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Monday, September 26, 2022

Hands Off Settled Story Classics


Where One Critic Played Safe


Among reviewing cliches is assurance an author would “spin in his/her grave” to see what movies did to a novel, as w/ Otis Ferguson re The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1938. I enjoy this critic a lot, but here as with others he bowed to expectation that, of course, any film, let alone one produced by Selznick, and on lavish scale, would profane “a classic,” work of a sacred past again defiled by grubby hands of Hollywood. Certain base rules were observed, now as then. Imagine coming out of Hamlet to say, thank goodness they cleaned up that mess of a play. Reason the issue lured me was an “Illustrated Junior Library” printing of Tom Sawyer, dated 1946, colorful illustrations bespeaking the 40’s as much as 1875 when Mark Twain’s book was published. I read it as a boy, saw screen versions, so noted departures each took from 305 pages of text. Takeaway was this: Selznick’s adapt improved on the novel, at least so far as structure and pace. Had he followed it faithfully, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer would be unwatchable. How long since Otis Ferguson’s last read, or did he break spine upon Mark Twain’s original at all? I think Ferguson’s review was pure reflex, words he was expected to write, and so wrote them. Brave critics part from the pack, but all know greater comfort of going along to get along. Here was once where Ferguson gave in to keep his place at colleague tables, the first time I was disappointed by a column of his.



When did Tom Sawyer become sacrosanct, or was it ever so? Mark Twain wrote in lurches, a start made, then two years before taking up Tom again. Sections were done as they came to the author, ideas spilt upon paper, then wait “for the tank to fill up again.” He took another year off after half was completed, the draft then dispatched to friend and fellow author William Dean Howells, who was asked to evaluate the lot and suggest fixes where needed. Reviews were mixed from publication start: “Slightly disjointed” said NY Times in 1876, noting “an unnecessarily sinister tinge over the story,” its appeal to children questionable (Mark Twain had stated firmly that his book was meant for adults). Tom Sawyer would be no instant classic. In fact, it sold slow for a first several years, gaining strength after to become Mark Twain’s most popular novel, declared a “landmark” by Booth Tarkington, who wrote a rhapsodic forward for a 1922 reprinting in which he called Tom “the first full-blown boy in all fiction.” The book was by then ensconced in literary canons, what with Huckleberry Finn following, plus several more Tom Sawyer stories during Mark Twain’s lifetime. My recent reading was without rose tint and mindful that here was a thing revered, but never wholly so. Was Tom Sawyer disjointed? I thought so, and Ferguson acknowledged as much (“The story of the original is shoddy melodrama at best”). Then why did he so ridicule Selznick effort to smooth out inherent weakness? Critic reflex was to assume philistinism the outcome of any Hollywood effort. This bespoke their literacy and drew a Maginot line twixt thoughtful reviewers and celluloid peddlers who would insult a public’s intelligence.




Selznick invaded cultural sanctums where he could, for Tom Sawyer instance a display at the Museum of Modern Art to demonstrate effort that went into filming a known and loved novel. Visitors could inspect among other things the memos between DOS and Code monitors wanting scenes and dialogue trimmed for public consumption. Ferguson saw the exhibit and sprang upon censor intervention as proof that films had little hope of capturing spirit of Mark Twain, or anyone that wrote freely. “Amazing resource and patience that were behind its millions of things and dollars” could not breach walls so rigidly maintained, gatekeepers’ own Maginot to separate best intentions from compromised result. It was as though any exhibit revolved around Selznick’s effort would be misplaced at MOMA, or any museum devoted to fine art. But wasn’t it Otis Ferguson who once wrote “the truth of films can be more vivid than the truth of fiction”? No critic operating outside the industry could know struggle that came with proper adaptation of a classic, or even popular, novel to altogether different medium that was movies. There would come occasion in 1941 when Ferguson got schooled, a trip to Hollywood underwritten by his employer, The New Republic, the critic invited to go behind cameras and learn what went into entertainment that by all and final necessity, had to entertain. Most impactful of time served was his with The Little Foxes, occasion for Ferguson to realize how tough a commission it was to cross gulf between a stage and screens. He would write with awe as to labor spent on a single scene, all but acknowledging what little he had understood of a complicated process (having been there to watch it being filmed). 
Ferguson gave The Little Foxes a rave upon release, at last appreciative of effort gone into a thing so fine. Did the awakened critic wish to revisit some of what he reviewed previous and perhaps be more generous? No opportunity alas, for he enlisted in the Merchant Marine for wartime duty and died later in a bombing raid (1943).


