Saturday, December 5, 2020

CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG 1968

Last year, whenever I came across a review complaining about the 3½-hour running time of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (2019), my first thought was that none of these folks would have survived being a kid in the 1960s. Not at a time when Hollywood's most eagerly-anticipated family movies all wore their lengthy running times like emblems of prestige: Mary Poppins (1964): 2hr 20m; The Sound of Music (1965): 2hr 55m; Doctor Dolittle (1967): 2hr 32m; Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967): 2hr 33m; and Oliver! (1968): 2hr 33m.

And certainly not at a time when double-features were the norm, and theaters, under the guise of presenting “Top Family Entertainment” offered child-abuse programming like pairing the 2hr 25m Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with the 3hr 4m Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Such was the bladder-challenging bill at San Francisco’s Castro Theater in the summer of 1969 when I was 11-years-old and saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the first time.

click image to enlarge
A 1968 Christmas season release, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opened in San Francisco as a reserved-seat roadshow attraction (complete with overture, intermission, & exit music) at a then-steep minimum $3 ticket price. When it played regular engagements in 1969, its revamped ad campaign underplayed the musical and magical car angles in favor of emphasizing the comedic figure of Dick Van Dyke and anachronistically (the film is set in 1910) showcasing Sally Ann Howes' legs.   

Most roadshow films went immediately into wide-release after their exclusive engagements were over (Continuous Performances! Popular Prices!) but the underperforming Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was swiftly yanked from screens after its poorly-reviewed initial run (The SF Examiner called it “abysmally saccharine”), re-emerging six months later as a get-the-kids-from-underfoot summer release in August of 1969. But by then it was too late. Over the Easter holidays, America’s fickle kiddie population had fallen in love with another four-fendered friend…Herbie, the matchmaking Volkswagen Beetle of Disney’s The Love Bug. A case of love at first sight that saw the modest feature earning more than ten times its $5 million budget at the boxoffice while the heavily-promoted Chitty Chitty Bang Bang remained unable to recoup its $12 million budget. 

Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts
Sally Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious 

Adrian Hall and Heather Ripley as Jeremy & Jemima Potts

Lionel Jeffries as Grandpa Potts

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the only children’s book written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming. It’s also the only non-Bond film made by James Bond franchise producer Albert R. Broccoli. Fleming’s slight story of a family and their magical car was made into a grand-scale movie musical (at the time, the most expensive musical ever made in England) that is commonly (and accurately) described these days as a James Bond film for children.

This is certainly true of its story, which pits a good guy devoted to gadgetry (crackpot inventor Caracticus Potts) and a woman with an outrageous name (candy heiress Truly Scrumptious) against an eccentric villain (Auric Goldfinger himself, Gert Fröbe as Baron Bomburst). But the Bond connection also applies to the production team, many of whom began work on CCBB fresh from completing the latest Bond film You Only Live Twice (1967). The screenplay of that film was written by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang screenwriter Roald Dahl (with director Ken Hughes), and Hughes, along with Baroness Bomburst Anna Quayle, had just finished work on the Bond spoof Casino Royale (1967).

Desmond Llewelyn as garage owner Mr. Coggins, portrayed "Q" in 17 James Bond films. 

But in 1968, the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang most eagerly sought to emulate was Disney’s blockbuster Mary Poppins (1964). And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was so sincerely devoted to flattering Mary Poppins that it all but followed a blueprint. Same songwriters (Robert and Richard Sherman Sherman); same choreographers (Mark Breaux & Dee Dee Wood); same period (the book's contemporary setting was changed to Mary Poppins' Edwardian era); same casting (Poppins’ Dick Van Dyke—mercifully, minus the English accent), and a Julie Andrews substitute (Sally Ann Howes). I've read that the producers sought to reunite Mary Poppins costars Julie Andrews & Dick Van Dyke, but unless the role of Truly was conceived as significantly larger than what we see in the final film, it's hard to imagine that Andrews--a headlining Oscar-winner--ever seriously entertained the idea of playing anybody's second lead.

