Friday, April 15, 2016


Mytyl (Shirley Temple) and her little brother Tyltyl (Johnny Russell) live in a small village home with their mother and woodcutter father, and some pets—a cat, a dog, and a bird. Though not perhaps poor, they have to live simply and Temple is unhappy with her lot in life and ungrateful to her parents for providing what they do have. On Christmas Eve night, the two children wake up to a old lady pounding on their door; she is the fairy Berylune who sets them on a search for the Blue Bird of Happiness. A personification of Light (Helen Ericson) leads them into the past (a graveyard), the present (the well-appointed home of Mr. and Mrs. Luxury), and the future (a heavenly land of children waiting their turn to be born) to find happiness. Mytyl's cat and dog also become human and join them on their journey, with the sneaky cat (Gale Sondergaard) trying to upset their plans and the faithful dog (Eddie Collins) providing comic relief. Ultimately, restless Mytyl gets the message that happiness can be found in your own backyard.

Although MGM's THE WIZARD OF OZ was not a huge hit upon its first release in 1939, it did get a fair amount of attention, and this movie was Fox's attempt at a brightly-colored children's fantasy extravaganza. Apparently, legendary reports that Shirley Temple was considered for the part of Dorothy in OZ are wrong, but this still feels like a bone thrown to Temple for missing out on that gem of a role. Unfortunately, what this movie shows is how hard it is to do fantasy right. Where OZ is funny, sad, whimsical, magical, and just delightful, THE BLUE BIRD is heavy-handed and gloomy, though not without its moments of nearly successful whimsy. Based on a famous symbolist play by Maurice Maeterlinck, it wears its allegorical elements much more obviously than OZ does. The physical production isn't quite up to OZ's level either, but some of the sets are effective (the forest fire, the waiting room in the sky for unborn children), and the scene where Temple's dead grandparents wake up from their eternal sleep because a loved one is thinking of them is touching. Temple is fine; the slinky Sondergaard is fun; I enjoyed Nigel Bruce and Laura Hope Crews as the Luxurys; I was less excited by Eddie Collins as the dog—his vaudeville roots show a bit too much. Unlike OZ, this is not a musical, but there are two more similarities to OZ: it films opens in black & white, and the final lesson seems to be, there's no place like home. In general, a missed opportunity to create another beloved fantasy, though the material may well stymie any attempts (the 70s remake with Elizabeth Taylor was so bad, I never finished watching it). [FXM]

No comments: