Mary Poppins (1964)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #58

It’s supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 139 minutes
BBFC: U
MPAA: G (1972)

Original Release: 27th August 1964 (USA)
UK Release: 23rd December 1964
First Seen: by osmosis in childhood.

Stars
Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music, Torn Curtain)
Dick Van Dyke (Bye Bye Birdie, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
David Tomlinson (The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)
Karen Dotrice (The Gnome-Mobile, The Thirty-Nine Steps)

Director
Robert Stevenson (Jane Eyre, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)

Screenwriter
Bill Walsh (The Love Bug, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)
Don DaGradi (Blackbeard’s Ghost, Bedknobs and Broomsticks)

Based on
the Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers.

Music and Lyrics
Richard M. Sherman (The Jungle Book, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang)
Robert B. Sherman (Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh)

The Story
Not impressed by the nannies selected by their domineering father, Jane and Michael Banks write a letter describing their ideal applicant. Conversely, Mr Banks is not impressed with their requirements, and tears up the letter and throws it in the fire… from whence it reaches Mary Poppins, who floats down to bring fun and discipline to all of the Banks household.

Our Hero
The magical nanny who comes from the sky, Mary Poppins can be (whisper it) actually a little bit annoying at times. Julie Andrews, on the other hand, is practically perfect in every way.

Our Villains
Ultimately, bankers. Some things never change.

Best Supporting Character
Ostensibly this is the story of children Jane and Michael Banks and their need for a SuperNanny to help them with their oh-so-terrible father — and, as a child, that’s where your focus lies. Really (and I guess you need to grow up at least a bit to see this), it’s about how said SuperNanny saves their father, Mr Banks, helping to transform him from a miserable corporate drone into a joyful family man. David Tomlinson negotiates this arc fantastically.

Memorable Quote
“You know, you can say it backwards, which is ‘docious-ali-expi-istic-fragil-cali-rupus’… but that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?” — Mary Poppins

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” — Mary Poppins

Memorable Scene
Chimneysweeps dancing on the rooftops! (Fun fact: I always thought Step In Time was called Stepping Time. I mean, the dance does contain a lot of, sort of, steps…)

Best Song as a Child
Iiiiiiit’s Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious. If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious. (Sacrilege maybe, but the version from the 2004 stage musical is even better.)

Best Song as an Adult
When I was little, the whole part of the film around the bank, Feed the Birds, etc, was The Boring Bit between the fun and the return of the fun. Now, I still think most of Feed the Birds is a little insipid, but the instrumental reprise as Mr Banks walks slowly back to the bank, his world and everything he knows torn asunder, his humiliation imminent… It’s heartbreaking, and the music is most of the reason why.

Technical Wizardry
The sequence where Mary, the children, and Bert jump into one of the latter’s street paintings — all of it animated, with the exception of the leads — is a sterling extended example of combining live-action with cel animation.

Truly Special Effect
As a lad, I could never work out how exactly they’d managed to create Mary’s bottomless bag. I haven’t watched the film for a while and imagine it’s painfully obvious now… I also used to think the little bird that lands on her hand was a miraculous effect and didn’t understand why some people slagged it off, but then I watched that bit on YouTube a couple of years ago and finally saw what everyone else saw. Oh, the sadness of ageing…

Letting the Side Down
The fact that real cockneys don’t sound like Dick Van Dyke. No, I don’t mean it the other way round — the fact that the real-life denizens of East London sound nothing like Bert is the problem here, not Bert’s accent. That is how I think cockneys should sound, and it always will be.

Making of
See: Saving Mr. Banks. Knowing biopics it’s probably not 100% accurate, but it is a good film.

Next time…
Despite several attempts, a sequel never happened. The director and/or writers worked together on multiple films at Disney over the next few years — most famously, an early-’70s blatant attempt to recreate the Poppins magic, Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Mary Poppins herself returned in 2004 in a Cameron Mackintosh-produced West End musical, based on the film but re-incorporating more from the books. Talk of it being adapted into a film seem to have come to nowt. Instead, a (very) belated sequel with Emily Blunt in the title role is due in 2018.

Awards
5 Oscars (Actress (Julie Andrews), Song (Chim Chim Cher-ee), Substantially Original Score, Editing, Visual Effects)
8 Oscar nominations (Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Color Cinematography, Color Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color Costume Design, Sound, Scoring of Music Adaptation or Treatment)
1 BAFTA (Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles (Julie Andrews))

What the Critics Said
“Of course, it is sentimental. And, as Mary Poppins says, “Practically perfect people never permit sentiment to muddle their feelings.” But being not practically perfect, I find it irresistible. Plenty of other adults will feel the same way. And, needless to say, so will the kids.” — Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

Score: 100%

What the Public Say
“It is the single glowing moment of sheer unmixed genius in the long stretch of lightweight successes and dreary failures that made up nearly three whole decades of Disney’s output in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s; a fantasy of the most delicate touch and charming disposition, sweet and precious while being neither sickening nor cloying.” — Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy

Verdict

I feel like Mary Poppins is the kind of movie that it would’ve been easy to overlook in putting together this list of favourites — a childhood favourite, that’s maybe so obvious you kind of forget about it as A Movie — which is one of the reasons I made sure to get it on here. Another is how well it works for both children and adults. As the former, the magical adventures and toe-tapping songs are pure joy, a wonder-filled experience that doesn’t date. As the latter, those elements are still entertaining, but the depth of some of the film’s messages (especially pertaining to the adults) really comes through. It’s a film for all ages, and one for the ages too.

#59 will be…

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

2014 #10
Robert Stevenson | 112 mins | streaming | 1.66:1 | USA & UK / English & German | U / G

Bedknobs and BroomsticksDisney attempted to replicate the success of Mary Poppins with this, another musical adaptation of a fantastical British novel set in Britain with British people in it — including some kids who, based on their accents, must be from the same part of London as Dick Van Dyke’s Bert. A childhood staple for others, it somehow passed me by ’til now.

Set during World War Two, it follows a gaggle of evacuated siblings who are placed with Angela Lansbury’s white witch. Or, rather, white-witch-in-training — via a correspondence course, which has stopped just before the end. So off they pop to find the course’s director, after which hijinks ensue, culminating in a stealth invasion of Britain that can only be thwarted with magic.

Tonally, it’s every inch Mary Poppins 2, helped no doubt by having the same director, screenwriters and songwriters. There’s the bemused-but-game kids, the quirky magic-performing woman, a male adult to round out the gender-coverage; the story is a series of loosely-connected vignettes, many of them featuring songs, Yellow submarine?and one that’s mostly animated with our live-action heroes integrated; plus a climax where the good guys defeat one of the world’s great evils, with Poppins’ bankers here switched for the almost-as-bad Nazis. The magical special effects in that final sequence won an Oscar — and well deserved it was too. They look great, definitely holding up today, and it’s actually hard to be sure how they were all achieved.

As a whole, it’s good fun, though lacks the je ne sais quoi that has made Mary Poppins so beloved across the generations. Not being quite as good as one of the all-time-great children’s movies is hardly something to be sniffed at, however, rendering Bedknobs and Broomsticks a perhaps-underrated success.

4 out of 5

Jane Eyre (1944)

2008 #12
Robert Stevenson | 96 mins | download | PG

Jane EyreI was meant to read Jane Eyre in the first year of my degree, but, given a week to attempt what seemed a positively enormous tome (I partly blame the edition) and a coinciding essay deadline, I didn’t even attempt it. Instead I settled for a friend summarising it for me — I tuned out halfway through the very long retelling due to boredom, though whether that was the fault of the novel or its summariser I still don’t know. I finally got through Jane Eyre the year before last — not the novel, though, but the BBC’s apparently-definitive adaptation (has it been that long already!), following numerous extremely positive reviews at the time. That was good — because or in spite of the novel, I do not know.

And so I come to this version, made in the wake of Rebecca (ironically, a novel clearly inspired in part by Jane Eyre) and also starring Joan Fontaine, alongside Orson Welles as the brooding love interest, Rochester. Well, he’s supposed to be brooding, but as played by Welles he comes across as merely gruff, apparently with a slightly unusual fake tan. Despite a suitably dramatic entrance, Welles’ stilted and occasionally overplayed performance, as well as a lack of chemistry with the equally weak Fontaine, does nothing to liven up what is already a rather uninspired production. The first 20 minutes are, at best, a Dickens rip-off, though without the appropriate comeuppance for the villains; in this version, it’s less Dickens and more obscene Christian morality play, complete with flat performances and (obviously) an over-reliance on God.

This section moves slowly… and then so does the rest of the film. Considering I’m primarily comparing this hour-and-a-half version to a four-hour miniseries, that’s quite a feat. The plot’s twists and revelations are all sadly underplayed, removing much of their dramatic effect; the same can be said of the abrupt ending. Perhaps there was an assumption that the audience would already be familiar with them, but true or not their weakening helps ruin this interpretation. And that’s all without mentioning the atrocious French accent of Adele, Rochester’s young ward, which often sounds as much like a bad Welsh accent as a French one.

All round, then, a very poor effort. A handful of redeeming features (the odd nice bit of cinematography, brief flashes of some decent performances) keep it from quite sinking to the lowest mark.

2 out of 5