Doctor Dolittle (1967) Blu-ray Review

Sumptuous fantasy is better than its reputation. 4 Stars

More creative and entertaining than its flawed reputation allows, Richard Fleischer’s Doctor Dolittle is a whimsical fantasy a bit overlong and lacking precocity, but the music is lilting and the actors first-rate.

Doctor Dolittle (1967)
Released: 19 Dec 1967
Rated: APPROVED
Runtime: 152 min
Director: Richard Fleischer
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Family
Cast: Rex Harrison, Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley, Richard Attenborough
Writer(s): Hugh Lofting (novels), Leslie Bricusse (screenplay)
Plot: After the animal communicating veterinarian goes too far for his clientèle, he and his friends escape their hometown to sea in search of the Great Pink Sea Snail.
IMDB rating: 6.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Fox
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.20:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: G
Run Time: 2 Hr. 31 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 11/14/2017
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 3.5/5

Richard Fleischer’s Doctor Dolittle came along at a most inopportune time in the American movie industry. With the move away from big-budgeted studio productions aimed at a family audience and toward independent-minded, harder-edged features with a more specific adult audience in mind, Doctor Dolittle was a transitional victim of changing tastes in both films and music. After Fox had enjoyed bountiful profits from the roadshow family musical The Sound of Music, it made sense to roll the dice again, but Fox opted for an original musical with flavorful characters reminiscent of My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music but within a fantasy framework, something that had produced record-breaking profits for Disney with Mary Poppins, Doctor Dolittle’s most obvious antecedent possessed of bits and pieces of that delightful Disney period tuner but lacking its most important ingredient: charm. Doctor Dolittle is big and bright and colorful, but it lumbers occasionally instead of lilts making it seem longer and less consistent in tone than its Disney counterpart.

Dr. John Dolittle (Rex Harrison) lives in the small English village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh where he specializes in caring for and verbally communicating with animals much to the chagrin of his neighbors who basically find him a crackpot. When Dr. Dolittle is unjustly sent to an insane asylum for freeing a lovesick seal from captivity, his animal companions including parrot Polynesia (voiced by Ginny Tyler), dog Jip, and Chee-Chee the chimp and his two closest human friends, Matthew Mugg (Anthony Newley) and Tommy Stubbins (William Dix), liberate him. Afterward, they join Emma Fairfax (Samantha Eggar, vocals by Diana Lee), the supportive niece of Dolittle’s sworn enemy local magistrate General Bellowes (Peter Bull), and set out by boat to find a famed and elusive creature: the Great Pink Sea Snail.

Composer-lyricist Leslie Bricusse has culled the dozen Doctor Dolittle books by Hugh Lofting and invented some of his own characters as well (the tentative triangle romance between Emma Fairfax, Dolittle, and Matthew Mugg was his own creation) to come up with his episodic set of adventures for his screenplay. He manages to get in some backstory of the good doctor explaining how this medical professional gave up on treating people and switching his allegiance to animals (wrapping the story around the Oscar-winning song “Talk to the Animals”), show how he came by money to finance his voyage in search of the Great Pink Sea Snail (the film’s most delightful musical sequence with “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It,” one of the composer’s celebrated marches), and got in trouble with the law necessitating his escape from prison (“When I Look into Your Eyes” and Dolittle’s plea for tolerance to his point of view in “I Do Not Understand”). Bricusse’s best friend Anthony Newley with whom he had written two popular stage successes and the hit song “Goldfinger” was gifted with four of the score’s biggest showcase numbers: “My Friend, the Doctor” which introduces us to Dolittle’s eccentricities long before we actually meet him, “Beautiful Things” as he sings Emma’s praises, “After Today” as he thrills to his first flush of romance, and the title song late in the film and the movie’s most unnecessary number. And love interest Emma got her “I want” song with “At the Crossroads” and the second act’s best tune “Fabulous Places” as she dreams of magical destinations they might search for their pink snail. But that left the bulk of the singing for Rex Harrison’s doctor, a string of talk-sung ballads with rather lilting melodies that we don’t get to hear much of because of his patented patter style of presenting tunes and somewhat tedious in their sameness of delivery: “The Vegetarian,” “Talk to the Animals,” “When I Look in Your Eyes,” “I Do Not Understand,” and “I Think I Like You.”

The production itself is a real honey with big, beautiful locations photographed exquisitely by Robert Surtees (who earned Oscar nominations in 1967 for both this film and The Graduate) and elaborate, colorful costumes by Ray Agayhan that pop right off the screen (Miss Eggar appears in a succession of extravagant gowns each more sumptuous than the next). Richard Fleischer’s direction (with musical numbers staged and shot by Herbert Ross) makes the most of his wide canvas showing intimate scenes as well as the expansive locations whose sometime troublesome conditions helped balloon the budget to almost three times its original estimate. But all that money still couldn’t produce the magic the film required at crucial moments. We spend two hours hearing about the Great Pink Sea Snail only to be disappointed when it finally makes an appearance, and the Lunar Moth at the climax is almost equally anticlimactic. The film earned the 1967 Visual Effects Oscar, but it was likely the storms at sea and an island rejoining the mainland that brought him the prize.

