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“It’s grand to be an Englishman, in 1910/ King Edward’s on the throne, it’s the age of men!”
George Banks, Mary Poppins 1964
“When you set aside your childhood heroes
And your dreams are lost up on a shelf
You’re at the age of not believing
And worst of all, you doubt yourself”
Eglantine Price, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, 1971
Well, you couldn’t really blame them.
Mary Poppins had been such a phenomenal hit for Disney that it was only a matter of time before they tried to recreate that success. The two films have a great deal in common, Robert Stevenson directed both, David Tomlinson plays the father role, there are scenes mixing animation and live action, the Shermans are back on song duty (the last time they’d work on a Disney film until The Tigger Movie thirty years later). Hell, Julie Andrews was even offered the part of Eglantine Price but turned it down. Considering how badly she was typecast after Mary Poppins and Sound of Music, that was probably the right choice. Instead, the part went to Angela Lansbury, who ironically was one of the actresses considered to play Mary Poppins which leads me to believe that Walt Disney only knew two actresses.
Anyway, Bedknobs is clearly a blatant attempt to recreate the success of Mary Poppins. Does it succeed? Of course not. Mary Poppins was a genuine once in a generation kind of film, with all the elements coming together to create something perfect. It’s not something you can plan, and it’s damn near impossible to make it happen twice. But there is a big difference between saying Bedknobs doesn’t measure up to one of the greatest musicals of all time and saying that it’s bad. Personally, I love this movie. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it more interesting as a companion piece to Mary Poppins because there are a lot of parallels you can draw between the two films, between the studio that created them, and the nation in which they’re both set.
Look at that quote from Mary Poppins at the top of the review. The England of Mary Poppins is at the very zenith of its power. The mansion houses of Cherry Tree Lane where the story is set practically scream of power and opulence. Remember George Banks proudly calling up to Admiral Boom “Stocks are going up, up, up! And the British pound is the envy and admiration of the world.” This is an England flush with success. The good times are here and they look like they’re staying forever. For Walt, a sensation not unlike George’s hubris would have been understandable. 101 Dalmations, Mary Poppins, Jungle Book…the sixties saw the Disney studio reach a level of critical and commercial success it had never known before. Towards the middle of the sixties, they must have felt as if the sun would never set on their empire.
Fast forward to 1971. Walt’s dead, a crippling blow to the company he created that will find itself increasingly lost and adrift, coasting on the last fumes of Walt’s legacy and inspiration in the seventies, before trying and failing disastrously to chart a new course in the eighties. The Sherman-penned song, The Age of Not Believing, quoted above, becomes extremely poignant when you realise that the Shermans are writing about the Disney studio itself, bewildered and mourning after the death of their mentor, and unsure of whether they have it within themselves to carry on his legacy. And the England that the movie is set in is very, very different from the one of Mary Poppins. It’s 1940 and Britain stands, or rather totters, alone against a seemingly unstoppable Nazi war machine. This is a Britain with its back against the wall, its empire in tatters, its military force almost spent, its morale at a low ebb. The old pomp and grandeur are long gone. The days of fighting for glory are over, most will be happy with survival. Even the family that is our focus is, to a traditional mind, perhaps shabbier. In Mary Poppins, the action is about restoring a perfect nuclear family (husband, wife, son, daughter). The family in Bedknobs is something far less traditional, almost bracingly modern, in fact. Three orphans, a reluctant surrogate mother and her unmarried partner, an irascible conman. But in a way, that adds to the movie’s appeal. Everyone loves an underdog, be it the England of 1940, the ungainly but loving blended family of Eglantine Price or a once great movie studio trying to recreate one of its biggest hits in the wake of a devastating loss.
Okay, the movie begins with a quite gorgeous credits sequence that apes the Bayeux Tapestry while depicting the events of the film with some artistic licence.
The credits sequence over, we see two British officers, Capt Greer and Corporal Unnamed Extra, driving towards the sleepy Dover village of Pepperinge Eye. They stop and ask for directions from a local who’s painting over the road signs in case of a Nazi invasion. Greer sputters that he’s not a Nazi, he’s a British officer, to which the local gleefully responds “That’s what you’d say if you was a Nazi, isn’t it sir?”
At Pepperinge Eye, the local museum has been converted into an evacuation centre, where London children are being sent to live with local people until the Blitz is over. Here we meet our three child protagonists, Carrie (Cindy O’Callaghan), Charlie (Ian Weighill) and Paul (Roy Snart) and I have to say, as Disney child actors go they ain’t half bad. O’Callaghan in particular puts in a very fine performance, even though all three of them seem to struggle a little with the cockney accent.
The woman in charge of finding a home for these scallywags is Mrs Hobday, played by Tessie O’Shea in her native Welsh accent. I repeat, her Welsh accent. Remember that. Mrs Hobday is the head of the village’s war committee as well as the village postmistress and she tells the three children that they’re going to be staying with Ms Price. There’s a commotion outside and Mrs Hobday goes out to see what the commotion is AND WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!!!!
Oh no. Oh no.
Sorry. I suppose I should explain. See, I grew up with this movie on VHS which was the original theatrical version. Now that version had a LOT of extra material cut out of it; extra scenes (including the one above) , plot threads, two entire songs and more. And then, in 1996, some GODDAMN GENIUS…
…decided to add all that stuff back in to the movie and that’s the version we’re looking at today. So what’s the problem? Well let’s start with the basic one; pretty much everything that was cut was cut FOR A REASON. The songs that were cut were sub-par, the plotlines that were excised go nowhere, the gags that were lost weren’t funny. This was all stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor because the movie is stronger without it. Oh, but it gets worse. Often, the restored footage doesn’t match the footage from the original theatrical version making it glaringly obvious which scenes were originally cut and which were always there (another good indicator is whether you’re enjoying what’s happening or feel a faint but unmistakable urge to pistol whip someone.)
Oh! But it gets worse!
Much of the soundtrack for the original excised scenes was lost and had to be redubbed over in 1996. Badly.
Honestly, if I’m going to put up with dubbing this atrocious, I’d better be getting a Godzilla rampage to make it worth my while .
OH! BUT! IT! GETS! WORSE!
While they managed to get Angela Lansbury and a few of the other actors back to redub their lines, for those that weren’t available they used sound-alikes. Note that I use the word “sound-alikes” in the same way that Fox News uses the words “Fair and Balanced” or that North Korea uses the words “Democratic Republic” i.e., as a bitter and hateful mockery.
The upshot of all this is that a fine, briskly paced 117 minute movie has become a bloated wildly uneven 139 minute one. It’s honestly a work of near vandalism. In the DVD era these would have perhaps have made interesting deleted scenes but incorporating them into the movie proper hurts the overall film hugely. Well anyway, enough ranting.
Mrs Hobday runs outside to see Captain Greer arguing with a member of the village’s Home Guard (a volunteer force of soldiers otherwise ineligible for military service). Captain Greer says he’s here to oversee the village’s preparedness for a German invasion on the off chance that they decide to attack a place of absolutely zero strategic significance. You know, due to the legendary Nazi weakness for caprice. Mrs Hobday tells him that Pepperinge Eye sent the Danes packing a millennium ago and they should be just fine. She proudly tells him that the local home guard is led by General Teagler (Reginald Owen, who played Admiral Boom in Mary Poppins) This leads us into our first song “The Old Home Guard“.
The Home Guard occupies a special place in the British cultural memory. Although the Guard never saw any actual combat and in all likelihood would not have made much of a difference against a Nazi invasion, the guard is remembered with a great deal of affection, as a symbol of a time when every Briton, regardless of age and infirmity, stepped forward and volunteered to do their part for the war effort, however small. “The Old Home Guard” captures this spirit wonderfully, a bracingly jaunty martial tune where the old timers of Dad’s Army proudly sing out they are ready and waiting to defend their “own backyard”. They march through the village, a troop of grey-haired men, veterans of older wars, some armed only with pitchforks and spades. They may not be impressive, but they are inspirational.
Teagler confers with Greer about the state of Pepperinge’s defences, but they are interrupted by the arrival of Eglantine Price (Angela Lansbury) on her motorcycle and sidecar, which belches yellow smoke and smells of sulphur. Eglantine is our main character, and a witch. It’s never actually explained where her powers come from in the film, so allow me to fill you all in.
Ms Price is in the village to pick up a parcel from Mrs Hobday but ends up getting saddled with Charlie, Carrie and Paul. Eglantine, unlike Mary Poppins, is not a natural childcarer. In fact, she only agrees to take them when Mrs Hobday basically tells her that it’s the law and she has no choice.
Angela Lansbury is fantastic in this role and her obvious unease the moment she sees the children is very well done. Anyway, Eglantine agrees to take them on the condition that Mrs Hobday find somewhere else ASAP. She piles the kids into the sidecar and is about to drive off when she gets waylaid by Mr Jelk (played by Roddy McDowell) the local vicar. In the original cut, Mr Jelk basically asks Eglantine if he can pop up to her house to attend to the spiritual needs of the children, she tells him to screw off because they’re not going to be there long enough to leave a smell on the place and that’s pretty much the last we see of Mr Jelk until near the end when he gets attacked by a nightdress. As a kid I was always confused as to why Roddy McDowell got such high billing (third after Lansbury and Tomlinson) for such a minor role and now I know why. Jelk’s role is HUGELY expanded in the new cut. Now he’s the creepy vicar who’s trying to seduce Ms Price so he can get his hands on her land. And as with pretty much everything else that they scraped off the cutting room floor for this new cut, this plotline should have been left out. McDowall’s a great actor but he’s not at his best here, or maybe he simply wasn’t well directed. A vicar trying to seduce a spinster in pretty risqué material for a kid’s movie and none of the extra scenes really have any comedy that justifies their existence. Also, McDowall is just…off. He veers a little too far from “funny-creepy” and straight into straight up “creepy-creepy”.
Eglantine brings the children to her remote farmhouse and rather begrudgingly gets them settled in and lays down the rules of the house (dinner at six, wash before meals, no using the wardrobe to go to Narnia). The kids also meet Eglantine’s cat, Cosmic Creepers, who hisses at them, scaring them so badly that they hide under a table. You might think that these kids are just PTSD’d to fuck but CC is actually pretty damn scary. It becomes hilarious when you realise that Cosmic Creepers was sent to Eglantine by Emelius Browne as part of her correspondence course in witchcraft. Of course, Emelius is a con man, so in all probability he just grabbed the first insane feral hobo kitty he could find on the streets, stuck him in an envelope and sent him down to Eglantine in the post. This cat has clearly led an interesting life.
As she flies through the air the three children see her as they try to make their escape and realise that she’s a witch. They watch as Eglantine starts to lose control and finally nose dives and plummets to earth. She’s only mildly injured and frankly that’s ridiculous, to survive a fall that high and not be smashed to pieces a witch would have to weigh only as much as…em…let me think…
Ah, I see you are a man of science.
Anyway, Carrie is all for staying the course on Plan “London or Bust” but Charlie has had an idea. Seeing as how Eglantine probably doesn’t want the neighbours knowing that she is the Devil’s handmaiden, Charlie wants to extort money out of her in exchange for their silence.
But Morgan Freeman’s blessing is not enough, and things go south the next day at breakfast when Charlie tells Eglantine that they know she’s a witch and they have the broken broomstick to prove it. And as evidence goes, that’s certainly watertight. But Eglantine quite rightly points out that she’s a witch, and she can fuck their shit up quite handily. Charlie calls her bluff because no one ever accused him of having an abundance of survival instinct and Eglantine turns him into a rabbit. For about five seconds. See, it turns out that Eglantine is not a particularly good witch, but she’s trying to get better so that she can aid Britain in its fight against the Nazis. Things being at something of an impasse, Carrie suggests they should all just get along. Charlie agrees, but suggests that Eglantine give them something valuable as insurance that they don’t spill her secret. Eglantine leaps at this, and suggests giving them a magical object as a gift.
Eglantine asks them for something that they can twist and Paul provides them with a bedknob from the upstairs room. And into this bedknob Eglantine pours her cruelty, her malice, her will to dominate all life…I mean, she casts the Famous Traveling Spell on it, a spell she received as a reward for paying her fees promptly and that will allow the bed to travel anywhere in space that Paul wants to go. Hell, as we’ll see, it can even travel to other dimensions.
This just goes to show that Emelius Browne doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. Flying a broomstick? Advanced lesson, only learn that after you’ve become an apprentice witch. The ability to travel anywhere in the multiverse? Kid’s stuff, that’s a freebie. It’s not a plot hole, however. As we’ll see, Emelius really does have no idea what he’s doing. What follows however, IS a plot hole.
