Darling Lili (1970) - full review!
Directed & produced by Blake Edwards, who co-wrote the story with William Peter Blatty (who would go on to win an Oscar for The Exorcist (1973) screenplay), I would hardly classify this unique film as a Musical (as those on imdb.com have done), but I do agree that it's difficult to nail down to a single category. Yes, Edwards’s wife Julie Andrews is its star and she does sing a number of songs, but the plot is more espionage, with a corresponding romance, during World War I, than anything else. Plus, though it does contain the director's humorous touches not unlike those seen in his Pink Panther movies, the overall tone is quite a bit more serious. The film, which received Academy Award nominations for its Costume Design, Score, and the Henri Mancini-Johnny Mercer Original Song "Whistling in the Dark", bombed at the box office (which may be the reason Ms. Andrews didn't make another one until The Tamarind Seed (1974).
Andrews plays Lili Smith, aka Schmidt, a German spy who's well known as a patriotic British singer in Paris during the war. Smith was actually born in the "motherland", but raised since she was 10 in London. Her controller, and lover, is German Colonel Kurt Von Ruger (Jeremy Kemp), who works for General Kessler (Carl Duering), who's not sure he trusts the Londoner. Her latest assignment involves seducing an American flight commander, Major William Larrabee (Rock Hudson), to learn his squadron's plans. Larrabee’s biplanes have had regular aerial conflicts with their German counterparts, one of which is the notorious ace Baron von Richtofen (Ingo Mogendorf), aka The Red Baron. These dogfights sequences are pretty good, though they do consume a lot of screen-time. It's at that point during World War I when these so called "silly little planes" have become strategic weapons, particularly for the Allies, while the Germans are still using Zeppelins for their bombing raids. Hence, Lili’s assignment is to get information from Larrabee, whom she calls Bill.
During the course of the film, Andrews’s character sings many songs: when performing one night at a theater, she engages the frightened (by a German bombing run) London crowd into singing a rousing rendition of "Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile"; she even gets some British soldiers to join her on stage. Another time, she sings at a hospital for some injured soldiers. A young lieutenant (Michael Witney) gets Lili to sing "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary" in a Paris restaurant. The French even bestow upon her a "medal of freedom"-type honor for her patriotic deeds. It's safe to say that Lili is beyond reproach. In fact, two French secret service agents (Jacques Marin & André Maranne) actually ask for her assistance in their investigation of Major Larrabee as a possible spy! Herein lies most of the comic relief, since these two characters are a milder version of Inspector Clouseau; one of these actors (Maranne) was a Pink Panther series regular. The other slapstick scenes involve one of Larrabee’s squadron members, dubbed T. C. (Lance Percival), who's mostly in a drunken haze.
Director Edwards chose to show the romance develop between Lili and Bill with largely wordless scenes (e.g. the two walk in the park holding hands while one hears only the film's score). It becomes clear that Lili has let her personal feelings affect her professional judgment. For instance, there is an important bit of information that Lili must extract from Bill, about an operation called Crepe Suzette. But, based on some information that Lili receives from Colonel Von Ruger, she suspects that Bill is two-timing her with a Paris striptease artist also named Crepe Suzette (Gloria Paul). The scene in which Lili witnesses Suzette perform is both sexy and funny, and prompts Lili into exhibiting herself during her next on-stage performance. There is a painfully long scene at a French chateau, during the rain no less, where Lili and Bill have escaped for a romantic weekend. Von Ruger turns up to give Lili some vital information while the French agents, Maj. Duvalle (Marin) and Lt. Liggett (Maranne), are also there to spy on the couple. After a falling out between the lovers, followed by some extended action sequences, everything works out fairly predictably in the end.
Bernard Kay and Doreen play Lili’s butler & maid, respectively, who are also part of the spy team; Vernon Dobtcheff plays an assassin who works for Kessler.