Doctor Dolittle (1967): Musical Starring Rex Harrison, One of Worst Oscar Nominees

One of the worst movies to be ever nominated for the Best Picture, Doctor Dolittle tried to cash in on the popularity of Rex Harrison, who two years earlier had won the Best Actor Oscar for “My Fair Lady.”

A high-budget musical from Fox, Doctor Dolittle is clumsy, borderline inept, and ultimately banal, wasting the talents of all concerned, in front or behind the camera.

Fox shamelessly campaigned for this dull and crass movie, and inexplicably managed to get nine Academy nominations, though mostly in the technical and musical categories, and excluding Best Director or Best Actor.

Helmer Richard Fleischer, a gifted craftsman who has made some good film noirs and thrillers in the 1960s, proves wrong for this kind of material.

In the Loftings book, the British doctor who really can talk to animals (chimps, dogs. parrots), is described as short and plump.  Tall and naturally elegant, Rex Harrison deviates from this description substantially but can’t find the center of the role.

The secondary cast, including Samantha Eggar, Anthony Newley, Richard Attenborough (who later became better known as a director), Peter Bull, and Geoffrey Holder, is also disappointing, though it’s not their faults.

Oscar Alert

Oscar nominations: 9

Picture, produced by Arthur P. Jacobs

Cinematography: Robert Surtees

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Mario Chiari, Jack Martin Smith, and Ed Graves; Walter M. Scott and Stuart A. Reiss

Sound: Fox Sound Department

Scoring of Music (Adaptation or Treatment): Lionel Newman and Alexander Courage

Film Editing: Samuel E. Beetley and Marjorie Fowler

Song: “Talk to the Animals,” music and lyrics by Leslie Bricusse

Special Visual Effects: L. B. Abbott


Oscar Awards: 2


Special Visual Effects


Oscar Context:

In 1967, “Doctor Dolittle” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with Arthur Penn’s Depression era crime saga “Bonnie and Clyde,” the comedy “The Graduate,” Stanley Kramer’s interracial drama-drama “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and Norman Jewison interracial policier, “In the Heat of the Night,” which won Best Picture and Actor.

One of the weakest films to be nominated for Oscars, “Doctor Dolittle” lost in most of its categories, including Art Direction and Scoring, which were given to Alfred Newman and Ken Darby for “Camelot.”  The Original Score that year was won by Elmer Bernstein for the Julie Andrews musical vehicle, “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”