First we sit through another utterly superfluous scene with Roddy McDowell (it’s unfunny and pointless, thanks for asking) but he gives her a letter that turns out to be from Emelius. He writes that because of the war he has to close the college and he won’t be able to send her that final, super-duper, kill-all-Nazis spell she was so looking forward to. The children come in and ask “Why the face, Ace?” and she tells them that she needs the bedknob back.
Paul, however, is a high deacon in the Holy Church of No Backsies, and says he wants to go to the jungle. Eglantine explains to him that she was expecting a very important spell in the post that hasn’t come, and Paul replies “What’s that got to do with my knob?”
Eglantine tells him that this incredibly powerful spell could be the key to the Allies winning the war.
Yeah, yeah, I know. Killing Hitler wouldn’t end the war. But you’re not thinking big enough. Why not cast the Travelling Spell on a squadron of Vickers? They’d be unstoppable! This is instantaneous teleportation, the war is over! I mean, don’t get me wrong, the Substitutiary Locomotion spell Eglantine is trying to get is all kinds of awesome but I think she’s missing what’s under her nose here.
What do you mean Walt? That’s what it does in the movie.
Well, far be it from me to question Walt Disney’s expertise in the dark arts, but what is its true purpose then if not bringing inanimate objects to life?
That was ominous.
Anyway, Paul agrees to do his bit for king and country and they prepare to set off for London. Charlie doesn’t want to go, as he thinks the spell won’t work. Which, fair enough, he’s seen Eglantine cast two spells and failed at both of them already. Eglantine declares that Charlie’s just at “The Age of Not Believing” and sings while preparing the bed for take off. The Age of Not Believing is a great song, and functions as a kind of mirror image of Spoonful of Sugar. Whereas Sugar is all about the joy and magic of imagination, The Age of Not Believing is a sad reflection on growing up and losing that sense of childlike wonder. Lansbury is no Julie Andrews, of course, but she does good work here. Cosmic Creepers, meanwhile, decides that Charlie’s got a real purty mouth and chases him onto the bed just as it vanishes. The bed, with Eglantine and the three children on it, travels to London via Willy Wonka’s boat tunnel.
They arrive in London, but Emelius Browne is nowhere to be seen so Eglantine leaves the children with the bed and goes off to look for him. This of course works out well for Paul, who, as a small blonde child in blitz-era London, can have fun terrifying the locals by pretending to be The Empty Child.
The children see a man walk past with Professor Browne’s name on his suitcase and follow him. Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson, great as always) turns out to be nothing more than a huckster street magician. In the original cut, Emelius simply performs a botched magic show and the crowd leaves in disgust. In the restored version however, we get a song called With a Flair which is just….AWFUL. I don’t mean musically. It’s nowhere near the Sherman’s best work but it’s just kind of horrible. Emelius sings to the crowd that he knows that they know that he’s a fraud but that it doesn’t matter because he does everything that he does with a flair. It presents a cynical, self-loathing, contemptuous side to Emlelius’s personality that isn’t really anywhere else in the movie. Emelius is a conman, sure, but he has a certain joie de vivre and charm that makes you forgive him for that. Here though, he just comes across as sneering at his audience, not caring whether they know he’s a fraud or not. It also makes little to no narrative sense because once his act flops and the crowd disperses he desperately calls after them not to leave, seemingly forgetting that he pretty much told them to their faces that they were fools and patsies for believing anything that he said. Eglantine arrives and is horrified to discover that her mentor is less Dumbledore and more Del Boy. Emelius at first tries to sweet talk her but when he realises that she’s one of his pupils he brusquely tells her that there are no refunds and makes to leave. Eglantine turns him into a rabbit and proceeds to engage in a little casual onscreen animal cruelty.
Emelius turns back into a human and is astonished that Eglantine can actually do magic. Turns out that all the spells he’d been sending her were just nonsense words he’d gotten from an old book he’d found. Eglantine demands to see this book and Emelius gladly agrees to take them to his townhouse.