The Museum of Modern Art's Tom Sawyer Exhibit in 1938 Ties in with the Selznick Film




I was taken aback when a final third of Tom Sawyer the novel fell apart, or was that me being plebeian? Tom Sawyer was supposed to be an unimpeachable classic, though I doubt Selznick found it so, being too much the realist for all of regard he felt for literature. Mark Twain’s was merely another property he was obliged to improve upon, a process essential to make it palatable for 1938 audiences. Selznick knew in advance he would be criticized. Moviemakers got so little respect, wiser ones giving up any chase for it. Tom Sawyer would be hopeless if faithful-adapted, to wit: On page eight, Tom picks a fight with a boy he has never met, this a symptom of Tom being “not the model boy of the village.” Selznick knew that to open his story thusly would lose audience sympathy straightaway. Tom must be embraced if we are to spend ninety minutes with him. There is business with a “Pinch-bug” in church, and later a “tick-running.” Insects might register in a novel, but with movies, never, leastwise seldom. I’ve never seen drama or comedy revolved around a tick, nor would desire to, being discomfited just reading the tick chapter in Mark Twain’s book. Experienced screenwriters would jettison such as a matter of course. DOS had John A. Weaver on that job, with veteran Marshall Neilan to aid the treatment. Ben Hecht reportedly lent assist. What the novelist got right, they left alone. Tom at fence painting seems composed for film, so leave it intact they did. But his taking school punishment for Becky Thatcher seems labored in the book, complicated by another boy being the guilty party, so begged to be telescoped into a single scene.


Selznick knew what worked between pages would not necessarily do so where watched. I spent a couple days reading Tom Sawyer, saw the 1938 movie in an hour and a half, for which praise to the David Selznick team for measures necessarily taken. Here was thankless work seldom understood by a public and most critics less versed in art of visual representation, seeing as opposed to imagining, the literal in front of your eyes as opposed to what words conjure up. Otis Ferguson was too experienced and capable not to grasp this. Maybe he could have written a script faithful to all aspects of Tom Sawyer, rather than calling Selznick’s job “a colored-candy version” for “people (who) want a chocolate-marshmallow sundae with nuts.” These seem cheap shots. Selznick revered great books, but came to know what must be done to tame even the best of them. Changes had been made to David Copperfield which satisfied most, A Tale of Two Cities and Little Lord Fauntleroy to follow. The producer saw weakness in sources and confessed them to memos. Two Cities was “sheer melodrama” which could not effectively play “minus Dickens’ brilliant narrative passages,” the book’s “mechanics” tending otherwise “to creak.” How many had nerve to face celebrated literary works in so foursquare a manner, being not afraid to alter where needed? Selznick had to be a showman first, his medium not one best served by page-to-picture fidelity. Mark Twain dragged out Tom and Huck’s hunt for treasure and gave us subplots revolved around Injun Joe (his lethal designs upon the widow Douglas). There was no chase after Tom and Becky in the cave, Joe’s death taking place “off page” with faint dramatic impact. The author wrote friend Howells that little of this mattered, “since there is no plot to the thing” (the author in view of this resisted efforts to adapt Tom Sawyer for the stage, though unauthorized versions proliferated). It took Selznick to give Tom Sawyer structure that would work, tempo and pace to excite, and a climax to entirely satisfy.

PREVIOUSLY AT GREENBRIAR: A two-part visit to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer from September, 2006.





