Forgotten Disney: Candleshoe

Today’s entry in the Forgotten Disney series takes us to a time when the reigning Disney teen star wasn’t the likes of Selena Gomez or Miley Cyrus…but Jodie Foster. The film is 1977’s “Candleshoe.” Our guest reviewer is Richard Winters.

Richard calls himself a forty-something movie maven. He particularly enjoys lost and obscure films.  He is also an avid slacker and one of his favorite films of all-time is “Stranger Than Paradise,” which is the creed for all aimless, self-respecting slackers everywhere.  “I take my slacking seriously and hope one day to turn it into a full-time profession.”  Until that time, he works in the field of insurance and he says it is as boring as you think it is. In his spare time he writes for his movie blog called Scopophilia: Movies of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s  Every week he reviews three movies, one from each decade.  He’s also working on a screenplay. “It may not sell, but at least I can say I gave it a shot.”

 Candleshoe

My Rating: 8 out of 10

            Jodie Foster stars as Casey a teen living on the tough streets of New York and reselling stolen items for a living. Her abilities come to the attention of small-time crook Harry Bundage (Leo McKern) who gets her to pretend that she is the long lost granddaughter of a rich matriarch by the name of Lady St. Edmund (Helen Hayes).  Bundage has become aware through a former servant that worked there that there is a trove of treasure hidden somewhere on the premises and it is up to Casey to follow the clues and find it.

I saw this movie when it was released in 1977 and the only thing I could remember from it was the little boy who would slide across the polished floors of the mansion. It’s a surprisingly elaborate plot for a children’s movie, but one that is engrossing and interesting. The characters are believable and diverse and it is fun seeing them evolve and learn to get along. Parents should find this as enjoyable as the kids. I was impressed with the way the filmmakers never talk down to their young audience and trust that they will be sophisticated enough to pick up on the little nuances and subtitles, which the film does have.  I found myself longing for this type of family entertainment again. It seems like the family films of today either have kids spewing out a lot of crude nasty things, or they are so sugary sweet and benign that they make you want to throw up, but this film nicely straddles the middle and it really works.

Jodie is great in the lead and the movie wouldn’t have worked as well with another actress in the role. The part nicely takes advantage of Foster’s confident, smart, streetwise persona and almost had me believing that the part was written specifically for her. Later I read how the original director for the film, David Swift, dropped out of the project because he felt Foster was ‘all wrong’ for the role even though I felt she was perfect and other viewers should feel the same.

Helen Hayes is okay in her role, however the character isn’t all that interesting, nor has that much to do. It seems like once she won the Academy Award for “Airport” in 1970, which helped revive her career, these were the typical ‘sweet old lady’ roles she was perpetually offered afterwards. However, when it comes to the caricature of an old lady Hayes is absolutely perfect almost to the point that it is hard to imagine her ever being young.

David Niven, who plays the butler named Priory, is engaging, but was starting to look frail and elderly. He gets a chance to play several different roles including that of the gardener and chauffeur. The Irish accent that he uses for the gardener part sounded very authentic and I was impressed. His best moment comes at the end when he takes on the McKern character in an imaginative and drawn out duel segment and watching his scared and nervous facial expressions during this is amusing.

I liked the other children who play the orphans that Lady St. Edmond adopts. They are cute in a nice genuine way without it being forced especially the young blonde haired boy named Bobby who speaks in a thick cockney accent. Veronica Quilligan plays Cluny one of the older children who is initially an adversary to Casey. She showed the most disciplined and realistic facial reactions to the action around her while the other kids had lost or vapid looks on their faces. Although she appeared to be about 13 or 14, the same age of the character that she played, I was shocked to find that she was actually 21 when the movie was made.

I was surprised that there wasn’t a car chase scene as every Disney movie from the 70’s seemed to have one. The action for what it is worth is sparse, but enjoyable without ever getting too cartoonish. The ending where the kids take on the band of adult crooks is good and the scene where their car is stopped on the tracks and the train comes just inches from Priory, who is shielding the vehicle, before stopping is a near classic.

I think adults who were kids during this era can watch this film again and still find it entertaining. The kids of today should find enjoyable as well although the ideal age would be between 8 and 14 as I think it is too slow-paced for anyone younger.  The film also has a good life lesson in regards to teamwork and how working together and taking advantage of each other’s special talents and abilities can help achieve a common goal.

Forgotten Disney: The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

Our Forgotten Disney series of guest posts continues today with a journey into the old west in 1967’s “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin.”  Our guide today is Doug Tilley.