It turns out that Emelius is a squatter, who’s taken to living in a luxurious mansion that’s been evacuated because there’s an unexploded bomb nearby. This is a rather neat illustration of Emelius’ character, there is practically nothing that he cannot turn to his advantage somehow. Nothing that is, except Eglantine. The three children explore the nursery, with Paul taking a picture book called “The Isle of Naboomboo” about an island full of talking animals. Meanwhile, Emelius tries to convince Eglantine to go into show business with him. This leads to the song Eglantine, a breezy little ditty where Emelius tries to charm Eglantine while she searches the library desperately for the spell book. And we get an extra added-on verse that was originally excised that weakens the overall song, bad dubbing, blah blah blah…
She finally gets out of him that the last spell is missing from the book because it was torn in half in an a scuffle when he bought it (“the chap thought I’d given him a dud coin, I ask you”). Eglantine asks where the other half could be, and Emelius says there’s only one place it could be, Portobello Road.
I have very mixed feelings about Portobello Road. On the one hand, it’s a great song where Emelius shows Eglantine and the children around the storied street with its merchants, its dealers, its hucksters,
Hookers in a Disney movie. Fancy that.
Anyway, it is a great song. The problem is it lasts roughly the length of the CAMBRIAN PERIOD. To be honest, even in the original cut the song was too damn long by half, and huge chunks of the restored material come from this sequence making it even longer. Do you know how long the Portobello Road musical sequence lasts in the restored version?
TWO DAMN YEARS!
Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. But it lasts ten frickin’ minutes which is totally ridiculous. And what’s worse is that so much of that is just random dance numbers and musical interludes that get shoved in with no rhyme or reason. Some Indians arrive and do a dance. Then some Jamaicans arrive and play some steel drums. Then some Scots arrive and march to bagpipes. You start to seriously wonder if every country on earth is going to get a turn. Jesus, by the time Eglantine finds that book she’ll be just in time to help Britain magically avert the Suez Crisis.
Anyway, the damn song finally ends, and Emelius and Eglantine, having failed to find the second part of the book are approached by a shifty geezer played by…holy shit, Bruce Forsyth?!
Brucie here plays Swinbourne, and he takes Eglantine and Emelius at knife point to meet his boss. For you see, Swinbourne works for the greatest villain of them all: THE BOOKMAN!
The Bookman (played by Sam Jaafe) has the other half of the book, and he and Eglantine agree to swop so that they can both get the complete spell. However, it turns out that neither half actually has the spell, merely a reference to it. It turns out the spell was written on the star medallion of the great wizard Asteroth. Bookman says that the legends tell of an island ruled by animals that Asteroth had given sentience. Bookman says that the Island of Naboomboo is simply a legend but Paul pipes up that it’s real because he has a picture book to prove it. Bookman and Swinbourne try to take the book by force, but the five escape to Naboomboo via the bed.
They crash into an animated lagoon and don’t drown because…
They crash into an animated lagoon and meet a couple of cartoon fish and end up entering a ballroom dancing competition where Emelius and Eglantine win a prize while singing “The Beautiful Briny Sea” a wonderful song that was originally written for Mary Poppins. The bed gets snagged by a fishing hook and pulled onto dry land by a sailor bear. Emelius manages to talk his way into an audience with the king, who of course is a lion and who has the star of Asteroth hanging around his neck. The King doesn’t get named onscreen but production notes give him the name Leonidas. Leonidas is a tyrannical, half-mad despot whose roars are Punctuated! For! Emphasis! and wait just a damn minute here!
Heh. I just thought of something. If Frank Millar’s a whore that means he’s got to write himself being killed or beaten up by a superhero.
Anyway, the king is pissed because he can’t find a referee for the upcoming soccer game. Emelius is asked if he knows anything about soccer, and instead of giving the correct answer, which is: “Well, I know enough to know it’s called FOOTBALL.” he lies and gets himself made referee.
The football match, between the King’s team of dirty cheating bastards and the opposing team of slightly less dirty cheating bastards, is a great comic setpiece with the various animals using their different physical attributes to try and score while stampeding over Emelius like a herd of buffalo. And he has got to be the worst referee in history. There are fouls, blatant cheating, disregard for the rules…this is isn’t football, this is madness!
Well anyway, the king’s team wins and after the match Emelius manages to filch the star of Asteroth. The king discovers it’s gone and chases after them but Eglantine manages to transform him into a cartoon rabbit and they escape safely.
