The Millionairess (1960)

Sophia Loren as Epifania Parerga in The Millionairess

Oh Goodness Gracious Me

Theoretically "The Millionairess" should be a very good romantic comedy, pairing up Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers should provide plenty of comedy and if that wasn't enough the storyline which sees them both having to past tests in order to marry should be full of fun. Except "The Millionairess" isn't that fun in fact it is surprisingly dull thanks to a variety of issues. The fact that for most of the movie the actual tests aren't even involved is a mistake and whilst Sophia Loren is very sexy, seeing her shapely body in a variety of semi undressed poses doesn't really make for that much entertainment. And that's not even touching on the emotive subject of Peter Sellers playing an Asian doctor. To put it simply "The Millionairess" is not a good movie, in fact it is less than average and thankfully at just 90 minutes it's not very long.

Having inherited her father's exceptional wealth, millionairess Epifania (Sophia Loren - The Pride and the Passion) finds herself falling for Dr. Ahmed el Kabir (Peter Sellers - The Ladykillers), a Calcutta doctor working in London, treating the poor. Despite countless attempts to seduce the handsome doctor Epifania keeps on getting knocked back until Dr. Ahmed explains the test that his mother set for anyone who wanted to marry him, a test which basically means that his prospective wife must live for 90 days on just 500 rupees. Amusingly Epifania's father also set a test that whoever should want to marry her must turn 500 into 15,000 over 90 days. Whilst Epifania does her best to complete the test, finding work with a Pasta maker, Dr. Ahmed struggles with having so much money and it looks like that a chance of romance will be lost because of his inability to deal with money.

Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers in The Millionairess

So here is the thing, "The Millionairess" has this set up that who ever Epifania wants to marry has to pass a test and then you have the test set by Dr. Ahmed's mother as well. Now I like that idea and you can imagine plenty of amusement as both struggle to pass the tests, except that's not what "The Millionairess" ends up being about. For well over half the movie it is about Epifania trying to get Dr. Ahmed interested be it through pretending to be ill, pretending that she will kill herself and revealing her stunning body in a range of underwear. And whilst Sophia Loren is stunningly beautiful and has an amazing figure it actually becomes very dull and repetitive as her attempts to seduce are rebuffed.

By the time the storyline actually gets around to the subject of Epifania and Dr. Ahmed having to do the 90 days challenge it not only has become very dull but left hardly any time to really deliver the laughs which would have made it more interesting. Basically the best bit is rushed over and instead of allowing Peter Sellers to deliver some great laughs as the flustered Dr. Ahmed trying to deal with a lot of money it focuses on Sophia Loren again who basically goes to work for a pasta maker and makes his business a success.

And whilst things don't work out for Epifania and Dr. Ahmed as you might initially expect there is a corny ended tagged on to make everything you have watched ultimately pointless. It just doesn't work and whilst not completely terrible you do get a sense of relief when it's all over. You also get a sense of disappointment because the ideas and talent are there to have made something much greater instead of this below par romantic comedy. In fact it is a sad day for a movie when the novelty song "Goodness Gracious Me!" that Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren recorded to promote the movie ends up better than the actual movie.

Now when it comes to the performances it feels like Sophia Loren is trying to give us a bit of an Audrey Hepburn style character but just doesn't quite deliver it. It has to be said that Epifania is an amusing character and whilst there is too much of it, seeing Sophia Loren in her underwear is an impressive site. And then there is Peter Sellers who not only lacks any chemistry with Loren but is disappointingly underused, not allowed to deliver the brilliant comedy that we all know he was capable of. Of course there is also the now emotive subject of Sellers playing an Asian character, presumably because it would be funny but ends up being less funny because it ends up just about him delivering an Indian accent and nothing else.

What this all boils down to is that "The Millionairess" is a disappointment for so many reasons. From the misplaced focus on the wrong part of the story to the repetitive nature of the scenes it just never really comes to life. And it's most disappointing because not only does it have a good cast in Sophia Loren and Peter Sellers but it also has a good idea for a much greater comedy than what is delivered.