Monday, 25 June 2018

Mary Poppins (1964)

Mary Poppins
After a number of… difficult movies… it now time to get all the way back into comfort land. Mary Poppins is Disney with capital D and so we know that this will be as cushy and mushy as it is at all possible. This is certainly in stark contrast to the route the List has been leading me lately.

“Mary Poppins” is a fairy tale musical for the entire family, which translates to children with the adults sitting in on the view. It follows the Hollywood template formulae for musicals, meaning anything is possible, with songs and a loosely written story to take you from song to song. Because this is fairy tale on top of musical the logic and causality of things has also been dismissed and aiming it at children means that it all takes a silly slant. This could go horribly wrong, but it stops right at the edge and remains sweet rather than stupid and thank you for that.

In the Banks family the father, Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson) is a stiff upper lip British banker while his wife, Mrs. Banks (Glynis Johns) is busy campaigning for women’s right to vote. That leaves their two children, Jane and Michael (Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber) in the hands of a sting of nannies, whom they torment into quitting. Then the wonderful Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) arrives and takes charge of the children.

Mary Poppins is a magic nanny. She can fly and do all sort of magic things and around her everything is fun and nice. She takes the children on adventures, including a trip into a painting together with her friend Bert (Dick van Dyke), and soon the children are in love with her.

The point is of course to make their parents realize they have two lovely children whom they should take care of and spend time with themselves and in the usual convoluted way this is exactly what happens.

As I watched the movie I was thinking that “Mary Poppins” is adults idea of what children should watch rather than what children actually want to watch. That this would certainly be the case today, though maybe children were different in 1964. All that singing and dancing and stories of nannies, is this really what children want to see?

However, as I was watching the last half hour of the movie I was joined by my 8-year-old son, who was very interested in the movie (though it could be a trick to avoid going to bed) and today coming back from school he requested to watch the movie from beginning and he loved it. So, I was wrong, this actually does hit a note with children and the movie serves its purpose.

I think it is merely me who is too far outside the target group (musical AND children’s movie) to fully buy into the movie, but I must admit that it is charming and sweet and of good production value. Technology has made the merging of live action and animation trivial, but for 1964 it works remarkably well, so points for that.

There are a few interesting appearances in the movie: Elsa Lancaster, Bride of Frankenstein, as a nanny and Jane Darwell of Grapes of Wrath in her last role as the Bird Woman.

Normally I am not sure I would recommend this type of movie, but it felt like the right movie at the right time and it does the trick for children, so it ends up with a recommendation from me.



  1. I think Mary Poppins is a perfect example of what it is! So it works when it shouldn't. Most of this is courtesy of Julie Andrews. Glad your eight-year-old got to see it too.

    1. He absolutely loved it and that at a time when I had actually considered the movie to have become too dated to work for children. I was surprised, pleasantly surprised.

  2. There is a certain adult sensibility to the film but it's careful to inject flights of fancy at regular intervals-magically sliding on bannisters, self cleaning rooms, dancing chimney sweeps etc., to keep kids engaged.

    Plus the cast completely buys into the story never winking at the audience or acting as if what's happening isn't as it should be.

    I think the Oscar for Julie Andrews was a bit much, though there was a lot of behind the scenes politics in that happening with her being passed over for My Fair Lady, but she's charming and her voice is perfectly suited to the songs. I also love Glynis Johns' endearingly obtuse suffragette Mrs. Banks.

  3. I think the fact that the actors buy in to the story help a great deal. There are many moments where the story is almost colapsing, but is saved by the straight faces. It is a good point.
    I am trying to think who I would give the Best Actress Oscar to in this year and I only come up with Japanese or French Actresses, so maybe it was okay to give it to Julie Andrews.

    1. Don't get me wrong I love Julie Andrews and I'm glad she has an Oscar though I'd rather have seen her get it for The Americanization of Emily or The Sound of Music if she was going to be rewarded. Mary Poppins doesn't require much heavy lifting in the acting department.

      My choice for this year would be Anne Bancroft who is absolutely extraordinary in The Pumpkin Eater though I wouldn't have been mad to see Catherine Deneuve handed the prize for the fantastic The Umbrellas of Cherbourgh.

      Japanese cinema is a huge hole in my viewing so I'm unfamiliar with anyone who might qualify but if I had my choice my ballot would have run this way:

      Anne Bancroft-The Pumpkin Eater-Winner
      Catherine Deneuve-The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
      Deborah Kerr-The Chalk Garden
      Geraldine Page-Dear Heart
      Kim Stanley-Seance on a Wet Afternoon

    2. Unfortunately none of these movies except one are on the List and not even among my extra movies so I cannot say if they deserve the nomination. Deneuve does though. She was good.
      Japanese movies of this era are awesome. It is a gap i can only recommend you fill. The List has two awesome suggestions for 1964