Mary Poppins (1964)

Mary Poppins (1964)

When I watched this film for the umpteenth time with my daughters during a recent family movie night I was struck by several things. For instance combined with the fact that I had just watched The World of Henry Orient (1964) it inspired me to write an essay about Dads. Additionally it made me want to write an extended review of this classic.

It’s an excellent film which served as the screen debut for Julie Andrews and won this infinitely talented lady a Best Actress Academy Award for this role. Ironically she only agreed to play the role if she wasn’t selected to play Eliza Doolittle which had made her a star on Broadway in the film My Fair Lady (1964). Of course most moviegoers should know that Audrey Hepburn got that role playing it brilliantly (though her singing voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon) and was subsequently snubbed by the Academy even though that film won Best Picture.

Though I’ve not read any of the “Poppins” books by P. L. Travers I can’t imagine anyone else doing the great job that Ms. Andrews did with the title role. She is simply a joy to watch – “practically perfect in every way”! In fact all of the characters in this film are terrific as well from:

  • Reginald Owen as the eccentric Navy Admiral Boom who lives down the street on Cherry Tree Lane firing his cannon regularly to mark the time (even Greenwich takes it’s time from him)
  • Arthur Treacher in his last on-screen role as Constable Jones
  • the Bank’s household staff including Elsa Lanchester the nanny that quits at the beginning “Cook” (Reta Shaw) and especially Hermione Baddeley as Ellen
  • Mrs. Banks (Glynis Jones) the weak but sensitive mother who’s preoccupied with women’s right to vote as a suffragette
  • the kids themselves Jane (Karen Dotrice) & Michael (Matthew Garber) are the model of incorrigible doe-eyed innocence … love their singing of “The Perfect Nanny” song to their father; that same year Dotrice & Garber also starred in Disney’s The Three Lives of Thomasina (1964) about a cat
  • Ed Wynn’s laughing Uncle Albert (who’s uncle is he anyway?)
  • the Bird Lady (Jane Darwell The Grapes of Wrath (1940) in her last film) to
  • the employees at Mr. Banks’ bank

But other than Ms. Andrews the person that ties it all together is Dick Van Dyke quite literally a “jack of all trades” the talented actor plays two characters. The multiple jobs his character Bert takes on includes a one man band a chalk artist a chimney sweep and a kite salesman – all of which he plays believably and with such an endearing smile too. His elderly Mr. Dawes Sr. is comically credible as well. I particularly like the thread late in the film in which Bert explains their Father’s responsibilities to the children which is then tied to his “manipulating” Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson) into realizing his neglect of them. In fact Tomlinson does a terrific job in this his best role (one year after he was in the Oscar winning Best Picture Tom Jones (1963) and he gets to say some hilariously un-PC lines like “slipshod female thinking” (which is balanced by the line that Mrs. Banks sings “though we adore men individually we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid”). The “manipulation” scenes of Banks by Mary are also a kick.

Both Andrews and Van Dyke are singing talents and the film is loaded with an excellent (Oscar winning) score that includes: “A Spoonful of Sugar” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (#36 on AFI’s 100 Top Movie Songs of All Time list) “Chim-Chim-Cheree” (the Oscar winner) and “Step in Time” – the choreography in this segment is magical – among others. In addition to (and out of) these melodies the film gives us many memorable lines:

  • “A British bank is run with precision a British home requires nothing less; tradition discipline and rules must be the tools”
  • “For every job that must be done there is an element of fun. Find the fun and SNAP the job’s a game”
  • “a pie crust promise … easily made and easily broken”
  • “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”
  • “I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith … what was the name of his other leg?”
  • “Though her words are simple and few listen listen she’s calling to you” and
  • Let’s go fly a kite

The only negative about the film is its length. It’s weakest part IMO is the mixed live action & animation segment when Mary & the children enter Bert’s chalk paintings. Though very imaginative (and perhaps the chief reason the film won the Best Effects Oscar) it drags a bit during the uninspired song “Jolly Holiday”. However the sequence does end strongly with the “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” number. I also think the part with Uncle Albert on the ceiling (as well as the scene at the bank with its officers & the children?) is somewhat overlong too. The film itself runs over 2 hours and 20 minutes and I can remember it “feeling” so even as a child.

Overall all though it is an outstanding film which was recognized in addition to Ms. Andrews’ Oscar with Academy Awards for Best Effects Editing Song (Chim-Chim-Cheree) & Best Music Score – Substantially Original and also received nominations for Best Picture Best Director (Robert Stevenson his only) Screenplay Sound Best Music Scoring of Music (Adaptation or Treatment) Color Cinematography Art Direction & Costume Design. It is also Walt Disney’s most successful single film for this type of recognition. #6 on AFI’s 25 Greatest Movie Musicals list. Added to the National Film Registry in 2013.

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