The Parent Trap (1961)

The Parent Trap 1961 poster

“The cheek of it  – coming here with your face!” Erich Kaestner’s beloved book about separated twin girls wanting to reunite their divorced parents was inspired by a Hollywood movie, Three Smart Girls (Koster, 1936), so it was apposite that, following an uninspired British version, Walt Disney would gussy it up and make it with his wonderful child star, Hayley Mills.  Trading places is a staple of cinema and the joy in this is how Hayley is playing both twins, with (for the time) good effects and a double you don’t really notice until you’ve watched a few times. Writer/director David Swift is pretty faithful to the novel albeit the action is obviously transported to the US, both coasts, with Sharon living on a California ranch with pop (Brian Keith with a spectacular red dye job) and Susan in a Boston brahmin’s household with mom (Maureen O’Hara). (Or is it the other way round?) The stuff at summer camp is hilarious and the reaction of the house-swopped twin to pop’s new girlfriend (Joanna Barnes, acid as you like) is priceless.  Disney made some great and long live-action comedies throughout the Sixties and this is one of the best because it touches every child for obvious reasons:  every child wants their parents to like them. Mills has said, “I meet people all the time and have letters all the time, still to this day, from people who say that The Parent Trap was a very important film for them, that it was a very significant film in their life, that they found it a really empowering movie because the children take charge of the situation and bring it to a very satisfactory conclusion.” She also had a hit album from the movie because Disney forced Swift to turn it into a musical. O’Hara had problems with Disney over her billing but said of the film’s importance, “It is particularly important to women and girls who come from broken homes.  They relate to it so strongly because they had many of the same feelings and hopes for their own family to get back together.” It was of course remade for the Nineties by the redoubtable Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer and I write about that in my book about Meyers, Pathways of Desire, available at https://www.amazon.com/Pathways-Desire-Emotional-Architecture-Meyers-ebook/dp/B01BYFC4QW/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481117503&sr=1-1&keywords=elaine+lennon. Let’s Get Together!

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Big Jake (1971)

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This was Maureen O’Hara’s third film with director George Sherman and her fifth and final with John Wayne. After the first 20 minutes we don’t see her again! She’s the grandmother and wealthy matriarch of a family of sons whose father the titular Jake she booted out ten years earlier (possibly due to his liking for the opposite sex). A gang led by evil Richard Boone has targeted the ranch, killing and crippling ten of them and taking Little Jake (Ethan Wayne, Wayne’s own son), the grandson Jake has never met. She determines that the rescue mission “needs an extremely harsh and unpleasant kind of man” so summons her ex.  He argues with his sons (his own, Patrick Wayne and Robert Mitchum’s, Chris – this really is a family affair) about how to go about it and takes off with his mule and dog and Indian (Bruce Cabot) and has to rescue them from an ambush when their cars  expose them to the little boy’s captors. Set in 1909, this is a motorised western! The hunt takes them into Mexico where a final shootout leaves a lot of people dead. It’s written by Harry and Rita Fink, responsible for Dirty Harry. They would write Cahill US Marshall for Wayne a couple of years later. This is far from the worst of late Wayne, the comedy is fun (a running joke is that everyone thinks Jake is dead), the style is winning, it’s marvellously shot (William Clothier), Elmer Bernstein’s score isn’t classic  but you’ll recognise some riffs he borrowed (and they’re not even his own) and the motorcycle stunts are really something. Watch out for singer Bobby (Blue Velvet) Vinton as one of Jake’s boys. And as for the dog … fantastic.

The Black Swan (1942)

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Twentieth Century-Fox knew how to make good plotty films and this rip-roaring swashbuckler is at the top of the entertainment heap. Adapted by Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller (they both wrote Scarface, Miller wrote The Sea Hawk) from Rafael Sabatini’s novel, shot by Leon Shamroy in glorious Technicolor, scored by Alfred Newman and directed by the always reliable Henry King, what more could you want? Oh, there’s Tyrone Power as Jamie Boy, supporter of privateer Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar) who’s just taken the King’s shilling and wants to clean up the Spanish Main and Maureen O’Hara as Lady Margaret, daughter of the Governor he usurps. They’re after Leech (George Sanders, splendid as a brigand in a ginger wig) who’s done a deal with Lady Margaret’s fiance to divest the Prince Consort of a pile of gold and taken off in the titular galleon. Thomas Mitchell provides comic relief and you must sit back and relish the witty banter between the mismatched lovers as Jamie Boy kidnaps the lustrous lady to lure Leech into a trap. Oh my! How wonderful is this!

Sinbad the Sailor (1947)

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RKO’s overlong and occasionally stolid  vision of the Arabian Nights and the stories of Sinbad – as told by the man himself, robustly played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr, emulating his father. He falls for Maureen O’Hara as Shireen as he attempts to get the legendary treasure of Alexander the Great from the Emir (Anthony Quinn). Walter Slezak is amusing as Melik, his ADC and it’s quite a bit of fun. O’Hara was born for Technicolor and is ravishing in her role. With Jane Greer as siren Pirouze.