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Tag Archives: Disney Live Action

The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952)

storyofrobinhoodposterThis movie always makes me very happy. It’s not as lavish or large scale as Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn’s versions of Robin Hood, not as swashbuckling or even as tense. I especially noticed the lack of tension when I watched it this week. But perhaps because I grew up with the film, it has the power to make me feel warm and comfortable and happy, like chicken soup.

Walt Disney’s live action Robin Hood and His Merrie Men was released in 1952, but has since been superseded in memory by Disney’s animated 1973 Robin Hood. It was filmed in England, with an all-English cast, and I believe it is the second live action film that Disney made (with Treasure Island being the first – another childhood favorite).

The scale of the story is far smaller than most Robin Hood incarnations. Robin Hood (Richard Todd) is not an earl, but is simply Robin Fitzooth, the son of the Earl of Huntington’s gamekeeper. The daughter of the Earl of Hungtington is Maid Marian (Joan Rice), who grew up with Robin as playmates and is still something of a tom-boy. But King Richard (Patrick Barr) is leading a crusade and calls all his knights to go with him, including the Earl of Huntington. Marion is placed in the care of Eleanor of Aquitaine (Martita Hunt – an indomitable presence) as a lady in waiting, while Prince John (Hubert Gregg) is left in charge of a large portion of earldoms.

But as soon as Richard has left, John begins setting in motion his plans. He puts in place his own man as the Sheriff of Notthingham (Peter Finch) and they recruit a large posse, “an army,” of bowman to enforce the taxes necessary to maintain the new posse. When Robin’s father publicly speaks out against the Sheriff, he is murdered and Robin ends up an outlaw in Sherwood Forrest and becomes known as Robin Hood, where he attracts a variety of men in sympathy with his cause or who have been oppressed by the Sheriff.

One of the things I always liked about this is the scale. I am not an expert on British history of the time, but one always has the impression in the other films that Richard ruled in an uncomplicated, autocratic way with sole power and that all John needs to do to control England is replace him as that autocrat. However, in the Disney film, power seems to be divided up more diversely. Eleanor of Aquitaine evidently has lands and power of her own. The Archbishop of Canterbury (Anthony Eustrel) also appears to wield a great deal of power and influence and remains highly skeptical of Prince John and his protestations of poverty. In fact, I rather enjoy the Archbishop as a character. With a voice that often drips irony, he looks more like a man who could lead crusade himself. Prince John, on the other hand, is a calculating man who only controls a certain portion of lands and estates.

robinhoodandhismerriemen_240Even Robin Hood doesn’t have a horde of men (as Fairbanks and Flynn do). His merrie men are a mere band of men. There is no civil war or pitched battles. He is simply doing what he can to alleviate the poverty and injustice and to ensure that enough money is collected to ransom King Richard.

Both Richard Todd and Joan Rice seem to have enjoyed a very brief time of stardom in the 1950s, especially Joan Rice. She was thought to be an up-and-coming star, but her career quickly faded for reasons that seem largely unknown (she also starred with Burt Lancaster in His Majesty O’Keefe). The Story of Robin Hood is her most famous film and she is good as a young woman who seems more at home in the woods than as a lady in waiting. Richard Todd must have been something of a matinee idol, but because he spends a surprising amount of the film shirtless. Not as energetic or athletic as Fairbanks (who is?) or dashing as Errol Flynn (who is?), I still like him in the role and he has a twinkle in his eye and sincerity that fits the role well.

I think one of the big reasons that I love this movie so much is the inclusion of singer, actor, and guitarist Elton Hayes as Alan-a-Dale, whose songs bring continuity to the story. He is a traveling minstrel whose songs provide music, entertainment, news and even political commentary. Little John (James Robertson Justice) is particularly fond of listening to Alan-a-Dale sing. I can sympathize. If you like music and you have no radio, the only option is to cajole your local minstrel into singing for you.

Friar Tuck (James Hayter – he played Mr. Pickwick in the 1952 The Pickwick Papers) will always be Friar Tuck in my mind…as much as I enjoy Eugene Pallatte’s incarnation in 1938. He’s certainly belligerent and militant, but also a romantic and likes to sing love songs to himself (there’s a lot of singing in this movie), as well as make matches.

The screenwriters made an effort to make the language old English (with ayes and nays and such) and between the language, the songs, the painted mattes (such as used for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Mary Poppins), the smaller and slightly more realistic scale and even the highly pious attitude towards the Crusades (politically incorrect, but historically more plausible) makes for a picturesque and charming film. It’s not as good a film other Robin Hood films, but it is the one I love the most. The sights and sounds, such as the whizzing of the arrows or the horn blowing, the timbre of people’s voice, all kind of form a familiar symphony for me and I can’t help but smile.  

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2016 in Movies

 

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

downloadAfter reading the book, I had to see Disney’s film adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under Sea. Strangely enough, I never saw it before last week. I have some dim memory of seeing Kirk Douglas playing with a seal when I was a child, but I must not have seen the whole thing. I knew of it more by reputation than anything else. My cousin had very strong opinions about the film: she loved the squid and she hated Kirk Douglas.