Monday, September 19, 2022

Film Noir #13

 


Noir: Black Widow (1954 and 1987) and Blitz


BLACK WIDOW (1954) --- Cinemascope does Manhattan, albeit mostly indoors, but there are shots of streets, with sometimes a cast member to show cast/crew went there. Grown-up Peggy Ann Garner schemes along “Eve” lines to get better of Broadway sorts who reap varied whirlwinds, and to show what she tempts with, there is w-i-d-e view of Peggy’s endless legs as she sets snare for hapless Van Heflin, Reginald Gardner, callow Skip Homier. The cast often lines up across the scope screen like a show-up at headquarters, only police dick George Raft goes on-site for most of investigating, noir credentials neatly tucked behind his lapel. Billing shows how names rose and dipped as Cinemascope took dominance: Ginger Rogers first up, age rather suddenly an issue, and she plays to it as had been case in Forever Female’s close-related part. Van Heflin, who made almost any melodrama almost believable, gets the wrong man lead, while Gene Tierney seems all of a sudden fragile and not so much Gene Tierney anymore, but that is likelier result of us knowing more about her personal circumstance than at the time Black Widow was made. Nunnally Johnson was being given pictures to write, produce, and direct, which he didn’t care much to do, but Zanuck said why not, so he accommodated. Result is OK, a lot of insider Broadway chat, or what we are supposed to read as that. Was Johnson aiming barbs at real-life luminaries he had known, or are these stick figures to represent generic stage types? Some have called Black Widow a most stage bound of Cinemascope releases from 1954, and I suppose it is, but fun is there for ones who like talk, lots of that, bouncing from one wall to an opposite one. Kind of like watching sound being invented all over again. Twilight Time released Black Widow as a limited edition some years back. Now Amazon wants $42 for it, so I guess we have a collectable gaining speed.



BLACK WIDOW (1987) --- Talk about a common title, but always effective, whether for a Republic serial, a more recent comic book adapt, or in this instance, a cat-mouse pairing for hot numbers of the day Debra Winger and Theresa Russell, doing a sort of Body Heat dance to R-rated music. We think almost to final seconds that Russell will herself get away with multiple murders and retire to island paradise like Kathleen Turner, so pervasive was relaxed morality by an 80’s sort of noir. Winger is the dogged Fed, frumpy beside Russell, or so they design, but like with Niagara where I found Jean Peters more alluring that MM, so too it’s Debra who rings the bell rather than more obvious glamor-puss Theresa. Fun is had with Winger clunking away on ancient twentieth-century computers and even a slide projector at one point (did we once use such hopeless devices?). Lush production moves from exotic location to a next exotic location, narrative barely keeping pace before the inevitable third act ennui, a bred-into problem with most movies by the 80’s, and virtually all of them since. Best way might be to enjoy till timer indicates final forty minutes ahead, then wave goodbye and figure out a better resolution for yourself. Chances are it will work where theirs won’t. This is not to say Black Widow bores, or annoys, or does anything other than mildly please. But keep it at mildly and avoid letdowns. Concept of killing one husband after another can’t help but amuse, so like Charlotte Vale said, let’s not ask for the moon. Watched on Amazon in HD, looked good, never a sure thing with 80’s titles where sometimes you wonder what kind of shape original elements are in.



BLITZ (2011) --- Jason Statham a noir hero? Just pretend he’s Dana Andrews, only handier with fists. He operates not unlike Andrews dealing with criminal class in Where the Pavement Ends, an off-rail cop who figures ends might justify whatever means are needed to achieve them. Why must law enforcement exert self-control in a culture so out of control? Statham’s higher-up confesses to vigilante resort where a suspect would otherwise game the system, to which Statham nods approval. He is without a life outside friends in the department, each killed off for lacking his instinct at survival. Blitz was one I came to with doubts, all dispelled within opener scenes, action UK-set with benefit of tension and pace the Brits seem gifted at giving us. Streaming has made me ever more the Anglophile and dogged if I’m not picking up their slang (property that is “nicked” means stole, being nicked also is when they arrest you). Stamp my passport then, as I’m ready to head over and assimilate with these folks. Between TV series focus on crime and bushel of features along a same line, I’ve got to assume England has insatiable taste for rough
 and tumble of police vs. thuggery. Even “Doc Martin” Clunes does time in the squad room when he isn’t healing the sick at Cornwall. Jason Statham engages “action” as a genre all his own, more so far than I can watch without committing full time, and frankly, if they’re all as good as Blitz, then take me aboard. Noir label is for streets gone to anarchy as result of officers serial-killed in broad daylight and worse. Chases are over ground, roofs, anywhere camera operators can run with equipment sat on shoulders. Things achievable with portable gear do not cease to amaze me. Even if Blitz is familiar in context of current cop thrillers, then call me easy to impress, as indeed I am with this and so much else that is crossing the Atlantic. Streaming services, it seems, can’t get enough of such content. Blitz was a Blu-Ray I didn’t remember acquiring, but there it sat on the shelf, so maybe Santa was by.