At the time, Rex Harrison was criticized as being completely unlike the Dolittle of the Lofting books, but for those unfamiliar with the character there, Harrison’s sharp, abrasive veterinarian who gets along much better with any animal other than humans is a compelling central character. Anthony Newley’s Irish accent fades in and out, but he’s so amiable that it doesn’t really matter. We see Samantha Eggar’s Emma Fairfax slowly succumbing to feelings for Dolittle as Newley’s Matthew Mugg pines for her on the sidelines, but the romantic element woven into the story is rather feeble and could just as easily been eliminated. Still the match with voice double Diana Lee is pretty seamless, and “Fabulous Places” offers both ladies moments to shine. William Dix is an agreeable youthfully frisky companion for the group. Peter Bull bellows heartily as General Bellowes, and Richard Attenborough walks away with his big sequence as Albert Blossom, owner of the circus that employs Dolittle and his most astonishing animal friend. Geoffrey Holder has some funny moments as the eloquent William Shakespeare X once the group gets to Sea-Star Island.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Taken from Todd-AO elements, this brilliant 1080p transfer (AVC codec) represents the best Doctor Dolittle has ever looked on home video and represents one of the best Blu-ray transfers you’re likely ever to see. With its 2.20:1 original theatrical ratio, sharpness is astonishing throughout (one can see the make-up trail where Rex Harrison’s toupee netting is attached to his forehead), and color representation could not be bettered with blazingly rich hues all well controlled but still eye-popping and vibrant. Black levels are likewise strong in the film’s few dark scenes, and there isn’t a trace of age-related dirt or debris. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The disc generously offers both 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround mixes, both in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. Dialogue and song lyrics have been superbly recorded and have been routed to the center channel. The Oscar-nominated orchestrations get a superb spread through the fronts and rears and sound particularly lush in the 5.1 arrangement. (The transfer includes overture, entr’acte, and exit music.) Atmospheric effects likewise get sent to various channels, perhaps not in as sophisticated a fashion as today’s surround mixes but impressive for its era. No problems with hiss, crackle, or flutter exist.

Special Features: 4/5

Audio Commentary: music and film historian Mike Matessino hosts a wonderfully entertaining discussion with composer-librettist Leslie Bricusse who not only talks about the film but about Bricusse’s long show business career and his many professional and personal associations.

Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo.

Rex Harrison: The Man Who Would Be King (44:10, SD): video biography of the sometimes explosive personal and professional life of the Oscar and Tony-winning actor.

Theatrical Trailer (1:38, SD)

Six-Page Booklet: contains a succession of color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s encouraging analysis of the movie.

Overall: 4/5

More creative and entertaining than its flawed reputation allows, Richard Fleischer’s Doctor Dolittle is a whimsical fantasy a bit overlong and lacking precocity, but the music is lilting and the actors first-rate. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.

Published by

Matt Hough

author,editor

23 Comments

  1. Excellent review; thank you Matt.
    I am looking forward to seeing Dr. Dolittle again in what sounds like a great presentation. I have always enjoyed the score and the performances of the leads. As I have not seen Dr. Dolittle since it’s original release it will be fun to reappraise it as an adult as opposed to a teenager (which was not the audience I believe it was aimed at).

  2. Matt Hough is quoted for saying that Doctor Dolittle "lumbers" occasionally.
    Do you think it has anything to do with the cast and the "timber" of their voices?:lol:

    But seriously, I was already on board; but what a joy to see further reinforcements that this transfer is sheer perfection.
    It's not about who liked or didn't like "Doctor Dolittle"; as this is merely 50 year-old news.
    What's key, here, is the exciting news of how its restoration, transfer, image and audio were handled.
    What's key, here, is the exciting news that we've got ourselves another 70mm Roadshow intact.
    What's key, here, is that something has been done by Fox and TT to its optimum levels and beyond.
    This is the stuff that we savor and salivate over.
    And with that, there need not be further hairs to split.
    So, let us send our gracious thanks all and not forget the bravura efforts of FotoKem, as well.:cheers:

  3. I didn't mention it in the review, but another feather in Twilight Time's cap: they didn't insult their viewers' intelligence by plastering an "Overture" frame across the screen while the music played. (Nor did they do it for the Entr'acte or Exit Music). Classy!

  4. Matt Hough

    I didn't mention it in the review, but another feather in Twilight Time's cap: they didn't insult their viewers' intelligence by plastering an "Overture" frame across the screen while the music played. (Nor did they do it for the Entr'acte or Exit Music). Classy!

