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Originally published Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 3:32 PM

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Movie review

'Carol Channing: Larger Than Life': Hello to her life, one true love

"Carol Channing: Larger Than Life," a documentary by Dori Berinstein, is more than a Broadway story. Hiding within it is a remarkable, moving love story. The film is playing at SIFF Cinema at the Film Center, in Seattle.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Carol Channing: Larger Than Life,' a documentary by Dori Berinstein. 87 minutes. Rated PG for mild thematic elements, including brief smoking. SIFF Cinema at the Film Center.

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A pleasant, affectionate tribute to a unique star, "Carol Channing: Larger Than Life" would seem to have little to recommend it to anyone but die-hard Broadway fans. But there's more than stage talk in Dori Berinstein's documentary: Hiding within it is a remarkable, moving love story.

Channing is, of course, best known for her saucer eyes, her oddly elastic voice and her star turns in "Hello, Dolly," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and other shows. "Larger Than Life" meticulously documents her career, with a multitude of tributes from admirers (among them Lily Tomlin, Bruce Vilanch and Barbara Walters). Her unusual appeal is carefully dissected — there are no "Carol Channing types," accurately notes Bob Mackie — and we're shown numerous performance clips that highlight her warm, happily dippy persona. Along the way, we get her life story. Born in Seattle in 1921 but raised in the Bay Area, Channing — still sharp and funny in her 90s — speaks throughout the film, telling tales of her adventurous life. (Her first screen kiss was from Clint Eastwood, and it wasn't good.)

Things are kept upbeat, so we hear little of Channing's miserable (yet long) marriage to her manager, Charles Lowe. But the story tying "Larger Than Life" together is irresistibly sweet: Remembering her San Francisco childhood, Channing describes her junior-high-school sweetheart, a boy named Harry Kullijian. They fell in love, went to movies, read poems together — and broke up when Harry went to a different high school across town. More than 60 years later, they met again and married, living happily-ever-after until Harry's death last December. If you can keep a dry eye as the elderly Carol and Harry, in the film, once again read Poe's "Annabel Lee" together ("and this maiden she lived with no other thought / than to love and be loved by me") you're made of stronger stuff than I. Larger than life, indeed.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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