Monday, September 12, 2022

Do Cartoons Last the Longest?

 


Tashlin/Foster Explore Daffy's Life in Full


Frank Tashlin is thought to be underappreciated by much of a cartoon community, that is fans that came up after Tashlin and peers were gone. How studied are animators and directors of drawings? Immensely so, and by many who know or care less about movies otherwise. If You Tube is any barometer, then I’d say there has been no more ardent pursuit than that for classic cartoons. What emerges is a dedicated generation one or more down from my own, fans born in the eighties-nineties, who are all in for animation to degree none older approached then or now. This says lots about enduring appeal of cartoons, and not just ones from Warner, but what Fleischer, Iwerks, the lot, once did. Last week at Cinecon they ran Flip the Frog and rocked the house. Are cartoons in a final analysis the category of film that wears best? It is understood that we cleave closest to that which we discovered earliest, so yes, there is explanation, but also let’s agree that cartoons are a format that may well date a least of all that is old. For lush animation and gags that still work, they barely seem of such distant past. I’m informed that HBO Plus runs all of lately restored WB cartoons, HD harvest since Blu-Rays of backlog were offered. Do satellite subscribers regard these as essential to their money’s worth?



I touch upon Tashlin for stumble-over one of his best that did not even have his name on it (Nasty Quacks). This director for a long time wanted out of cartoons and into features, got the wish for gag-alacrity and notice by comedians always alert for a distinctive voice. Jack Carson, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, each came to value Frank Tashlin for fresh paints he applied. Question with live action however, is how well will it hold up? These need an audience, some will alibi, when an Artists and Models just lays there for you alone or even two more sitting in the room. We had that happen once with an IB Technicolor 35mm print, so you couldn’t blame chill on presentation. Point to ponder is maybe Tashlin cartoons stand best a test of time, his features up against walls all live action comedy must face. I know Son of Paleface roused laughs in 1952 … would it provoke half as many now? Can potion contained in cartoons please the solitary as well as the crowd? Tashlin delighted in talk of animation when fans grown up (from TV watching) sought him out and impressed the late-in-life veteran with knowledge of every short he directed way back. Tashlin cartoons are good as anybody’s from Warner, less known for his being in-out over period from early thirties to mid-forties, oft-fired for attitude. He worked a while for Van Beuren’s shop, fell out with the boss, was let go, began a comic strip called “Van Boring,” which amounted to face-manner caricature of Amadee Van Beuren, presumably too obtuse to note the smear and hire counsel to even up.



Herewith animation as baptizer of fire: Leon Schlesinger learned new hire Tashlin had his strip on the side and demanded a rake-off, to which Frank hotly said no and got sacked as result. Then as now, predator and prey. Cartoonists bounced about local employ, sometimes NY, none out of work long as so few others had skill set needed to see a cartoon through. You begin with blank sheets of paper and are expected to deliver seven minutes of comedy from mere that, plus ink, paints, capacity with gags and in-between assist. Be good at said bench and they'd forgive a blown off or cussed out supervisor(s) the week before. Tashlin drew checks for talent enough never to have to bow down. A lot of cartooning crew got fun from the uncertainties, but remember these people had to eat off plates set by bosses like Schlesinger, his milk of charity curdled by hard knocks and whatever the Crash did. And consider undoubted (double) deal Warners handed Schlesinger in 1946 when they bought out his unit. I bet he got ten cents on each dollar those interests were worth. Guys like Tashlin received no more than salary when ink was initially applied, which must have gulled when their work played tubes on endless loop. Did any animator other than Chuck Jones get into ancillary money from old cartoons, at least chunk he took for cels drawn in old age for collectors that sold in galleries and then-thriving WB stores? Jones got enriched for living long enough, and having initiative enough, to cash in. I figure him for the Great Success Story among Warner animators.



