Bil’s rating (out of 5): B. USA/Soviet Union, 1976. Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Lenfilm Studio, Edward Lewis Productions, Sovinfilm, Tower International. Screenplay by Hugh Whitemore, Alfred Hayes, Aleksei Kapler, based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck. Cinematography by Jonas Gricius, Freddie Young. Produced by Paul Maslansky, Harry N. Blum, Robert H. Greenberg. Music by Irwin Kostal. Production Design by Brian Wildsmith. Costume Design by Marina Azizyan. Film Editing by Stanford C. Allen, Tatyana Shapiro.
The first Soviet-American co-production, meant to outwit the political battles of the Cold War by showing the unifying nature of art; the effort was something of a failure since reports were that there was no peace on the film’s set and, more telling, it did not lead to more projects of a similar nature. Remaking the Shirley Temple vehicle of 1940, which was in itself an attempt to capitalize on the success of The Wizard Of Oz, this version has Todd Lookinland and a very young Patsy Kensit as children to an exasperated Russian peasant couple (the wife played by Elizabeth Taylor) who long for something beyond their miserable life. The fairy of Light (also Taylor) shows up and tells them to seek the Blue Bird of happiness, sending them on a voyage accompanied by humanized personifications of fire, milk, bread, their dog and their cat (played by Cicely Tyson). On their journey they meet Night (a grossly miscast Jane Fonda) and Luxury (a lovely Ava Gardner) and stop from time to time to witness an inexplicably bad musical number. The whole thing is laughably confused, it’s impossible to make connections between turns of the plot, but the giant sets are gorgeous and, while the inclusion of expert Russian ballet dancers defies all logic, it’s lovely to watch their skills on film. Taylor is, as usual, perfectly gorgeous and always seems to know what she’s doing, the woman really did have an innate skill for appearing on camera, but the overall project is a mess whose turbulent production (apparently translators were overwhelmed and Cukor had a poor relationship with his cast) results in a horrid misfire.