BEDKNOBS & BROOMSTICKS (1971)
Starring Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Roddy McDowall, Sam Jaffe, John Ericson, Bruce Forsyth, Cindy O’Callaghan, Roy Snart, Ian Weighill, Tessie O’Shea, Arthur E. Gould-Porter, Ben Wrigley and Reginald Owen.
Screenplay by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi.
Directed by Robert Stevenson.
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 134 minutes. Rated G.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks was an early 70s attempt of the Disney company to replicate the success of Mary Poppins seven years earlier.
Both films had a no-nonsense British woman (Julie Andrews in Poppins, Angela Lansbury here) with magical powers who has to care for three small children. Both women could fly using ordinary household items (for Poppins it was an umbrella, here it was a broom.) Both films had character actor David Tomlinson as the male lead, a guarded and somewhat selfish man whose heart was melted by the children. Both films featured brief animated interludes in the middle. Both featured songs by the same Disney composing team, Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman.
While Bedknobs and Broomsticks was not as good as Mary Poppins, there is much that is magical about the film. In fact, as far as pure story, Bedknobs and Broomsticks does have more of a narrative thrust than Poppins, which had lots of cool scenes strung together without much in the way of a narrative spine.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks was based on a children’s book written by Mary Norton, who also wrote the beloved kids book The Borrowers.
It takes place in a small village on the coast of England during World War II. Lansbury plays Miss Eglantine Price, a smart spinster and apprentice witch who lives alone in a huge farmhouse. After the Nazi attacks on London, small children are sent to her town for safety’s sake. All the townspeople have to take children, and Miss Price is assigned three orphaned siblings.
Miss Price has no interest in being a caregiver – she has more important things on her mind, like learning witchcraft to use to protect her area from Nazi attack. The kids figure out she is a witch and blackmail her to keep them, and soon she is on a wild adventure with the three children and a con man (Tomlinson) that ran a fake witches college.
The title refers to Miss Price’s magical spells – she enchanted the knob of a bed to make it a magical transport and the broomstick is self-explanatory to anyone who knows witch lore.
However, Miss Price is a good witch. There is nothing dark or overly scary here. Instead there are several wonderfully surreal moments – like an animated soccer match and a battle between a Nazi battalion and a group of enchanted suits of armor.
Nearly forty years on, some of the special effects look a little shopworn, though at the time the film was made they were completely state of the art. It may also be a little long for modern children – this extended DVD version clocks in at over two hours. Nonetheless, young kids should love it. Bedknobs and Broomsticks is an imperfect-but-likable return to the days when children’s films valued imagination over fighting and fart jokes.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 8, 2009.