So intent was CCBB on duplicating Mary Poppins' winning formula, it features a copy of what has always been my least-favorite Poppins number: "Fidelity Fiduciary Bank." In this instance, the 'comical old coots' song is the livelier but no-less-deadly "The Roses of Success."

But Hollywood wishes do come true, and when released Chitty Chitty Bang Bang did indeed have critics comparing it to Mary Poppins…unfavorably on all counts. In his memoirs, even star Dick Van Dyke joined the chorus, citing that he felt Hughes was the wrong director for the job and that the film ultimately failed to capture the magic of Disney's classic. Given that Ken Hughes would go on to direct the Mae West travesty Sextette (1978), perhaps Van Dyke has a point. Falling short of its fantasmagorical expectations Chitty Chitty Bang Bang joined the ranks of Camelot (1967) and Paint Your Wagon (1969) as representative of a form of "Bigger is Better" filmmaking whose era was nearing its end. But time has been kind, and in the 50-plus years since its release, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has emerged from the shadow of Mary Poppins enough to be hailed as a beloved children’s classic judged and appreciated on its own considerable merits. A far cry from the days when my attempts to recommend the movie to schoolmates were met with chants of “Shitty Shitty Bang Bang.” 

Anna Quayle and Gert Frobe as Baroness & Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria

Seeing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the first time on a double-bill with Around the World in 80 Days was quite the thrill and nowhere near the backache challenge for my 11-year-old self as I would find it today. Though I confess to having fallen asleep during part of Around the World in 80 Days (one moment Shirley MacLaine hadn’t yet entered the movie, the next, there she was in that balloon) by and large, as long as the Jujyfruits and popcorn held out, I was a happy camper. 

The only big musical I’d seen at this point was Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), so without prior visions of Mary Poppins dancing in my head, I thought Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was the most extraordinary movie I’d ever seen. I was utterly wowed by it. On an enormous screen and with glorious stereophonic sound Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a storybook fantasy adventure come to life. It seemed to have everything: action, laughs, chases, comic schtick, rousing songs, zany characters, romance, dance, spectacle, and a big wooly sheepdog named Edison. It even had a bit of a dark side.

Robert Helpmann as The Child Catcher
I was too old to find this legendary kindertrauma character scary at the time, but as an adult, I've often found myself wishing (usually in a restaurant or on a plane) that such a service actually existed.

I remember being very taken with Potts’ kooky Rube Goldberg-style inventions (the work of Frederick Rowland Emett), particularly that ingenious breakfast-making machine I still would love to own. But what stands out best of all and most memorably is the titular automobile itself. Designed by Academy Award-winning production designer Ken Adams under what must have been no small degree of pressure to live up to the laundry list of glowing superlatives ascribed to it in the title song, the magical car dubbed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is every bit the iconically miraculous motorcar the movie needed it to be. 

Critics were tough on the film for what they asserted were disappointingly primitive special effects for a movie of this size and expense (they may have had a point, as Chitty's budget was equal to or larger than that of another 1968 release, Stanley Kubrick's 2001:A Space Odyssey whose special effects had set a new standard), but back then I didn't notice or didn't care. When Chitty turned into a boat or the first time it takes wing, just the sight of it (crude special effects and all) hit a fanciful, fantasy nerve in me. I remember getting such a goosebump charge out of it.   

Custom cars were all the rage on TV in the '60s, the George Barris-designed automobiles on Batman, The Monkees, The Munsters, & The Green Hornet were big hits with the young set. But even amongst these memorably snazzy machines, Ken Adam's whimsical design for the flying, amphibious Chitty Chitty Bang Bang stands out with class and distinction. 


THE STUFF OF FANTASY

I saw Chitty Chitty Bang Bang two more times that summer, by then paired with Heaven with a Gun, a truly awful Glenn Ford western made bearable only by its being half the running time of Around the World in 80 Days. And in all these years my love of it as a cheerful, brightly-colored confection as sweet and loaded with empty calories as anything whipped up by the Scrumptious Sweet Company, has only increased. I say empty calories because Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a delectable film that, for all its whimsy and charm, has always engaged my spirits more than my heart. The story—essentially a kidnap/rescue adventure fantasy—is fun in a cartoon kind of way…full of activity and “business” meant to entertain and amuse. But the screenplay keeps the characters at a bit of a remove, their personalities and goals presented so cursorily that the movie never touches me or gives me waterworks in the manner of The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, or Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

It's not entirely true that nothing in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang gives me waterworks. For some reason, the duet performance of "Doll on a Music Box/Truly Scrumptious" gets to me every time. It's a lovely courtship dance in a film skimpy on romance, so when Truly breaks character at the end to give Caractacus a loving smile, I always melt. 


