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DVD SAVANT

Savant Review:

THE PARENT TRAP


The Parent Trap
Buena Vista Home Video
1961 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic 16:9 / 129 min. / Vault Disney Collection
Starring Hayley Mills, Maureen O'Hara, Brian Keith, Cathleen Nesbitt, Charles Ruggles, Una Merkel, Joanna Barnes
Cinematography Lucien Ballard
Art Direction Carroll Clark, Robert Clatworthy
Film Editor Philip W. Anderson
Original Music Richard & Robert Sherman, Paul Smith
Written by David Swift from the book by Berthold Bürger
Produced by George Golitzin
Directed by David Swift

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Hayley Mills' second film for Disney is another juvenile charmer written and directed by David Swift. The screwball story is both farfetched and obvious, but talented writing and performing, especially by the amazing Mills in a dual role, overcomes what might have been mawkish, or merely cute.

Synopsis:

At camp Inch, Sharon McKendrick and Susan Evers (Hayley Mills in a double role) discover that they not only look alike, but are indeed twin sisters separated since they were babies. Their parents, Mitch Evers (Brian Keith) and Maggie McKendrick (Maureen O'Hara) divorced when they were one year old, and have each kept secret the others' existence. The two clever girls hatch a plot to reunite their parents, which involves switching identities ... and each gets to meet their opposite parent for the first time. But there's a complication - Mitch has a fiancee, beautiful golddigger Vicky Robinson (Joanna Barnes), and he plans to marry her within the week.

This was the first movie we baby boomers (Mills was more or less my age) saw that seemed to star one of us, triumphing over adults and being smart as a button while doing it. English-accented Mills has so much natural charm and poise, she's always a delight to watch in action. Slapstick-oriented director David Swift also makes the perfect Disney director, as he's simply more adept than Robert Stephenson and unlike some others, acted on his own inspirations instead of being an automatic Walt yes-man. The story works like a charm - the meeting of the girls is touching and exciting, the ruse they pull on their parents doesn't become a stale joke, and the torment through which they put poor Joanna Barnes doesn't make the twins unlikeable.  1

Young Mills playing twins is accomplished by perfect blocking using a double, Susan Henning, who took no credit and is being acknowledged for the first time now, 41 years later. Split screens are also employed, as well as sodium vapor and bluescreen shots. It's really quite ingenious the way it's done, but it would all have been for naught if 14 year old Hayley Mills wasn't so convincing talking to herself and keeping track of two accents.  5

Brian Keith had mostly been a tough guy in Noirs by Phil Karlson and Jacques Tourneur when Disney somehow decided to cast him against type as a loveable daddy ... Disney did have a knack for smart casting, it must be admitted. Maureen O'Hara is cast more to type, even if at 40 she did still make most other mothers of 13 year olds pale by comparison. She appears in the docus, but interestingly, neither Swift nor Mills have many stories to tell about her, even as they praise all the other actors to the roof. 2

Charlie Ruggles, Cathleen Nesbitt and Una Merkel all provide top support, but there's no denying who's in charge of the screen. Of all the 'child actors' that ever were, I can't think of a more natural actress and delightful personality. And at ten years old, we all sang the silly rock song (designed to sound as if it were written by Sharon and Susan, even though it's heard in a recording by Annette Funicello at an earlier party) and imitated her English accent and clipped mode of talk. For us adolescents, it was a dry run for the Beatles, who would show up a couple of years later. The song even sounds a bit like an early tune by the mop-tops, right down to the 'yeah yeah yeah' refrain.


Buena Vista's DVD of The Parent Trap looks great in anamorphic widescreen, where we can really analyze the effects. A surprising number of shots reveal the full face of Susan Henning playing the other twin, and it's quite amazing how fluid it all is, considering how many shots have to be locked down for split screens, etc. In the 'Let's Get Together' dance number, 'popping' mattes are used when the girls break the center matte line, and you can not only see the matte lines pop from one position to the next, you can see a telltale shadow disappear and pop back when it happens.  3

The docus are shorter than on the sister release Pollyanna, which might be a good thing. There is a lot of duplication of subjects and anecdotes from the spirited (and sentimental) commentary track, but all of the docus have fresh and exciting material, especially the many home movies of Hayley from her childhood. I just found out after all these years that Juliet Mills (of Avanti!) is Hayley's sister ... well, duh, I guess. The story of songwriting team Richard and Robert Sherman is pretty fun too - they act together like vaudeville partners in an old movie. The rest of the extras are up to the high Disney standards, and include clever little multitrack audio demos. The docus acknowledge that Hayley Mills had a life and career before and after Disney, a refreshing breath of reality for The Mouse. 4


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Parent Trap rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: commentary with David Swift and Hayley Mills; docus on making of film, special effects, Haley Mills, Susan Henning, and the songwriters; various galleries, sound archives.
Packaging: Double Keep case
Reviewed: May 17, 2002


Footnotes:

1. Joanna Barnes has the 'thankless role' (aka the Ralph Bellamy role) and stays the butt of the joke from frame one to the last. Surely, Walt found her in her part in the previous year's Spartacus, where she played the horrid and perverted patrician fiancee of John Dall, snickering at the gladiators and gossiping while they fought to the death.
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2. With her brother, O'Hara started her own production company that same year, and hired Brian Keith to co-star with her again in a grim Western produced in CinemaScope and color, The Deadly Companions. Keith suggested a talented tv director to helm the show - and Sam Peckinpah had his first bigscreen directing credit. Apparently O'Hara was so domineering that Peckinpah wasn't even allowed to speak to her ... and the movie shows the acrimony. It's almost impossible to see now, and even Savant's never seen it in 'scope.
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3. Linwood Dunn took credit for popping mattes on Bringing up Baby to combine Katherine Hepburn with a leopard in several shots. Disney artist Josh Meador helped devise the same gag in Forbidden Planet, to again put a female (Anne Francis) in close proximity to a big cat. Overall Disney technician Ub Iwerks troubleshot the splitscreen tricks for The Parent Trap.
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4. One picture is mentioned, that I will never forget. About 1964 (I was still just 12) we went to see a kiddie show because Hayley Mills was in the cast and sat through a second feature about an elephant. Instead of a bright story like Pollyanna, up came this grim black and white movie about poor kids in a slag-heap of a mining/farming town somewhere in England. The parents yelled at their kids, who were cowed and miserable and adorably touching. Hayley played the older of a group of mostly tots who hide an escaped convict (Alan Bates) in a shed, under the delusion that he's Jesus returned and has to be protected from persecution - mainly, the cops on his trail. It was a tragedy that pulled no punches, especially when the kids try to shield the criminal with their lives, and it was chilling and relentlessly downbeat. I was traumatized, and I remember children leaving the theater in tears! I'm sure it has to be a masterpiece - Anchor Bay or some smart company should snap it up. It's called Whistle Down the Wind, and it was written by Hayley's mother.
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5. One strange image comes to mind - Hayley Mills' short, cropped blonde hairstyle. Although it's not that similar, I always relate it to the Eloi in the George Pal version of The Time Machine (which now seems a masterpiece) and the alien halfbreed children in Village of the Damned. Both came out the year before The Parent Trap. This has no relevance to Disney, except that he seemed to have been a fan of all fantasy movies; I can picture a weird variant on Village of the Damned where, instead of being little cold prigs, the space kids were all adorable like Mills. The Earth would be conquered for sure. Funny that aliens never send cute monsters to take over.
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DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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