Back to Warners when they picked up pace, and quality, with Porky Pigs and (at last) shorts with three shades of color, Tashlin mingled with talents he could respect, Tex Avery his idea of greatness in the field … but did Tashlin underestimate his own abilities, which from a start were considerable? Being bouncy ball between employers robbed him of strong ID with a single shop, the second whirl at Warners brief as before. Tashlin was known restless, cartoons OK except if features beckoned, his reels tricked out with swish pans, montage, shadow-on-walls. He'd be noticed if heed were paid to cartoons, except generally it was not. Tashlin wrote feature scripts that stalled, did time with Disney and gave them grist for full-length Mickey and the Beanstalk, made as half-an-omnibus long after he left, WD forgetting Tashlin's contribution to it. There was sojourn at Columbia, maker of punk cartoons, a few he did shining brighter, but who looked for diamonds amidst roughage that was Columbia animation? Back to WB, and a run of outstanding work where Tashlin was near a best man on staff, this still not fulfillment of career goals. I put him among mighty quartet of Warner directors including Clampett, Avery, and Jones. At Tashlin summit for me stands Nasty Quacks, more than a mere Daffy, it is rather a life of Daffy as untold previous and never again, one duck’s confession of libertine lifestyle we barely suspected before or after 1944. No one did so eloquently by Daffy as Tashlin and writer Warren Foster would here.



The concept was deceptively simple. Father brings home a baby duckling for daughter. She raises the pet onsite and nothing suggests Daffy having a life outside confine of a domestic sphere except for how he tells it, and how he tells it, disrupting meals with non-stop “What an evening!” recount of riotous goings-on with him at the center, “I never thought I’d see home again!” What makes this all great is Daffy as reliable witness to revelry … we believe all he tells and want more. He cites a friend “who got thirty days for kicking a cop,” parties where “the furniture was going in the door and out the window … chairs flyin’ around like rockets.” This is Daffy a most intensely verbal, backstory told in staccato rhythm, “one for the books” as the duck says. Was the Daffy of Nasty Quacks imagining a life he’d enjoy given release from suburbia? He may have spoken for millions caught in a middle-class trap, having broken out to wet his beak upon high life they could only dream of, back to enjoy comfort of a bed and fire, the family table liberally stocked (Daffy duels with Father over a pat of butter). So home is merely a place to sleep off party excess? Lots would like it that way, and here is a duck to prove it can and will work. Warren Foster was the credited writer on Nasty Quacks. His resume was virtually all cartoons, pre-Quacks from 1936 and afterward to TV’s Pixie/Dixie, Hey There, It’s Yogi Bear (1964), much more. If Foster composed Daffy’s manifesto for Nasty Quacks, then there is a 1944-45 Academy Award he was robbed of. Not to be ignored is Mel Blanc voice genius we take for granted but should not. I led with paragraphs about Frank Tashlin, but how much of him went into Nasty Quacks … did someone else complete it? … Clampett … himself headed for the door? Tashlin got no director credit, gone again by time the cartoon was released, so off went his name, not cricket to be sure and I wonder if Tashlin or his Guild had something to say about that. Maybe seven minutes mattered little enough that all could dust off and go about business. I’d have put up a scrap for my name on a cartoon good as Nasty Quacks.





Monday, September 05, 2022

Disney at Crowd-Pleasingest

 


Does The Parent Trap's Public Still Remember?


One must be in at least late-sixties to have seen The Parent Trap first-run. Hayley Mills meanwhile is seventy-six and released her memoirs last year. Three or four decades before would have timed better, but guess she wasn’t ready then, and besides the book might benefit for waiting, just that much more wisdom to impart. I regard The Parent Trap as the best live-action film Disney ever made, accolade gotten out of ways now for parse to follow beyond what most would see as sensible. I’ll assume everyone knew The Parent Trap from some point or other. It is familiar for Disney profaning the brand with remakes plus sequels to the remakes. They really eat their young there, the old as well, especially the old. There was a DVD of PT ’61 with lush extras, while a recent Blu-Ray has none. Everyone but H. Mills is gone now, Joanna Barnes last of adult principals out. The Parent Trap ran a startling 129 minutes, but I do not recall any of us in 1961 being bored, possibly a first occasion where a film had my undivided attention, more so at least than Konga. The theatre rocked with laughter as one assumes they do not anymore. We went home and rigged an older cousin’s room with string and mucky stuff that fell when he opened the door, so maybe movies were a bad influence after all. I have not tired of The Parent Trap as has been case with much of other Disney, its being quite the adult picture for one starring a kid, rather “two” kids with one playing both. People smoke and drink here, condition of life among those who could afford vices but depicted little enough on today screens for The Parent Trap to seem almost radical.