Maybe this is owed to the fact that, as children’s movies go, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s emotional stakes are kept on a low-boil. Both The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins saw lonely children reclaiming their fathers thanks to the spunky intervention of Julie Andrews, and in Oliver! a severely brutalized and exploited orphan finds a home. But Chitty Chitty Bang Bang presents us with a cast of characters whose lives, when the film begins, may not be perfect, but are far from unhappy. Caractacus is a widowed fantasist whose inventions come to naught, but his loving children’s belief in him is unshakable. And I couldn’t have been the only kid who thought Jemima & Jeremy had it pretty sweet living with minimal parental supervision out there in the country in a picturesque windmill crammed with toys and gadgets made by a fun dad. 

You Two
Caractacus Potts and his two unaccountably British children. Though Potts' father and children speak with English accents, Dick Van Dyke, still stinging from criticism of his problematic Cockney accent in Mary Poppins, only agreed to appear in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang if he could forgo the accent.


Even Jemima & Jeremy’s quest to rescue the junked Chitty from the fiery furnace is a low-wattage conflict due to the notion of Chitty being a sentient machine is never fully developed (she shivers at the mention of being melted and rescues the family at moments of danger, but has no personality to speak of) not mention the kids are ready to abandon their salvage mission when it appears doing so will cause their dad undue hardship. However, one thing the film gets right is to grant the frosty Truly Scrumptious character a thawing-out musical number with the children. What's ideal about the casting of Sally Ann Howes is that' she's pretty in precisely the way a child can relate to...like a teacher one develops a crush on. By the end of the number, it's been firmly established that Jeremy & Jemima need a mom, and we in the audience can identify with them in their wish for Truly and their dad to fall in love.

Benny Hill as The Toymaker

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM

I didn’t like movie musicals very much when I was young. No fewer than 13 musicals were released in 1968 (3 by Elvis alone!) and to this day I could kick myself for passing opportunities to see current favorites like Funny Girl, Finian’s Rainbow, and Star! in their original release. But what I did like were cars. Toy cars, model cars, and, after seeing the 1967 theatrical re-release of The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), flying cars. Fred MacMurray’s flying Flubbermobile captivated me to no end, so when Chitty Chitty Bang Bang came on the scene, the car was the primary attraction for me. Nowadays, my absolute favorite thing about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang are its songs and musical sequences. The eleven songs by Robert and Richard Sherman (showcased by Irwin Kostal’s brilliant orchestrations) are catchy and hummable and have aged remarkably well. Not a clunker in the bunch, the entire original score is splendid...even the dreaded “The Roses of Success” has started to grow on me.

Toot Sweets
This pitch-perfect musical pitch meeting is a visual delight. The candy factory set is an eye-popper, and I still get woozy with vertigo when I see those dancers up on that narrow ledge near the rafters.
 

Me Ol' Bamboo
CCBB's answer to Mary Poppins' "Step in Time" is this rousingly entertaining and athletic number in which clever choreography takes center stage. Production on the film was shut down for a week due to 41-year-old Dick Van Dyke sustaining a leg injury while performing one of the dances in the film (sources vary as to whether it was this one, the most likely suspect, or "Toot Sweets"). 

Chu-Chi Face
My partner never saw the film, but when I played this song for fun in my dance class, the silly lyrics and comical vocal performances of Gert Frobe & Anna Quayle made it one of his instant favorites. When we finally watched it together, he was so surprised by its ironic staging (cloying terms of endearment are exchanged amidst the Baron's many unsuccessful attempts to kill the Baroness). I don't think the number ever made much of an impression on me as a kid, but because it never ceases to make my sweetheart laugh, this sequence has become my most-replayed favorite.

