Monday, October 11, 2010

Long ago and not so far away

While in a nostalgic old Disney movie mood last weekend, I watched Summer Magic, the end of a long weekend of Hayley Mills movies that included The Moon Spinners and Pollyanna. I don't think I had ever seen Summer Magic with Burl Ives, Dorothy McGuire and Peter Brown as the charming Yellow Peril who could swoop down at any moment and take away the Carey family's new home in Beulah, Maine.

The movie was charming and old-fashioned and included lots of Disney's natural wildlife series footage, of bugs since Burl Ives was singing At the Ugly Bug Ball to Jimmy Mathers, younger brother of Jerry Mathers of Leave it to Beaver fame. Burl Ives was affable and smiling, as he was in most movies, except when he starred as the Captain Morton in Ensign Pulver when Robert Walker, Jr., as Ensign Pulver, under the guidance of the Doc, played by Walter Matthau, takes out Captain Morton's appendix while drunk on native fermented frog juice. I enjoyed the music and the simple tale of a widow and her children suddenly down on their financial luck who move to the sticks in Beulah and renovate an old birthday cake Victorian home that doesn't belong to them while the owner, Thomas Hamilton, supposedly in China (hence the Yellow Peril moniker), gives them carte blanche to do what they will without paying rent as long as they honor his mother by hanging her portrait in a prominent place and placing a bouquet of flowers on her birthday, Halloween. Needless to say, it was a charming little film, typical of Disney in those simpler days of the 1950s and 1960s. The kicker came later when I checked out Peter Brown.

I didn't recognize the name, but I did recognize the face and wonder what had happened to him. It didn't take long to find out that the charming, handsome young actor had turned into a steroid behemoth bent on destruction, mayhem and crime as he got older. See for yourself.

Young Peter Brown

Steroid Behemoth Bent on Destruction

Needless to say, I would not have made the connection without my Internet connection.

Hayley Mills turned into a perfectly lovely young woman, and a still vibrant older woman, who doesn't do much in movies nowadays. Peter Brown is still going strong in voice overs and acting, having moved from charming leading men to nefarious characters. But he is still acting, and Hayley Mills, not so much. Both have been relegated to the back lot. At least they both still have careers.

I miss the younger Mills and Brown and was perfectly happy with the simple plots and lack of techno-pyrotechnics and special effects when stories had heart and required a hanky for the occasional tear of happiness or even sadness. I grew up on these movies, on Disney before it became so internationally commercial and full of its own virtue and technomagic. There was something elegant and timeless about the matte frames and animation that went into a Disney movie. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, the Sword in the Stone and Fantasia, among so many others, still hold a bit of magic, and I miss that. I enjoy technomagic in more modern movies, but they lack a certain heart, evidenced by the original Tron with Jeff Bridge and Bruce Boxleitner and the remake of Tron with its computerized special effects and slick look.

I guess it is official. I have become an old fogey and I never saw it coming.

As I lingered and dreamed while watching The Shaggy Dog with Tommy Kirk and Fred MacMurray, and it's not as successful sequel, The Shaggy D.A., with Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette, and then moved on to other Disney favorites, I realized how much I miss watching old movies, not just the Disney movies with their music and magic, but grittier films like Ship of Fools with Vivien Leigh and Lee Marvin or A Streetcar Named Desire with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois. I realized that in many ways, I too am dependent on the kindness of strangers, the strangers in film, to pull me out of a funk or allow me a moment to dream and shed a private tear over simple stories and uncomplicated characters who just want to get through to the credits. Don't we all.

That is all. Disperse.

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