Broomsticks, Bed Knobs, and Such
What's it about?
In honor of Angela Lansbury (who recently passed away), tonight's nostalgic pic is "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" (Disney, 1971).
|All of the young men are at war, you see.|
During the London Blitz of World War II, Rawlins siblings Carrie, Charlie, and Paul (Cindy O'Callaghan, Ian Weighill, and Roy Snart, respectively) are sent to stay in the British countryside in the north of England.
|Corr! We's Bri'ish, we is!|
Assigned to stay with a Miss Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) in her spacious home, the trio are disheartened to learn that she has strict rules about hygiene, a weird diet of strange plants, and a ratty old cat she calls "Cosmic Creepers."
|They try to make him look creepy, but he's still cute!|
Disaffected and preparing to run away back to London that night, they discover that Miss Price is more than she appears, flying on a broom in the moonlight!
|Not very lady-like.|
When Charlie decides that they can leverage their newfound knowledge into better accommodations, it turns out that the eccentric Miss Price is taking a correspondence course in witchcraft, which she demonstrates by turning Charlie into a white rabbit, temporarily.
She explains that she's trying to use her practiced magical skills to aid the allies in their fight against the Germans, but she's waiting on one last spell lesson from The Professor Emelius Browne School of Witchcraft, only to get a letter that the school has closed due to the Blitz. Deciding it would be better to work with the children, Miss Price enchants a bed knob for the diminutive Paul to use to turn her big brass bed into a transport vehicle.
|The "knob" in the title.|
|Three turns transforms the bed into a conveyance.|
Thus begins their quest to find the last spell. Along the way they meet and team up with the shifty Professor Browne (Disney stalwart David Tomlinson),
|Far more likable than Mr. Banks, IMHO.|
travel to an island populated by animals,
and eventually repel the Germans from their sleepy small town using the ultimate magic spell!
This film supposedly shared a lot of production overlap with the much more well-known "Mary Poppins" (1964), and it's easy to see that the two are somewhat joined at the hip, with both films featuring live action mixed with animation, both with songs by Richard and Robert Sherman, and both starring David Tomlinson in prominent patriarchal roles.
|Rumor has it that the underwater scene was reworked from "Mary Poppins."|
This is also Angela Lansbury's first movie with Disney, a relationship that would last decades afterward (this film also was the last "Walt Disney" movie to be awarded an Oscar until "The Little Mermaid" came out eighteen years later).
I'm not a huge fan of musicals, but I find this one tolerable. For one thing, the first song (outside of the old soldiers singing at the beginning while marching) doesn't even show up until 27 minutes into the film (rather unexpectedly at that point, and you wouldn't even realize that it was a musical until that point). There's only a few songs after that, and they're entirely benign, from the lamentable sadness of "Portobello Road" to the goofy ballroom dancing of "The Beautiful Briny Sea."
The movie does have a habit of wasting some of its acting talent, though. Veteran actors like Sam Jaffe and Bruce Forsyth are only on screen for a few minutes,
|They do make pretty scary villains, though.|
and even one of the cast headliners (Roddy McDowall) is barely in the film at all.
|One of two short scenes with Roddy Mcdowall.|
Still, the children are decent enough actors, and Lansbury and Tomlinson have a great chemistry throughout.
For me, if I have to choose between this movie and "Mary Poppins," I'll pick this one every time. I find the story a little bit more grounded, and the fantasy more connected to the rest of the plot. Mary Poppins is basically just a series of vignettes where Burt introduces some situation, Mary drags the kids off to deal with it, and then the sequence ends. In this film, each step of their adventure leads into the next, and often Miss Price is just as much a protagonist as any of the children. The sequence on the Isle of Naboombu is a fantastic piece of anthropomorphic animation, well worth a watch by any aficionados of funny animals.
|This is by far the funniest part of the film.|
|This is that sketchy 70s style Disney that we know and love.|
|It's made even better by the variety of creatures playing the game.|
|Let's face it: This movie probably created a few transformation fetishists as well...|
Capping the whole thing is the German U-boat raid at the end, where Miss Price uses her ultimate spell to animate the armor, clothes and weapons of centuries past in a spooky battle for Britain.
|U-boat, we-boat, they-boat...|
I don't mind telling you that this last scene gave me no end of nightmares as a child, and even seeing it today as an adult with a better understanding of what's going on it still seems ghostly and eerie, and I'm here for it!
|This sequence is still a bit eerie today.|
|The special effects are entirely passable and creative.|
|This one still haunts my nightmares.|
Where can I find it?
"Bedknobs and Broomsticks" is currently streaming on Disney+.