The concept would date, mostly for domestic arrangement where couples split and a child or children never see a parent again as part of divorce terms, unaware a sibling even exists. The notion sold in 1961, though The Parent Trap being more serious than farce obliges us to look closer at what seems a cruel arrangement as entered into by parents Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith. Did Sharon and Susan take out separation issues on Mom-Dad after the glow of latter’s remarriage wore off? Today’s Facebook or apps more sinister would bring lost twins to earth soon enough, but ’61 was a time when pen-palling was still best/only means of staying current re anyone’s status or condition. I suspect The Parent Trap’s would be a narrative difficult for youngsters now to make sense of. Idea of being packed off to camp was associated more with those who had means to manage it. We’re given to understand that Sharon and Susan come of privileged background, parents blessed with old (Mom) and new (Dad) money, though not told how “Mitch Evers” came by his wealth. Estranged wife “Margaret Mckendrick” thinks enough of her Boston family name to see that daughter Sharon adopts it, differing surnames enabling plot device of the girls meeting at “Camp Inch” but not realizing they are sisters. There was enough complexity at play here for me to wonder how clear the set-up was for my seven-year-old self, though I don’t recall confusion at the time.



How much did children enjoy summer camp in those days? I attended one for summer 1967, don’t recall if it was for week’s duration, or more. The whole experience is more-less a blank, though not an ordeal. Expectation going in saw “Camp Susan Barber Jones” (gone now) as much like Camp Inch, which it would be in essential ways. We got hot dogs, baked beans, and ice cream in little cups. There were activities, some of which I ducked for quiet reading with all three issues of Monster Mania packed along. Camp Inch seems the more idyllic in hindsight. They had mischief and conflict, if no boys on site. When did camps go co-ed, or did they ever? Marjorie Morningstar in 1958 made it clear that sneaking across the lake to visit male campers would lead to despoilage. Camp Inch arranges a dance with boy guests, Annette on shellac singing Let’s Get Together for accompany. Off-track but brief inquiry: Would Disney have entrusted The Parent Trap to Annette? I think not. Part reason The Parent Trap got made was Hayley Mills being actress enough, at fourteen, to manage it. She was the realest deal of talent discoveries Disney made.



We were startled when Sharon and confederates scissored the back of Susan’s dress to reveal underpants beneath, getting the view along with stunned partiers. Imagine if they had done that with Annette. PCA authority would surely have closed Walt’s shop down, then taken a harder look at Moon Pilot and all else of what he was up to. Daring still with near-as-dishy Hayley, who I’m informed was intense crush-bait for age group somewhat past my own in 1961. Slapstick reigns at Camp Inch, “Miss Inch” presumed owner of the acreage getting three-layer face-full of cake with icing, a moment writer-director David Swift wanted to excise till Disney saw it and demurred, “It will be the biggest laugh in the picture,” and so it was. Mills separates the personalities with aplomb, Sharon knowing who Gilbert and Sullivan were while Susan does not, opposite being case where reference is to Rick Nelson. We are given to understand that Sharon was spared dubious benefits of the popular culture by her high-born Boston family (would that include Walt Disney movies?). I’ve been enriched these sixty years by knowing Gilbert and Sullivan did not get along, if little else about them. Also learned from The Parent Trap what “Coventry” meant. Who says films were a waste of time? Sharon and Susan snack on Fig Newtons. Does anybody still? I haven’t had one since The Parent Trap came out. Proof you’re seeing a good picture is when it inspires you to go out and get food the cast is eating. Best of recreation at Camp Inch is spotting the double for Hayley Mills, which Blu-Ray makes easier. I found at least two instances where she is full-face visible, and likely there are more so far eluding me.

