Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.
USA, 1967. Walt Disney Productions. Screenplay by AJ Carothers, based on the play by Kyle Crichton and the book by Cordelia Drexel Biddle and Kyle Crichton. Cinematography by Edward Colman. Produced by Walt Disney. Music by Jack Elliott, Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman. Production Design by Carroll Clark, John B. Mansbridge. Costume Design by Bill Thomas. Film Editing by Cotton Warburton. Academy Awards 1967. Golden Globe Awards 1967.
Disney attempts to recapture the warmth and eccentricity of Mary Poppins with dismal results in this, the last live-action film supervised by Walt himself. Fred MacMurray is wonderful as a fictionalized version of real-life old money millionaire Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, amateur boxing enthusiast and collector of pet alligators, who wants to get America involved in the Great War and trains young men at home in his “Boxing and Bible School”. His daughter, played by a lovely and bright Lesley Ann Warren in her film debut, has grown up with a mean right hook of her own but now, on the verge of womanhood, longs to leave the nest. Biddle agrees to let her go to boarding school and she makes a great success of it, even coming home engaged to a handsome tobacco heir (John Davidson) whose snobby mother (Geraldine Page) does not approve of the match. All of this is relayed through the point of view of their new butler, played by Tommy Steele in an awkward performance that reaches unwatchable moments in numbers like “I’ll Always Be Irish”. It feels like it’s set in the same house as Poppins with the same level of warmhearted madness, it even has Hermione Baddeley working in the kitchen again, but collecting pet alligators does not match the wonders of a nanny’s magical powers. The script, inspired by the real life Cordelia Biddle’s book My Philadelphia Father and the play which she co-wrote based on that book, is an undeniable mess, MacMurray is barely announced as the protagonist before the film gets bogged down in an obsession with Warren’s polite love affair. Then to really make a muddle, Disney throws in a series of songs added for the film by the Sherman brothers (also of Poppins fame) and none of them ever actually fit in. If you want to see the rare pleasure of the gorgeous Greer Garson (in her final film role) holding a baby alligator, or Page singing a musical number (and doing a fine job of it), or if you just want to admire Bill Thomas’s 3000+ Oscar-nominated outfits, go ahead and indulge in this odd failure, but don’t expect much.