Doug Tilley sold his soul at the crossroads so he could write about films and film-making – usually of the ultra low-budget variety – for DailyGrindhouse.com.  He was born in a barrel of butcher knives, he’s been shot in the a%@ with two Colt 45s. He’s been slapped by a bear and bit by an eel, and chews up railroad iron and craps out steel. When not irritating people on Twitter (@Doug_Tilley), he can be found co-hosting the No-Budget Nightmares Podcast(http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/no-budget-nightmares/id503454135)

The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

The late 60s and early 70s were an unusual time for Disney’s live-action division. While still ranking out the polished, family friendly productions tailor-made for their Sunday night Disneyland/Wonderful World of Disney slot, the sheer number of films being produced led to a few oddities slipping through the gates. What would a modern audience make of “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” which featured both witchcraft AND Nazis? It certainly freaked me out a bit as a kid, when I would lap up the various odd and unexpected Disney films like “Condorman,” “The Devil and Max Devlin” and – later – “Mr. Boogedy,” with great enthusiasm.

But my favorite live-action Disney film as a child really had no controversial elements at all. In fact, it’s so light and predictable and practically unremarkable in every way that it’s hard to describe why I took a shine to it. But the fact is that I kept a copy of 1967’s “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin” on VHS for much longer than I had any right to – and I would regularly pop it in to re-watch the rather meager tale of a British butler becoming a wild west folk hero simply for the joy and comfort it would bring me. I had no love for wild west tales at the time, but the stiff-upper-lip loyalty of a British butler did hold some appeal to me reaching back to Cadbury in the old Richie Rich comics. There was just something about the series of coincidences, the setting and the performances that hit me right in my sweet spot; and that affection still remained during a recent re-watch.

Really, the great appeal of Bullwhip Griffin for me comes from a one-two punch of great performances, which imbue life into what could have been rather bland characterizations. First is the late, great Roddy McDowell as Bullwhip, an impossibly competent and reserved gentleman who wears a bowler hat and seems prepared for every situation – except those that involve romance. Even better is Griffin’s foil “Judge” Higgins played by the amazing Karl Malden, who walks away with the film as a slimy con-man who is continually getting himself – and Griffin – into unfortunate scrapes. The rest of the main cast is less inspiring, with the requisite precocious kid (Bryan Russell) and love interest (a pre-Bob Newhart Show Suzanne Pleshette) doing little of note, but there are plenty of recognizable faces in the supporting cast – including brief appearances from Dub Taylor and Doodles Weaver.

The plot is adapted from the 1965 children’s novel By the Great Horn Spoon! (which I’ve never read) and takes place in late 19th century Boston, where the uptight butler Griffin discovers that his late employer has left his family – including Jack (Russell) and his older sister Arabella (Pleshette) almost penniless. Obsessed with the gold rush, young Jack runs off to catch a boat to California with Griffin in close pursuit – but the ship leaves before the two can get off. Cooking for the captain to make their way, the pair run into Shakespearean actor Quentin Bartlett, (Richard Haydn in a role originally meant for Tony Hancock) who reveals that he has a treasure map within his possession. After the map is the nefarious shyster Judge Higgins (Karl Malden), who continually finds himself foiled by Griffin – particularly after they reach California, where an accidental confrontation turns the newly christened “Bullwhip” Griffin into a legend.

It’s all great, colorful fun thanks to the reliable direction by James Neilson, who a few years earlier had tackled the great Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow (with Patrick McGoohan!). It has that Disney gloss to everything, but despite a few musical numbers (which don’t involve characters just bursting into song), it’s thankfully devoid of a lot of the more tiresome schmaltz that plague a lot of the family-friendly films of the time. Of course you’ll get your happy ending with evil (or, at least, nefariousness) being appropriately punished, but it’s pleasantly meandering and never takes itself very seriously. While hardly a classic, it’s a fine, fun piece of cinema that deserves rediscovery for fans of Disney and – especially – fans of Roddy McDowell or Malden.

Forgotten Disney: Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow

Our next entry in the Forgotten Disney series covers a fan favorite among many Disney geeks… 1964’s “Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow.”  Our guest reviewer is one of the contributors to the awesome Retroist site, Vic Sage.

Vic (depicted above by artist Christopher Tupa) used to have a personal blog called ‘In My Youth, Victory Was A Power Pellet’.  He started it just to not clutter his friends inboxes with ramblings about classic gaming and films…and monkeys.  Then, to his surprise, he found there were actually like-minded individuals who were kind enough to visit the site.  Then one day he was asked by the Retroist himself to come write for one of the most awesome sites on the internet. His favorite film is “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.”

Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow

The moon is full as a figure in a billowing black cloak and a mask to hide his true identity willingly rides into danger to save the people of his city. His appearance crafted to the last-minute detail to strike terror into the hearts of his foes and if that is not enough he can count on the few weapons he carries on his belt or his mockingly high-pitched laugh. A laugh that freezes the blood of the guilty and cruel hearted.