Back at Eglantine’s house Emelius is shocked to discover that the star of Asteroth has disappeared in the journey through the dimensional barrier and all seems lost. We get an utterly awful extra scene where Emelius goes to the village with Charlie to buy groceries and talks to Mrs Hobday, who thanks to the awful sound-alike not only sounds nothing like Tessie O’Shea but has actually switched accents from Welsh to Scottish.
But it turns out the magic words were written down in Paul’s picture book which he found completely by chance in a random person’s house. So that was lucky. Eglantine tries saying the magic words and through the song “Substitutiary Locomotion” manages to bring various household objects to life, but they turn on them, with a pair of gloves almost strangling Emelius and Charlie being menaced by his own trousers. Eglantine manages to shut the spell off but is very discouraged. Over dinner, Emelius reassures her that she just needs a bit of practice and entertains them all with some juggling. It’s a nice scene, and really gives a sense of a family coming together, almost without the characters reading it.
Mrs Hobday then arrives, (Welsh again, for those of you playing at home) and tells Eglantine that she’s found another home for the children. Eglantine, obviously, has gotten rather found of the little blighters and Paul even happily exclaims that they have a Dad now. Emelius has grown fond of the children, but he don’t want no baby daddy drama and promptly announces that he has to go back to London. He and Eglantine have a rather sad, awkward goodbye and the children are clearly devastated.
I actually really like this, because it feels real. Of course Emelius and Eglantine aren’t suddenly going to settle down together and raise three children together. They hardly know each other. It makes sense given what we’ve already seen.
We then get a cut song for Eglantine called Nobody’s Problems. Terrible. To make things worse there was no original orchestral music for this song and it sounds like there’s someone playing a casio keyboard in the background on the restored version.
Eglantine has bigger problems to worry about however, because a Nazi raiding party led by Colonel Heller (John Ericson) has arrived by U-Boat off the coast. Of course, the Nazis never actually reached the British mainland, but the reason for the attack given in the movie makes a good deal of sense. Essentially, this is a psy-ops mission to show the British people that the Germans can land in Britain whenever they want and that there’s pretty much nothing that can stop the eventual invasion.
According to regular Unshaved Mouse commentator swanpride (hi swanpride!) almost all of this subplot is cut from the German version of Bedknobs and Broomsticks (presumably because of legal restrictions on depictions of Nazi imagery) which is why their version clocks in at an extremely svelte 89 minutes. I honestly don’t know how you’d end the movie without the Nazi stuff. Maybe they get back from Naboomboo and have cake, the end. Anyway Heller and his goons take Eglantine and the children hostage, but after Eglantine threatens to turn Heller into a rabbit he loses his patience with her and has her and the children locked in the museum in Pepperinge Eye.
Meanwhile, Emelius is sleeping on a bench at the train station when he overhears two German soldiers cutting the phone lines and talking in seriously bad German. According to my sources (hi again swanpride!) the German spoken by the actors in this movie is so bad they actually had to redub their lines for the German version just so that a German audience could actually understand them. Anyway, Emelius tries to escape and is chased by the two soldiers who he then PROCEEDS TO KNOCK OUT WITH ONE DAMN PUNCH!
I repeat: Two Nazis. One Punch. No Waiting. Emelius Fucking Browne, ladies and gentleman.
Emelius runs back to the farmhouse and discovered it’s been annexed by the Third Reich.
He breaks into Eglantine’s study and manages to overcome his own cynicism and actually believe in magic, turning himself into a rabbit. He races to Pepperinge Eye and manages to avoid the Germans and get into the museum where Eglantine is being held and leaps right into her lap.
He transforms back into a human, and convinces Eglantine that their only hope is to use Substitutiary Locomotion on the old suits of armour in the museum.
Back at the farmhouse, Heller surveys the horizon and to his horror sees an entire army of walking suits of armour advancing on his position. While I love it, I would never say that Bedknobs and Broomsticks deserves to be considered a great movie. But it does have moments that approach greatness, and the image of an endless procession of suits of armour, solemnly intoning “Triguna Mekoides and tracorum satis dee” is one of those. It’s at once creepy (how often does a faceless, unkillable army represent the good guys?) and uplifting. You know the scene in Casablanca where the French sing La Marseillaise and drown out the Nazis? It’s not a million miles from that, and the sight of Britain’s very history rising to defend that land from its greatest enemy is a real “Fuck yeah!” moment, even if you’re not British.