    That's because TT and its clientele are the classiest of all cinephiles.:razz:opcorn:

  5. Matt Hough

    I didn't mention it in the review, but another feather in Twilight Time's cap: they didn't insult their viewers' intelligence by plastering an "Overture" frame across the screen while the music played. (Nor did they do it for the Entr'acte or Exit Music). Classy!

    That's because TT and its clientele are the classiest of all cinephiles.:razz:opcorn:

  6. “After Fox had enjoyed bountiful profits from the roadshow family musical The Sound of Music, it made sense to roll the dice again, but Fox opted for an original musical with flavorful characters reminiscent of My Fair Lady and The Sound of Music but within a fantasy framework, something that had produced record-breaking profits for Disney with [that smarmy saccharine manipulative ripoff of Song of the South] Doctor Dolittle’s most obvious antecedent possessed of bits and pieces of that delightful Disney period tuner but lacking its most important ingredient: charm. Doctor Dolittle is big and bright and colorful, but it lumbers occasionally instead of lilts making it seem longer and less consistent in tone than its Disney counterpart.”

    Now you have crossed the line. I’m definitely buying this disc.

  7. Of interest to cinephles (I think): Turn to your Blu ray of "Midnight Cowboy". When Joe Buck gets to New Yotk and checks into a hotel, he looks out a window. There, on the side of a building, is the HUMONGOUS marquee for "Doctor Dolittle"!!!!!

  8. Virgoan

    Of interest to cinephles (I think): Turn to your Blu ray of "Midnight Cowboy". When Joe Buck gets to New Yotk and checks into a hotel, he looks out a window. There, on the side of a building, is the HUMONGOUS marquee for "Doctor Dolittle"!!!!!

    That's cool. I only remembered the MONY sign. But, yah, it had to be "Doctor Dolittle", as they would have broken the fourth wall for the audience if Buck was seeing the marquee for that other 1967 film of "The Graduate". Right?;)

  9. DP 70

    I have just seen the first 10 mins of this disc and what a fantastic image.
    thanks Twilight Time.
    You cannot beat a bit of Todd-AO.

    You're right about that! Blu-ray brings out the very best of Todd-AO and VistaVision when the transfers are done properly.

  10. Matt Hough

    […] Blu-ray brings out the very best of Todd-AO and VistaVision when the transfers are done properly.

    …thus bringing us back "to those fabulous places where we long to be".:)

  11. It seems strange to me that the dialogue and lyrics are in the center channel, this would contradict all of the other Todd-AO releases from Fox in the era (Dolly, Star!, ect). I wonder why this is the case.

  12. RolandL

    No directional dialog? I'll still buy it…when TT or SA have a sale.

    RobertSiegel

    It seems strange to me that the dialogue and lyrics are in the center channel, this would contradict all of the other Todd-AO releases from Fox in the era (Dolly, Star!, ect). I wonder why this is the case.

    I respectfully disagree that the dialogue is not directional. I have several examples. Perhaps try listening with earphones, the panning becomes quite apparent.

    0:5:17 – 0:5:27 Newley dialog is clearly on the right and Stubbins is on left to match their positions on-screen

    0:8:50 – 0:8:57 Newley is on right side of street and walks to left side; voice pans with him

    1:40:28 – 1:41:38 Prelude to "Fabulous Places" song – characters are in various positions and audio tracks their positions

    2:13:25 – 2:13:33 Holder and Harrison walk from left to right and audio tracks their positions

    This is a wonderful blu-ray – I almost felt as if I were seeing it for the first time.

    I received the new CD set today. Amazing!

  13. KPmusmag

    I respectfully disagree that the dialogue is not directional. I have several examples. Perhaps try listening with earphones, the panning becomes quite apparent.

    0:5:17 – 0:5:27 Newley dialog is clearly on the right and Stubbins is on left to match their positions on-screen

    0:8:50 – 0:8:57 Newley is on right side of street and walks to left side; voice pans with him

    1:40:28 – 1:41:38 Prelude to "Fabulous Places" song – characters are in various positions and audio tracks their positions

    2:13:25 – 2:13:33 Holder and Harrison walk from left to right and audio tracks their positions

    This is a wonderful blu-ray – I almost felt as if I were seeing it for the first time.

    I received the new CD set today. Amazing!

    That's good news about the dialog.

  14. haineshisway

    The Music Man isn't in their league because it's an ancient yellow scan and travesty – time to revisit that one.

    Over a year ago, I wrote a quick note to Warner's concerning The Music Man.
    At the time of their initial BD release, I told them that I thought MM looked really great. But I also questioned, with all of the technological advances that have since taken place, if they had any plans for new scans or transfers, et al? The response was that they felt that The Music Man looked fine as it was. Nice to know that haineshisway is also in agreement with me and that I am not alone, on this score.

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