Saturday 22 September 2007

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) Robert Stevenson

I had the Mary Norton source novel for this film on my shelf as a kid and I'm pretty sure I read it but I don't remember. A lot of these children's books and subsequent films merged together in my mind and only recently have I really managed to start distinguishing them.

We're in August 1940 in Pepperinge Eye, not far away from the White Cliffs of Dover. The government is evacuating children from London and three Cockney kids get dumped on Miss Price, who is an apprentice witch just receiving her first broomstick and learning to fly the night her three new wards arrive. She's also Angela Lansbury, well on the way in 1971 to become the Angela Lansbury of Murder, She Wrote rather than the Angela Lansbury of say, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, thus not as annoying as she'd become but still as accomplished an actress.

The film is fun, and the source material is great, but it's a mixed bag. The countryside is gorgeous, but it's also definitely gorgeous painted back sets rather than real gorgeous countryside. The kids are great, all three of them, even though only Cindy O'Callaghan went on to appear in absolutely anything else. The effects are very late sixties, all LSD trip colours and negative/positive switches, and superimposed line drawings. They're horrendously dated but still fun. Cosmic Creepers, the cat, is awesome.

Unfortunately though, the film is a musical and it's as cheesy a musical as you'd expect from the Walt Disney Corporation. The songs aren't bad, but they're not great, and certainly I prefer 'Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler?' from Dad's Army to the Home Guard song here. The cultural chaos in the Portobello Road number is a joy though, however much it's complete nonsense. The rubber man is certainly more entertaining than Michael Jackson. I'd like to see him do 'Thriller'.
The animated sequences on the Isle of Naboomba are great fun also, especially the Briny Boys and their band, but hey this is Disney and that's what they do, especially as most of the character designs are recycled from The Jungle Book.

It's a riot seeing Bruce Forsyth as a spiv with a horrendous orange tie, and he works for Sam Jaffe, as a gloriously hirsute Bookman. They're also looking for the same thing Miss Price is, a particular spell that might aid them to defeat the imminent Nazis, though we don't see any outside of the intriguing mock Bayeux Tapestry intro. On the search, she takes along the three Rawlins kids and Professor Emelius Browne, the cheap conman whose fake spells she can use for real. He's played ably by David Tomlinson, England's answer to William Powell.

And while the film hardly makes the remotest bit of sense for the entire running time, it does head off into complete lunacy for the finale. Maybe I shouldn't complain about things like logic and the laws of physics when we're dealing with a movie about witchcraft, but there are ways that things should be done and ways that are just dumb, and naturally that's what we end up with. It's a shame and it doesn't take all the fun out of it, but it could have been much more.

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