The Dancing Millionairess

This rather charming Shaw Brothers musical comedy squarely falls into that sub-genre that is commonly referred to as “lets put on a show” in which a group of enthusiastic but financially strapped people attempt to organize a show. Back in the 1940’s this was exemplified by a number of Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland films. Here the characters are a bit older but just as innocent and the proceedings are very low key and amusing. Director Doe Chin (Love Parade, Calendar Girl, Our Sister Hedy, Les Belles) seems to have a knack for light and sentimental comedy that is quite appealing. His ability to stage a lively musical number though is more questionable. Both Love Parade and this film suffer from the same problems – though the musical numbers are lovely to look at, they just have no energy and proceed at a turgid painterly pace.
But this film is really much more about the comedy than the music (the first number doesn’t occur till the one-hour mark) and about the sweet chemistry between Peter Chen and Betty Loh Tih. The two of them had married in 1962 and from the appearances of this film the love was still in full bloom when this was made in 1964. So often when married couples are put together on screen they generate the excitement of a night at home watching television, but these two appear to have a light playful repartee that is enjoyable to watch. Unfortunately, it was not to last and they were divorced by 1967. Betty was to commit suicide in 1968 and Peter died of cancer two years later.
The film begins with Landi Chang finding a dropped wallet and roller-skating after the man who lost it. He turns out to be a banker and she tries to get him interested in investing in the musical show that her father (Cheung Kwong-chiu – who also played the father in Hong Kong Nocturne) wants to put on. He seems open to the idea, but the only catch is that he needs to get the loan approved by his very tough lady boss (Betty). Meanwhile, Peter Chen, is being assisted by his two roommates (King Hu and Li Kun) in getting prepared for an interview for a job as a chauffeur to a very wealthy woman.
Prior to even meeting his potential employer, he blows the job but before doing so the banker sees Peter with the car – which in the world of screwball comedies is of course owned by his female boss. The banker naturally jumps to the conclusion that Peter is having an affair with her and puts up the money – the show is on! This  misunderstanding is fine by Peter because he really wants to be a dancer and this gives him the opportunity to be in a show. Word is leaked to the newspapers about the affair and an angry Betty Loh Tih storms down to the theater to confront Chen, but she is mistaken as a journalist and in their conversation she begins to mellow under the droll charms of Peter. By the end of it they are nearly melting in each other’s presence.
It turns out she can dance and a sweet comedic romance of mixed identities ensues. Though the music takes a long time to begin in the film, the final twenty-minutes is a non-stop performance piece that is fun to watch in a sort of glazed eye manner but again it is not very riveting. I enjoyed the segment that seemed to be inspired by The Little Match Girl as Betty tries to sell flowers in the cold winter – but how much more fun would it have been if she had pulled out a machine gun and mowed everyone down as in Resurrection of the Little Match Girl! Oddly, the 1969 Bollywood film “Sajan” has some of the exact plot points as this film (with genders switched around), but I am not sure if they took it from this film or whether both were based on a Hollywood film (anyone know?).
Betty is quite wonderful here. She starts off as the ultimate efficient and demanding boss – dressed in fashionable but formal attire – sitting at her desk constantly punching the intercom to dictate instructions – a smile not even remotely creeping onto her face – terrifying her staff with her cold demeanor, but when love comes calling she goes all sweet and gooey as she discovers how to have fun. She commands the screen whenever she is on it and something about her presence just says, “star”.
Also, in the film are Julie Shih Yen as the very cute secretary – she is Stephen Fung’s mother, Go Bo Shu as the major-domo of the household, Ku Feng as one of Cheung Kwong-chiu’s friends and Ouyang Shafei as the aunt. The biographical information on Landi Chang is somewhat interesting. She was born in 1941 in Singapore into a circus family and she came to Hong Kong in the early fifties as part of a circus troupe – explaining her excellent roller-skating! She appeared in a number of films from the later fifties to the late sixties when she married Kenneth Tsang and retired. They were to divorce later on and she died in 1991. Though her part turns out to be fairly small in the film, initially it appeared that it would be much bigger and you feel a bit disappointed, as she is quite adorable.

My rating for this film: 7.0