One bit I find hilarious is when Heller looks up to see the accoutrements of three Scottish bagpipers playing on the cliff and the camera pans to reveal that Eglantine has raised not only the armour in the museum, but seemingly every suit of armour in the country. What’s funny is that the way it’s shot it seems that Heller’s look of terror seems to be as a reaction to the Scotsmen. It’s like: “Unstoppable steel army of death? Pah! They shall fall before the Reich! What the…oh shit THEY HAVE BAGPIPERS!”
Anyway, Heller and his men make a stand against the advancing army but ze bullets do nothing.
The Nazis are driven back and I have to say, the special effects work here is absolutely gorgeous. This is really the only scene where Bedknobs and Broomsticks steps out from the shadow of Mary Poppins and does something really unique and incredible. The effect of making the suits of armour move is pretty much flawless and holds up perfectly today.
Heller has to retreat but before he goes he blows up Eglantine’s study containing all her magical equipment. Huh. Who knew the Nazis were such sore losers? Their raid routed, Heller and his men retreat to their U-Boat and flee back to Germany.
Meanwhile, in Berlin…
The destruction of her study apparently has the effect of cancelling Eglantine’s power and she falls from her broomstick while the suits of armour slowly collapse into lifelessness. Being only duck weight, she’s uninjured and she takes comfort knowing that even if she can no longer be a witch, she managed to perform some small service to her country. Of course, she could have performed a much larger service and given the RAF the travelling spell and won the war in five hours but I digress.
The film ends on a curious note, and one that I think again bears comparison to Mary Poppins. In the end of that film, you’ll recall, the Banks family are reunited as Mr Banks assumes his role as father. In Bedknobs though, while you might expect that, what we get instead is Emelius leaving Eglantine and the children to join the army. In this way, Bedknobs is almost Mary Poppins polar opposite. Whereas the moral force of Mary Poppins was directed at pushing George Banks away from his adult responsibilities as a banker and towards his children, Bedknobs instead pushes Emelius Browne away from his (admittedly new and surrogate) family and towards his adult duties, this time that of a soldier. Now obviously, defeating Nazism is far more important than any job in finance, but I do think it’s interesting that whereas Mary Poppins’ essential message was “nothing is more important than family”, Bedknobs seems to be suggesting that, yes, sometimes adult responsibilities do mean that your family has to take a back seat, if only for a while. Emelius Browne at the beginning of Bedknobs and Broomsticks is not terribly different from George Banks at the end of Mary Poppins in temperament and outlook. But whereas George Banks had to become more like Emelius Browne, Emelius Browne had to become more like George Banks.
Bedknobs was not a hit on its release, failing to make back its budget. It did pretty well at the Oscars though, nominated for five awards and winning one (best visual effects). The Age of Not Believing was nominated for best song but lost to…
You damn right.
But over the years it’s reputation has grown and it’s now something of a cult…
Um…Latin America? What are you doing, I’m in the middle of a review here.
Stop that, why are you chanting?
Comrade Crow?! What’s going on?
Otto Von Bismarck?! Everyone stop this, you’re creeping me out!
WALT! WAAALLT! What the fuck is happening?! Why is everyone chanting?! Why can I hear “All Along the Watchtower”?!
You mean the Triguna will bring someone back to life? That’s horrible!
You don’t mean…
It can’t be.
I watched you die.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Simple and scratchy, but fun and lively too.
The Leads: 15/20
Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson give good Lanbury and Tomlinson and the kids are pleasantly unterrible.
The Villains: 12/20
A few villains here, the Bookman, Leonidas and Heller. None of them are particularly spectacular though.
Supporting Characters: 08/20
I’m ranking this on the restored cut because I don’t have the original to hand and reviewing a movie from my own memory wouldn’t be fair. Besides, this is the version that Disney chose as their definitive cut so they have to live with that. The new cut has a lot of annoying or just plain superfluous characters.
The Music: 11/20
Again, this would probably be scored much higher if there weren’t so many mediocre or downright bad songs and new verses inserted into the new cut.
FINAL SCORE: 57%
NEXT TIME: It’s back to the canon we go as we look at Robin Hood, who will rob points from Mary Poppins and give them to Aristocats the impious scofflaw!
NEXT UPDATE: January 24th 2013