Though Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was one of the more eagerly-anticipated releases of 1968, when award season rolled around, only the music of the Sherman brothers (their first non-Disney score) garnered any attention...no wins, but attention. Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for that irresistible earworm of a title song, and a second Globe nomination for Best Original Score. 

Emmy Award-winning TV star Dick Van Dyke had the opportunity to display his versatility as an actor, dancer, and singer in several iconic movies. He made his film debut opposite Janet Leigh in Bye Bye Birdie (1963), his likable persona transferring easily to the big screen. 


THE STUFF OF DREAMS

I’d allowed a lot of time to pass between viewings of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, this recent revisit stirring up dust clouds of nostalgia of such density as to fairly obscure my awareness of what I might have once characterized as the film’s flaws. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang hasn’t changed, but in the last few years, my appreciation of the value of good, old-fashioned schmaltz, cornball comedy, and sweet-natured sentimentality has. One doesn’t have to try very hard to draw contemporary parallels to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s child-caging Vulgarians and the tyrannical, childishly-petulant, tantrum-throwing Baron Bomburst. And indeed, it’s for that very reason that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s liveliness, tuneful good cheer, and elemental, storybook sweetness (and silliness) proved to be just the right “happy endings” spoonful of sugar medicine I needed to make the waning days of 2020 a little easier to deal with. (There go those Mary Poppins comparisons, again!)




BONUS MATERIAL:


Two of my favorite stars from Ken Russell's The Boy Friend (1971) appear briefly in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: British cinema icon Barbara Windsor (top photo) and dancer Antonia Ellis (bottom photo, far right)

Ballet star Robert Helpmann (The Child Catcher) with Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes (1948)


Actress/dancer Paula Kelly (Sweet Charity) dances to an instrumental rendition of the Oscar-nominated title song "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" on the 41st Academy Awards. It lost to "The Windmills of Your Mind" from The Thomas Crown Affair.



Copyright © Ken Anderson    2009 - 2020

21 comments:

  1. Jeepers $12M is a big budget for 1968! Alien '79 was $11M, for comparison.

    You mention that this was Ian Fleming's only children's book; indeed, he had only two non-Bond books, this one and a travelogue of great cities. I'm curious how much Roald Dahl added to the script -- "Vulgaria" sounds like a Dahl touch.

    Apparently the original CCBB is now owned by Peter Jackson!

    Have you seen Kusturica's delightful _Arizona Dream_? It briefly features an homage to the clockwork people scene.

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    1. Hi Allen
      Your citing the budget of ALIEN makes for a very sobering comparison! No wonder critics at the time so severely lambasted CCBB for its not-so-special special effects.

      And I was as unaware of Ian Fleming having written a travelogue as I was director Peter Jackson owning the original Chitty car! That’s certainly an impressive bit of movie memorabilia ownership.

      As for Dahl's contributions to the script, fans of his work do indeed site the film’s more bizarre touches like Vulgaria and the Child Catcher to the famed author, but in later years it seems co-writer and director Ken Hughes took to claiming that nothing that made it to the screen was Dahl's work, and that he was the one who had to rewrite everything.
      I'm not sure many people take his claims as gospel.

      And while I haven't seen ARIZONA DREAM (I should, if only for Faye Dunaway!) I just now popped over to YouTube to catch a glimpse of the brief scene you're referring to. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. It seems homages to CCBB crop up in the oddest places. I have a techno-pop song from the 90s (of all things) that samples the main verse of the CCBB title song.
      I don’t know how many people involved with the film are still around, but for those who are, it must be gratifying to see the onetime flop stick hang around long enough to be embraced as a children’s favorite.
      Thanks again, Allen…I very much appreciate your reading this post and contributing your comments.