Annette and Tommy Sands Perform the Title Song for a Disneyland Episode


Maureen O’Hara was promised star billing. Her agent memorialized the deal with Walt Disney. She held out for $75K against WD effort to pull her down, got the desired figure. Shock and surprise came when credits/publicity read “Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap … starring Maureen O’Hara.” Lawsuits were threatened, Guild action pursued, the case, remembered O’Hara, being open/shut. Disney sent word for the actress and counsel “to go screw ourselves.” Days before battle, the threat was made explicit, “Sue me and I’ll destroy you.” O’Hara knew that he could, and so left Disney alone and took the bitter pill. She told all this in her book, published in 2004. A postscript was O’Hara’s agent meeting Disney during latter’s final illness in 1966, one of treating physicians the agent’s brother. When told the woman represented Maureen O’Hara, Walt “mustered enough strength to sit up in his bed and force out his reply: “That bitch.” Don’t know about others, but I adore “Dark Prince” tales on Disney, him human after all, intent on having his way and using all of muscle, considerable by 1961, to get it. Besides all that, billing Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills above the title was just too natural and irresistible a scheme to let pass, risk of being sued more than worth taking. What is that expression? … better to apologize after than ask permission before? I wonder what Maureen would have said had Walt offered her, say, a $10K sweetener pre-release to waive objections. Did such an idea even occur to him?

Heavies Cunning Enough To Win Give Edge to The Parent Trap



1961 was still a time when good parents social-drank at home while their children meekly had ginger ale. The first photo Sharon sees of her father has him posed with a cigarette. “Reverend Mosley” (Leo G. Carroll), offered refreshment, opts for “bourbon … a double … on the rocks.” Fortune hunting Vicki Robinson (Joanna Barnes) has smokes and a lighter always handy. The Parent Trap unknowingly sent signals that would resonate by 1968 when the feature was reissued, youth by then calling elders out for banning recreational drugs while they abused alcohol and nicotine. Hypocrisy, that’s what it was!, but who thought of using The Parent Trap as a weapon against the guilty generation? Besides, Susan and Sharon don’t object, or seem to notice. Susan likes that her grandfather (Charles Ruggles) smells of “tobacco and peppermint,” while Sharon all but acts as bartender for Dad. The girls serve wine for a dinner they prepare which will hopefully reunite their divorced parents. David Swift wrote and directed The Parent Trap, my impression that he took a more grown-up slant than was Disney policy before. Did Walt note this after the fact, or did they discuss and agree in advance? Swift said in later interviews that the boss left him pretty much to his own devices during filming. Sex gets piquant reference, Susan asking her mother how serious she should be about a boy met at camp, to which Mom cancels appointments for the day so that she and daughter can have a “talk.” Rugged Mitch is thrown by what appears to be Sharon inquiring about facts of life, till reassured that “I’ve known all about that for simply years.” Such talk among Disney characters was bold lift from safe marionettes they formerly were, The Parent Trap seeming to promise fresh avenues that alas would not be explored further.

She's At It Again ... Maureen More Scary Than Stimulating


Of reality to lend tang, there is the would-be marriage partner for Mitch who is less comical prop than a determined opponent who, in league with her mother, plans to trim a future husband (“Think of California and that wonderful community property law”), then ship Sharon to a “Swiss boarding school.” This is combat engaged by two who are experienced and formidable, kept but barely in check by a pair of thirteen-year-old girls. Only assurance we have of the twins’ ultimate victory is knowing audience expectation must and will be served. Consolation for would-be wife "Vicki" comes of a hard slap she’ll give one of the Hayleys upon finality of defeat. The Parent Trap resolves several conflicts with violence. As if to remind us of The Quiet Man, O’Hara punches Brian Keith in the eye and leaves a wound too realistic to enjoy for comedy, a disturbing visual Disney relied upon for both the trailer and key poster art. The Parent Trap’s concept was complex enough to need explaining in some depth by previews plus a long segment on an episode of Disneyland that pretty much gave the game away. Disney product had to sell itself by ultra-shorthand, like “Wilby turns into a sheepdog” for The Shaggy Dog, or “The Goo That Flew” for The Absent-Minded Professor. The Parent Trap taking an estimated $9.3 million in domestic rentals must have come as pleasing surprise for Buena Vista merchandisers uncertain that the story’s appeal could be communicated to would-be customers.

UPDATE: 9/6/2022 --- Donald Benson inquired as to whether Donald and the Wheel went out generally with The Parent Trap as an added featurette. Below is evidence from the 1961 pressbook suggesting it did. 



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