But I enjoyed it very much. It is a much tighter story than the book, which is very episodic. In the documentary to the DVD, director Richard Fleischer said that when he read the book, he realized that the best way to adapt the story was to treat it like a jail break on a submarine and try to make everything feel claustrophobic.

The essential story is the same in the movie as it is in the book. Professor Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his servant, Conseil (Peter Lorre), go on a sea voyage to locate a mysterious sea creature that is destroying ships. But what they encounter instead is a submarine and when they fall overboard, along with bombastic and hot-headed harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas), they climb aboard the submarine, the Nautilus.

The captain of the Nautilus (James Mason) at first threatens to kill them, but relents when he sees how Aronnax is willing to die with his friends rather than be spared alone. He has a potential purpose in mind for Professor Aronnax. In the meantime, he shows Aronnax the submarine and how it works while Ned Land and Conseil scheme and plot to escape. One of Land’s schemes is to fill bottles with messages about the location of Captain Nemo’s island base (which they found on a chart in Nemo’s room) and send them out into the ocean. He also tries to escape when he is allowed to go ashore on an island, but is chased back by cannibals.

James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, Paul Lukas

James Mason, Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, Paul Lukas

One big difference between the movie and book is that the Nautilus in the movie is not battery powered, but actually a nuclear submarine and Professor Aronnax is far more interested in Nemo’s discovery of nuclear energy and the potential good it could do civilization than he is in studying fish and other underwater wonders and it turns out that the purpose Nemo has in mind for Aronnax is that he might allow the professor to share his secret of nuclear energy with the world. But Nemo is not entirely convinced that the world is ready to handle something so potentially destructive and prevaricates. Meanwhile, Aronnax is appalled to discover that Nemo is actively engaged in sinking the ships of his unspecified enemies – a Colonial power of some sort.

The cast is excellent. James Mason is perfect as Captain Nemo –  I could even see James Mason in my mind while I was finishing the book. He’s still a Byronic hero, still a Count of Monte Cristo of the Seas like in the book, though with a more pronounced Utopian streak in him. Mason’s Nemo seems even more deeply pained by the state of humanity and their propensity to make war and discusses it more often, especially in relation to whether or not to share his knowledge of nuclear power.

Kirk Douglas’ take on Ned Land, however, is quite different. Land in the book is a tall, relatively silent man while Kirk Douglas is more of a blow-hard, a kind of irrepressible rogue. However, I have to admit that the change was probably for the best and makes a nice contrast with the rest of the characters, who are very earnest indeed. The movie might have gotten a touch lugubrious without him…and his interaction with Conseil. He and his unlikely friendship with Conseil provide the bulk of the comedy in the film.

download (1)Ironically, it is Conseil who somewhat provides the moral conscience of the film, along with Professor Aronnax. But Aronnax in the movie gets wrapped up in Nemo, at one point even making excuses for Nemo’s behavior, and extremely caught up in the potential of the nuclear energy. It is only at the end that he realizes that Nemo is quite willing to have him and his two friends die along with the Nautilus and crew in a death pact. Not quite as mad as in the book, Nemo is still willing to do anything to protect his secret. Only Conseil consistently sees the need for them to escape, partially for their own sake and partially for Ned, who gets himself in trouble with Nemo repeatedly.

Though Ned does save Captain Nemo’s life during the giant squid attack (which looks pretty awesome, even to this day). It kind of throws Nemo’s carefully nurtured misanthropy into disarray, but ultimately Ned’s earlier actions ensure that nothing positive ultimately comes of it (not that you can blame Ned for trying).

The whole film looks great. The ship is opulent as in the book (though I still wonder why Nemo gets all the cushy stuff – what’s up with his crew? They even have a suicide pact with him!). There is the organ and the library and the artwork, the walking on the bottom of the ocean, getting chased by natives, though there’s no trip to Antarctica. There is still a burial underseas. No Atlantis, but that’s okay (there’s actually an Atlantis in the 1959 film version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, also with James Mason, so at least it made its way into one Verne adaptation). It’s still not a fast-paced movie, but it has the same element that captures one’s imagination that the book has.

Captain Nemo's cabin, without color

Captain Nemo’s cabin, without color

It’s also another fine example of how to adapt a book to a movie; keeping the essential flavor, the essential nature of the characters (except Land) and taking the most important plot elements in the story and constructing a cohesive and exciting cinematic experience.

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2015 in Movies

 

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Revisiting The Parent Trap (1961)

Parent_trap_(1961)I’ve always had a very deep affection for The Parent Trap, both the 1961 original with Hayley Mills and 1998 remake with Lindsay Lohan. They were movies I frequently watched with my mom. There are not many movies about mothers and daughters – fathers get much more screen time – and when there is a mother, often they come out like Mildred Pierce or Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother. Or they’re too busy suffering à la Bette Davis to actually have a relationship with the child.

And admittedly, The Parent Trap is not specifically about mothers and daughters. It is about two twins, who never before knew each other existed, but who meet and conspire to get their parents back together. But Mom and I never failed to cry whenever Susan/Hallie would see her mother for the first time or when she gets to spend those days talking with her mother and getting to know her. I always thought those were very special moments in the film.