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  2. I have to assume my first exposure to CCBB was on TV since I was born in '67 and don't figure it was re-released to theaters when I was older. I liked it fine, but much of it went over my head (like The Bombursts' number) and I loathed the old men's song! But what really struck me was that I was positively PARALYZED with fear over the Child Catcher and don't think I went near a Mr. Softy ice cream truck for a year or two after...! LOL

    Revisiting a few years back, I very much appreciated the hilarious Chu-Chi Face song, was dazzled by the dancing in several numbers, was utterly enthralled with Sally Ann Howes, reveled in the deliciously nasty Child Catcher and, like you, as emotionally touched by the toy-like duet between Van Dyke and Howes. I love songs like that (counterpoint?) and this is a great one. The Broadway show based on the story had a rousing rendition of the title song. I had it on a compilation CD and once drove my best friend over the edge by playing it three times in a row while driving on a trip to somewhere a few hours away. Ha ha! But alone, I'd play it up to 5 or 6 times in a row and caterwaul along. Fun.

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    1. Greetings, Poseidon
      I love that you are one of those who remembers vividly being terrorized by the Child Catcher! It's a great reminder of how impressionable kids were (are?) and how you need only hint at the danger in a possible reality (as you say, chimes and anonymous ice cream men were never made scary before) and a kid's imagination will take it from there.
      It's amusing to hear the now-adult children in interviews today. They are always being asked if they were afraid of the Child Catcher in real-life, and they always say no. But it's fun to see how they twist themselves in descriptive knots trying not to say that the reason Robert Helpmann wasn't scary offscreen was because the openly-gay former ballet dancer was a notoriously witty camp.

      I, too, find Sally Ann Howes very enjoyable in this. Poor think had to endure years of being considered a poor-man's Julie Andrews, but with the passage of time she shines on her own in this, her Doll on a Music Box number (which, when one looks at the angles, staging, and edits, must have been a logistical nightmare) being a standout for me, too.
      I've not seen nor heard the Broadway version, but your enthusiasm for it makes me know I will be checking it out. I love songs that invite multiple listenings and bring out the Broadway belter in us!
      Happy Holidays, Poseidon. Hope all is well and I thank you for reading this and proclaiming your shared disdain for that old men's number! HA! Cheers!

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  3. As odd as it is, I have only seen this movie in full excessively recently. Despite my childhood love of pop cultural touchstones of an era not my own, this film slipped through the cracks entirely.

    It's as light and as sweet as cotton candy, and that much whimsy at this length is something that likely only could have happened at that exact moment in time.

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    1. Hi G.G.
      My partner still hasn't seen all of this movie, so you're in good company in coming upon this movie so recently.

      I can well understand how this movie got past you even as a fan of movies before your time. It's current popularity as a retro classic somewhat belies the reality that until 1998 when talk show host Rosie O'Donnell gave the film a major boost of publicity, gushing about it being a childhood favorite and having its stars as guests, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a forgotten movie beloved by a small cult. I totally credit O'Donnell with giving it more visibility.
      And it really is a curious thing how so many children's films were so looooong! And this is back in the day when real, unadulterated sugar was in virtually everything fed to kids. It's amazing that youngsters like myself at the time were able to sit still for so long. But then, those were the days when spankings and ear-twisting by parents were a common thing, too, so maybe that explains those aisles of well-behaved kids.
      As prolific as you are on your own terrific blog, I'm so flattered you took the time to read this and comment, Graham. Thank you!

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  4. "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a delectable film that, for all its whimsy and charm, has always engaged my spirits more than my heart." I think you perfectly described strength and weakness of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I have ALWAYS loved this film. It's another childhood memory as it appeared on TV fairly regularly and our family would gather round to watch the adventures of the Potts family in Vulgaria. The songs were fun and the people were funny (Gert Frobe and Anna Quayle were hilarious). And that Child Catcher! The stuff of nightmares for an impressionable child like myself.

    You can't imagine my surprise and disappointment when I got old enough to realize that all the Vulgaria shenanigans were nothing more than a story Potts tells his kids at the beach. Once you realize that, you see that plotwise, the movie isn't really about much.

    That said, Dick Van Dyke really makes the film work with his portrayal of the dad every kid would have liked to have. Sally Anne Howe is just lovely (I saw a picture of her recently...holy cow!...she must be 80 or so and she still looks fantastic!). The kids, well, they sure shriek a lot(Daddy! Daddy!) but they're cute. And the car was so cool.

