Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

Article 3317 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-28-2010
Posting Date: 9-13-2010
Directed by Robert Stevenson
Featuring Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Roddy McDowall
Country: USA
What it is: Musical fantasy

During World War II, an apprentice witch (who has agreed to lodge and care for three children who have been sent away from London to escape the bombing) finds her mail-order course in magic has been discontinued due to the war. She seeks out the instructor only to discover he is a charlatan who got the spells he sent her from an old book. They find the old book, but it is missing the final pages, so she begins on a search for the rest of it…

I went into this movie with the expectation of it being a not-bad attempt by Disney to repeat the success of MARY POPPINS, and that’s pretty much what I got out of it. Oh, the story is very different, but the basic production strategy is the same; once again we have a substitute mom with magical powers taking on the care of some children, and leading them on a series of magical adventures. Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson more or less substitute for Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, they both have English settings, and there is a sequence where we have live action and animation combined. The dance sequences here aren’t near as amazing as the ones in MARY POPPINS, but given that we have much older leads here, that’s not surprising, and the underwater dance has a certain magic to it. None of the songs are as memorable as the best ones from MARY POPPINS, though “The Beautiful Briny Sea” was originally intended for that movie. The movie is good, but not great; the cast is appealing (Angela Lansbury is very likable especially), but there’s something of a hangdog air about the proceedings, and the sense of magic that moves through MARY POPPINS is much more sporadic here. Still, one wonders what it would have been like had things happened differently; apparently, much of the development for this film took place during the development of MARY POPPINS because for a while, rights issues threatened to make the P.L. Travers novel unavailable to Disney. Had things not cleared up, this movie might well have been made in its place.

On a side note, you’ll notice that Roddy McDowall is listed third, and that’s where he is listed in the credits; yet, his role is so abbreviated that you might well forget that he’s in it altogether (incidentally, I saw the 117 minute version rather than the fully restored 139 minute version). I do think that it’s a bit of a shame that the child actors who have much more substantial roles are placed so much lower on the credits.


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