Friday, February 26, 2010

Young Patty Duke plays a "lonely little in-between" in the deliciously butch 1960s musical BILLIE.

Let's hope that the 1965 Billie is Hollywood's first and final women's lib track-and-field teen musical. Seemingly similar to other fare of the day like Take Her, She's Mine and I'll Take Sweden -- snickering comedies about a father's discomfort over the budding of his suddenly comely teen daughter -- Billie doesn't boast a standard-issue comedy starlet like Sandra Dee or Tuesday Weld; instead it offers up short, ungainly, butch Patty Duke. Hoping in vain to cover this miscasting, the title tune insistently blares, "She looks like a Billie should look, wears her hair like a Billie should wear, walks like a Billie should, talks like a Billie should, on her a Billie looks good!"


Even as Duke's jockeying-for-mayor dad Jim Backus is campaigning that women shouldn't compete against men, Duke's on the high school track field, showing new-kid-in-town Warren Berlinger how she races faster than sound, using her special trick of listening to "the beat" inside her head. Under her coaching, he improves, but it's Duke who's the speed demon, and when the coach sees her whiz by, he asks her to try out for the otherwise all-male track team.

Aware Duke's racing could embarrass his campaign slant, "liberal" Backus supports her anyway -- though, when Duke sighs, "I wish I was a boy," he tells her the four little words every daughter's gotta hear sometime: "Well, so do I!" In her room, holding track shoes in one hand and a perfume bottle in the other, Duke belts such bizarre song lyrics -- "What good is growing up, if this is all it means? I'm an in-between, a lonely little in-between!" -- it seems the movie might veer off into a sex-change-op saga, Bill or Billie?, but no such luck.

Duke makes the team, but is unhappy when given a dressing room away from the boys' locker room: she wants equality! Backus and wife Jane Greer wish Duke were more like her ultrafeminine, just-back-from-college sister Susan Seaforth, but when they learn just how well sis embodies Backus's new campaign slant, "Everyone should be allowed to do exactly what they want" -- she's secretly wed and pregnant -- Backus rages, "Somebody should have told me [your major] was sex!"

Life magazine turns up to do a cover story on Duke, and she explains "the beat" in her noggin thusly: "Track-and-field is like dance without music. And when you add the music, zoom -- off you go!" Duke and her pals teach "the beat" to the boys, resulting in a terrible go-go extravaganza out of an old Ann-Margret movie -- but, since Duke can't much dance, she literally runs offscreen to allow A-M sub Donna McKechnie room to Watusi. Later, while slow dancing, Duke and Berlinger fall in love. Yep, she heads for her room to croon another solo, but we'll spare you the details.

In another jaw-dropping production number, we learn the track team lads don't mind that Duke's always running yards ahead of them. Their song-and-dance about Duke's purported feminine charms inadvertently reveals their own: while singing, "Though we can't outrace her, we love to chase her, she leaves a trail of sweet perfume--the girl is a girl is a girl, even in a locker room!" the guys form a Rockettes-style kick line, and, yes, even pair off to do a two-step.

(At this point, I had to send my youngest - little Jimmy jr - to retrieve mommy's special smelling salts from the medicine cabinet.)

Unhappy that Berlinger treats her as "a girl first," Duke angrily vows to beat him at the Big Track Meet. She wins the day -- and a date with him to Backus's campaign gala. In a pink party dress, her hair teased to pass muster as a Dee do, Duke gushes, "Being a girl is so much fun, I've decided to give up track." Then, to let us know she'd only been flirting with feminism, she sings, "I am the girl that's a girl and I'm proud as I can be! Just to be glad I'm a girl is my greatest victory!" Duke's autobiography states Billie was shot in 15 days; it looks more like 15 minutes. Find this video, for a guaranteed hoot every 15 seconds.


  1. I just watched this movie and I can't believe how it ended. I was so happy thinking that this girl was not only transgendered but also a feminist and was going to show all the chauvinistic pigs she knew what she was made up. Big disappointment. :(

    1. Ashley, There is nothing I can add to your most astute comment. Bravo! Perhaps someone will correct that mistake in a much needed remake.

  2. It was one of the stupidist, most insipid movies I've ever seen. No redeeming qualities - except to see the boy from "Fury" as a teenager.


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