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • June 24, 1970 (1970-06-24)
Running time
136 minutes
107 min (director's cut)
190 min (original roadshow release)
CountryUnited States
Budget$25,000,000 USD
Box office$3,250,000 (US/ Canada rentals)[1]


Set during World War I, the film centers on Lili Smith, a beloved English musical star, who is actually a German spy. The uncle who is her constant companion is really Colonel Kurt Von Ruger, a fellow spy and her contact with the German military.

In hopes of gaining valuable information, Lili is instructed to use her feminine wiles on Major William Larrabee, a top American pilot flying with the British Royal Flying Corps. However, Lili begins to fall in love with Larrabee, compromising her clandestine espionage work and plunging her into increasingly dangerous territory.



In 1967, Blake Edwards signed a four-picture deal with Paramount Pictures. The films he would make were Waterhole#3, Gunn, Mr Lucky and Darling Lili. Julie Andrews signed to play the lead in Darling Lili. Production was to start late in 1967.[2][3] Executive producer Owen Krump began shooting second unit in 1967.[4]

Edwards courted British comedian Benny Hill for a supporting role in the movie. During the audition, he asked Hill if he could do a Paris accent. Being a perfectionist, Hill asked Edwards if he wanted an east side or west side accent, but Edwards was not impressed by his attention to detail and recast the role with another actor.[5]

Blake Edwards suffered continual interference from Paramount executives while making Darling Lili, and it was eventually edited by the studio largely without his input. The director later satirized the problems he faced in the film S.O.B. (1981), which was distributed by Paramount theatrically.

Edwards later claimed Darling Lili was budgeted at $11.5 million but ended up costing $16 million. He said half the cost was due to second unit filming in Ireland and he had pleaded with Paramount not to shoot in Europe due to the weather, but the studio insisted.[6]

Problems with the May 1968 protests in France led to much of the planned Parisian shooting to be done in Brussels, Belgium.[7]

Darling Lili made use of Lynn Garrison’s aviation facility at Weston Aerodrome in Leixlip, Ireland. This collection of World War I replica fighter aircraft, facilities and support equipment was originally put together in support of 20th Century Fox’s 1966 film The Blue Max. The aerial fleet included a sole Caudron 277, two Fokker DR 1s, three Fokker D VIIs, two Se 5as and two Pfalz D IIIs (all full-scale replicas). In addition, the studio contracted with Slingsby Aircraft Ltd to build six 7/8th scale SE 5s (the "Mini SE 5").[8] The Paramount production utilized the assembled aircraft for thousands of flying hours and accumulated hundreds of hours of aerial footage. Pilots were drawn from the Irish Air Corps and civilian circles. Charles Boddington and Derek Piggott did many of the more spectacular stunts.[8]


The original score for Darling Lili was composed by Henry Mancini. He and Johnny Mercer wrote the title tune, as well as "Whistling Away the Dark" and "Your Good-Will Ambassador". Songs from the era were performed in the film, including "It's a Long Way to Tipperary", "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag", "Keep the Home Fires Burning", and "Mademoiselle from Armentières".


The film's distribution was badly managed by Paramount executives and Darling Lili barely got a release in most of the United States. Despite setting box-office records at Radio City Music Hall, the film was a commercial failure. Budgeted at $25 million, Darling Lili grossed only $5 million in the US (the equivalent of $31,061,597.94 in 2016 dollars) with rental sales of $3.2 million ($20,157,287.37 in 2016 dollars).[9]

Awards and honors

Despite being a financial failure, Darling Lili won a Golden Globe for best song, was nominated for a number of other awards, and was a modest success with critics.

Academy Awards

The song "Whistling Away the Dark", music by Henry Mancini, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. It was performed by Julie Andrews at the beginning of the film, pre-credits, and reprised at the end. Mancini and Mercer were also nominated for Best Original Score.

Jack Bear and Donald Brooks were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.

Golden Globe Awards

Julie Andrews received a nomination for Best Actress, Musical or Comedy, while "Whistling Away the Dark" won for Best Original Song.[10] The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Musical or Comedy.

Director's cut

In 1991, at the behest of Michael Schlesinger, then the head of Paramount's Repertory division, Edwards was invited to recut Darling Lili to his original intentions. This director's cut was 29 minutes shorter than the original release. A fully restored, new Dolby SR 35mm print premiered at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival and was attended by Edwards and Andrews; the U.S. premiere was at the Directors Guild theater in Los Angeles shortly thereafter, again with both in attendance. Then, after a brief domestic theatrical reissue, it was released to home video and television; this version was released on Region 1 DVD. The original roadshow version, complete with overture and exit music, has aired on Turner Classic Movies as well as receiving commercial release on Region 2 DVD in Europe.

See also



  1. "Big Rental Films of 1970". Variety, January 6, 1971, p. 11.
  2. Weiler, A.H. "Big deal for 'Little Me': More about movie matters." The New York Times, April 17, 1966, p. 127.
  3. "Julie Andrews will star in World War I spy farce." The New York Times, March 9, 1967, p. 44.
  4. Martin, Betty. "Evans on 'Planet of Apes'." Los Angeles Times, May 4, 1967, p. e13.
  5. "Benny Hill-Merry Master of Mirth" by Robert Ross, page 73, B.T. Batsford Books, ISBN 0-7134-8422-5
  6. Champlin, Charles. "Critic at large: Tide turns for Blake Edwards." Los Angeles Times, April 18, 1975, p. 26a.
  7. Wojcik 2011, p. 158.
  8. Bodington 2009 p. 32.
  9. "Box office/Business for 'Darling Lili (1970)." IMDb . Retrieved: February 3, 2015.
  10. "Winners & Nominees Best Original Song - Motion Picture". Gloden Globes. Retrieved 8 August 2018.


  • Boddington, Matthew. "Shooting Lili: Flying for the Silver Screen." Aeroplane, Volume 37, No. 8, August 2009.
  • Wojcik, Pamela Robertson, ed. New Constellations: Movie Stars of the 1960s (Star Decades: American Culture/American Cinema). Piscataway Township, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-0-81355-172-2.
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