Is this some strange version of Batman? No. Possibly the famous Pulp character from the Street and Smith Publications, the Shadow? No again. Though Walt Disney’s ‘Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh’ certainly shares elements from both of those characters. Or in truth we should say that those characters share some traits of Russell Thorndike’s famous literary creation back in 1915.

Filmed as a three-part television color miniseries by the Walt Disney Studios in 1963, the first audiences to see the legendary Patrick McGoohan (Danger Man, The Prisoner) as both Dr. Syn and his alter-ego the Scarecrow were UK audiences. The Three-parter was edited, trimming away almost an hour of footage from the television version, and was packaged with the theatrical run of “The Sword in the Stone.” It wasn’t until 1964 that American audiences got their chance to become enraptured by the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and those that missed it were able to become acquainted with the film version that was once again edited and released in 1970 with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

I’m focusing on the theatrical version of the film for the sake of this review and while obviously the three-parter expands the story, the editors for the theatrical run really did a fantastic job of pruning away the excess without hurting the narrative.

As the movie begins we are introduced to the Scarecrow through a montage sequence which is married with the fantastic and memorable theme song crafted by the legendary folkist Terry Gilkyson. Interestingly enough in the theatrical version the maniacal laugh of the Scarecrow is removed from the song.

Here is a brief excerpt from it:

“Scarecrow!

Scarecrow!

The Soldiers of the King feared his name

Scarecrow…

On the Southern Coast of England

There’s a legend people tell

Of Days long ago

When the great Scarecrow

Would ride from the jaws of Hell

And laugh (Ahahahahaha!)

With a fiendish yell!”

A little darker perhaps than your typical Disney fare, no? Through the full theme song we also get the gist of the character of the Scarecrow,  the lyrics explain that he helps those who are being oppressed by the soldiers of the King of England by making sure they have gold to pay their taxes and confounding the Crown and its agents in general. What we take away the most from the lyrics and images is that the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh is a frightening character to say the least.

As the film begins proper it is night and we see the Scarecrow arrive on horseback with two other masked compatriots to oversee a smuggling operation in process on a beach. We find that these smugglers are mostly made up of the Scarecrow’s men and they not only respect but fear their leader. Well most of them do, as we are introduced to one of his followers who has a dissident view, a man we will later learn in the film is named Joseph Ransley (Patrick Wymark).

The Scarecrow has two right-hand men with him most of the film,  these masked men are known as The Curlew and Hellspite. Considering this was filmed for 60s television I have to say that the masks they wear are pretty frightening indeed, especially the Curlew which is a feathered mask…that looks more like an Owl than the actual bird he is named after.

A lookout spots activity from the nearby English garrison and warns the Scarecrow they are about to have company, to buy the other smugglers time to remove their wares off the beach the Scarecrow, Curlew, and Hellspite lead the soldiers of King George on a merry chase.

After finding refuge in a barn and giving the soldiers the slip, we are introduced to the true identity of the Scarecrow who we already know is, of course, Dr. Syn, the gentle Vicar of Dymchurch. Hellspite is in truth, Sexton Mipps and The Curlew is revealed to be young John Banks, the youngest son, we will soon learn, of the gentlemanly Squire Thomas Banks (Michael Hordern).

The next scene introduces a Lord riding in his carriage as well as the man who will become the Scarecrow’s main antagonist, General Pugh (Geoffrey Keen) as they ride to Squire Banks’ manor. In the carriage opposite of the two we see two more occupants, a man who appears to be down on his luck sleeping, he has been given a ride by the Lord, and Pugh doesn’t hesitate to describe as riff raff. The other man is also an Officer in his King’s Army, Lt. Philip Brackenbury (Eric Flynn). Through their conversation we learn that Pugh is carrying orders in his satchel on how they are to bring about the end of the smuggling ring that is operating in the marshes around Dymchurch. The carriage is then halted by a band of the King’s soldiers who are looking for an escaped prisoner, an American charged with treason for speaking out against the King who was going to be hanged in the morning before he managed to escape. Obviously everyone in the carriage starts to look at the sleeping man who darts forward, snatching the orders from Pugh and makes his escape into the marshes, though not before getting wounded in the attempt.

Now, while in the three-part miniseries we learn how he makes his way weak and weary to Dr. Syn’s home, in the theatrical version he appears at the Vicars window with a quick explanation that ‘Mother Hathaway’ sent him…which is enough to move the story onward and really doesn’t distract from the narrative. We learn that this American is named, Simon Bates (Tony Britton), who requests sanctuary from Dr. Syn. The Vicar, however, says he cannot grant this request but will send him with Sexton Mipps where he will be hid until the coast is clear. Bates gives him the stolen orders in the hopes that Dr. Syn can somehow get them into the hands of the Scarecrow. As Mipps and Bates leave, Syn wastes no time in reading the orders contained in the stolen satchel, it is revealed:

“General Pugh. Dispatch of troops, subjugate the whole marsh area. Whatever means necessary.”