But for various reasons, I haven’t seen either movie in years, especially the original, which I must have seen last when I was in my early teens. However, I was recently watching a movie with Maureen O’Hara and it gave me an irresistible urge to see The Parent Trap again. So I watched it and must confess that I loved it as much as ever.

Hayley Mills as Sharon and Susan

Hayley Mills as Sharon and Susan

The film is less sentimental than I had remembered, partly because it really is less sentimental than the remake (though not exactly Orson Welles, either). Hayley Mills was older than Lindsay Lohan, so the film was less about cute kids and their shenanigans. She was around fourteen rather than Lohan’s twelve, which is only a two year gap, but I remember when I was twelve and my sister was fourteen and it felt like we were worlds apart, she a young lady and I still a kid. Then I became thirteen and the gap promptly closed. Hayley Mill’s Susan and Sharon are girls who are just becoming young ladies, though still innocent, interested in boys and at least aware, relatively, of the sexual dynamics at play.

There is a hilarious moment when Sharon is trying to get her father to remember her mother and he thinks she is asking about the birds and bees and tries, bumblingly, to explain, though when she figures out what he’s talking about, she says she already knows about that.

There is also far more conflict in the film than the remake or than I had recalled. Besides initially fighting with each other, Sharon fights with her father (played by Brian Keith) about his fiance, Vickie, and she doesn’t speak to him for several days. This is, admittedly, partly a calculated attempt on her part to sabotage the marriage, but it’s still conflict. And there is real, catty animosity between Vickie and Sharon (and really both girls). Even their grandparents have some conflict; their grandmother is imperious and their grandfather puts his foot down at one point.

Maureen O'Hara and Hayley Mills

Maureen O’Hara and Hayley Mills

And of course there is the conflict between Mitch and Maggie. In fact, their surprisingly sexy (for a Disney film) rapport in the film reminded me of a screwball comedy. It is a battle of the sexes, where the women generally rout the men. Poor Mitch never has a chance. He is surrounded by females; his two daughters, his gold-digging fiance and her mother and his ex-wife, all duking it out.

And despite the unifying thread of twins trying to reunite their parents, the film actually has three distinct parts to it, that explore three different forms of relationships in a family.

The first third of the film is about sibling interaction as Sharon and Susan (both played by Hayley Mills) meet at camp. They loathe each other, but after discovering they are actually twins, form a bond and grew to know each other and become allies as well sisters.

The middle part is how children interact with their parents. Susan gets to know her mother (Maureen O’Hara) and Sharon gets to know her father (Brian Keith). And you can see how their mother is rather better at fielding unexpected questions than their father is.

Maureen O'Hara and Brian Keith argue while Leo G. Carrol as Dr. Mosby watches with extreme enjoyment

Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith argue while Leo G. Carrol as Dr. Mosby watches with extreme enjoyment

But by the third part, the girls actually take a back seat to their parents, who have now met and must do the rest of the work themselves. The twins may have driven Vickie away, but their parents still have to work through their own problems and admit that they miss, need and love each other.

Hayley Mills does a very good job of differentiating the two girls, one proper and more soften spoken and the other brash and tomboyish, even when they are pretending to be each other. Although by the last third of the film the two girls have essentially merged into one while the parents take over. I’ve always been a fan of Hayley Mills. Precocious without being annoying, but also still young and not striving to play wiser than she really is.

But for me a real highlight is Maureen O’Hara. She almost runs off with the picture. Warm and touching as a mother, maternal and feisty, she has excellent comedic timing and was extremely sexy. I love it when Mitch tells Vickie that Maggie is maternal and mature and then Maureen O’Hara as Maggie pops down the stairs, cheerful and gorgeous and meanwhile really socking it to Vickie by gushing over what a sweet child she is. She really does as much as the twins to drive Vickie away, putting her in a healthy tradition of screwball comedians who rout the competition, like Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth and My Favorite Wife.

It was also fun to see all the character actors in this film, actors I now know from other classic movies. Mitch’s housekeeper is Verbena, played by Una Merkel, who I best remember for having a barroom brawl with Marlene Dietrich in the 1939 Destry Rides Again. And Maggie’s father is played by Charles Ruggles, who did a number of Ernst Lubitsch films in the early 1930s, like Trouble in Paradise, and also shows up as the big game hunter in Bringing Up Baby who does loon and leopard call imitations.

But the character I always remembered as a kid was Dr. Mosby, the reverend who is going to marry Mitch and Vickie, though he likes Maggie much better. Dr. Mosby is played by Leo G. Carroll, who appeared in more Alfred Hitchcock films than anyone else, six in total: North By NorthwestRebeccaSuspicionSpellboundStrangers On a Train, and The Paradine Case. Though I always think of him as Dr. Mosby.

This clip shows the film at its screwball best, when Maggie first meets Vickie while Dr. Mosby treats the entire situation as a spectator sport.

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2015 in Comedy

 

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