In the next scene we find General Pugh giving a talking down to Squire Thomas Banks in regards to his abilities as Justice of the Peace since the smugglers haven’t been caught and he has been called in to take care of the situation. In attendance are Dr. Syn and Lt. Brackenbury and we are introduced to the Squire’s daughter, Katharine Banks (Jill Curzon), who along with her younger brother John, as well as the Squire, are less than happy about the situation that Pugh is describing. He plans on using press gangs to induct the men of Romney Marsh into the Royal Navy as well as stooping to bullying the womenfolk of the marshlands until someone turns over the Scarecrow. This talk of rough treatment and especially the press gangs sends the Squire into something of a rage and he storms out of the room. General Pugh is actually quite shocked and doesn’t understand what he might have said to elicit such a reaction, it is here we learn that Katharine and John’s older brother was press ganged four years earlier and has not been heard from since. Pugh apologizes but explains he is merely following orders and in this scene we see that Lt. Brackenbury is not remotely cut from the same cloth as his commanding officer and that Katharine has caught his eye. General Pugh informs them all that the men of the marsh have brought this rough treatment on themselves and they will receive it.

In the very next scene we see the General is true to his word, not only employing the Press Gangs but burning down the cottages of the people of the marsh as well!

Squire Banks is less than thrilled by this news and confronts the General, to which Pugh offers a better way to catch the Scarecrow. The Squire is to look over his records and see who was behind in their taxes and then had suddenly paid them in full. The Squire knows of such a man and agrees to bring him to the General if he will swear to stop the strong-arm tactics. This is where that dissident voice of Joseph Ransley comes to cause trouble for his fellow smugglers and the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh.

I’ll stop with the spoilers here because what occurs is too good to ruin, I hope I’ve given just enough to make you hungry to seek out the film or better yet the three-part miniseries. What I have described is barely the first half of the movie, so prepare yourself for something special. The acting in this production really is top-notch, and with McGoohan as the main star why would it not be? The type of  storytelling adventure evident in Dr. Syn is sadly largely forgotten nowadays in our modern films but do yourself a favor and seek it out.

Forgotten Disney: White Wilderness

Our next guest post for the Forgotten Disney series takes us into the realm of Disney’s True-Life Adventures…and a notorious one at that, 1958’s “White Wilderness.”  Our reviewer for today is Andy Staats.

Andy hails from the Chicagoland area and runs the site Andy Watches Movies. He started the site in March of 2012 as a way to keep track of all the movies he watches throughout the year with the goal to tackle 300 in 2012.  Andy’s father passed away in January of this year so his writing is meant to be the type of conversation he and his dad would have about films.  His favorite films include “Goodfellas,” “The Shining,” and “The Big Lebowski” (he and his wife even named their poodle Lebowski AKA The Dude).  Aside from film, his hobbies include video games, bicycling, and music.

 

White Wilderness

White Wilderness, part of Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventures series, is a wildlife documentary about the Arctic.

Wanting to branch out from animation, Walt Disney decided to try his hand in documentaries with True-Life Adventures in 1948 with the short Seal Island. In 1958, White Wilderness was released. The documentary showcases many typical animals of the region including walruses, polar bears, wolves, reindeer, musk ox, and wolverines. Oh, and who could forget lemmings? The film is heavily narrated by Winston Hibler in a style very reminiscent of the 50s and also familiar to Disney. Stories are forced with animal families playing but there are some scenes showcasing nature’s crueler side. The narration starts near the North Pole and slowly winds southward into Canada, all the while tracking the interesting lives of the animals of the region.

White Wilderness has gained some notoriety for itself for depicting lemming mass suicide. Many people still believe that lemmings do, in fact, commit suicide by jumping off cliffs. This is entirely untrue. The film crew manipulated the entire section for the sake of the film and perpetuated the legend of the suicidal lemming. This segment alone, however, makes White Wilderness worth watching.


Aware of this underhanded documentarian tactic, I had my eyes peeled for other instances of photographers coercing nature to their advantage and I did come across a few minor things that felt forced. Of particular curiosity is this shot of an ermine with its foot pushing off of what appears to be glass, almost like it’s in a zoo enclosure.


For its part, White Wilderness is actually a fairly entertaining documentary, especially considering it is over 50 years old. The camera techniques used were revolutionary and the style and manner of the film holds up incredibly well, even with competition from TV series like Planet Earth. Even the sometimes corny narration doesn’t feel overly dated but the target audience is clearly a younger age group.

An Academy Award winner for best documentary, White Wilderness is a film I would recommend to audiences of all ages. The only caveat would be that children should not use the film as source material for a school project due to the dubious nature of the lemming segment. Disney has released its True-Life Adventures series on DVD and for entertainment purposes, the documentaries still shine after all these years.