    It's interesting that the Doll in a Music Box song stands out for you. It's my favorite song from the musical (followed closely by the title song) and I agree, it's a song that really has the most heart. Well, I could go on and on about the film but you've really said it best. It's way too long, too plotless, too full of songs and dance numbers, almost nonsensical at points and yet....it endures. Some films really are greater than the sum of their parts.

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    1. Hi Ron
      It’s true; CCBB stands as a very enjoyable movie with endearing characters, great music, fun performances, and a lot to engage and entertain. But its inability to pull you in so you care for the characters (we like the, but we’re not especially invested in them) or feel for them reveals the flaws of its structure.
      There’s something to what you say when you remark that the revelation of the Vulgaria adventure robs the film of something. It’s not like in The Wizard of Oz…in CCBB virtually all the high-stakes action takes place in Vulgaria, that’s where Truly and Crac Potts fall in love.
      When it’s revealed to be a dream, I don’t know specifically what transpires, but it puts us at a narrative remove at a point we want to be pulled IN.
      And the kids, while lacking the distinct characters of those kids in MARY POPPINS, are a mercifully adorable pair. Not often the case.

      Yet, as you say, the film never fails to enchant on its own terms. The car, the songs, the dancing, the comedy (Quayle & Frobe are just what the film need…they’re like Boris and Natasha). But the film is a bit of a patchwork quilt, and its tone is variable, to say the least.
      I know several people who like this movie, but I don’t know anyone who has taken it to their hearts the way they have The Wizard of OZ or even that Charlie Brown’s Christmas TV special.
      It sounds as though we both feel the same – Our awareness of the film’s flaws doesn’t prevent us from enjoying and extolling its virtues! Thank you, Ron, for reading this and commenting so personally and thoughtfully.

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  5. Hi Ken! I have been WAITING for you to do this one!!!

    You may recall I’ve mentioned many times before, I.LOVE.THIS.MOVIE!! I saw it at 6 years old, June of 1969, when it came to my neighborhood. I was – I can’t even describe the effect it had on me, and still does. The music, the car, the sets, costumes, choreography – I was swept away. It also started my love of musical theater.

    Chitty did make a profit, though. I think that UA was expecting / hoping for another SOUND OF MUSIC or POPPINS (ALL the studios were, in fact) and by that yardstick, they considered an under-performer. It didn’t make a SOUND OF MUSIC or even OLIVER! profit, but it did recoup and made some profit besides. I think it did its biggest business in the neighborhood releases. My parents took me to see it 6 times in its neighborhood releases / re-releases through 69 – 71 and every time, I recall lines around the block and packed theaters. I think it unfairly gets lumped in with the late 60s failure movies like DOLITTLE and STAR! It also came out in the middle of a glut of roadshow musicals in late 68 – FUNNY GIRL, STAR!, FINIAN’S RAINBOW, OLIVER!. So it may have been easy to get lost in a shuffle. I loved that you said it has become a classic now. It’s a very well known touchstone not only for adults in our age bracket, but even younger right down to little ones. It’s a standard to show young children, like OZ and WONKA. Nowadays, it is one of the best-selling home videos on the market, so it has turned into a cash cow for MGM/UA!

    The musical numbers – oh boy, what a score. I feel it’s one of the Sherman brothers best. “Toot Sweets” and “Bamboo” get my blood going in the same way that “America” in WEST SIDE STORY does. “Lovely Lonely Man”, sung by Sally Ann, is one of the most beautiful songs, and beautiful sequences, ever put on film. The arrangements by Irwin Kostal, together with the gorgeous visuals in the garden, give me goosebumps. “Hushabye Mountain” makes my eyes fill up in both the first version and the reprise in the hiding place. The title song, with its driving rhythm and the scenery that they pass while driving, is another goose-bumper-toe-tapper.

    It had its first US network television premiere on Thanksgiving, 1972. It was repeated on CBS every year up to and including 1977, so it must have been pulling in good ratings. Then it went to syndicated tv stations and was run frequently.

    Merchandising – oh boy! Toys, records, books, etc! I still have my Corgi CCB car, in fact I have the anniversary editions as well, and several models as well.

    It has long been my hope to play Caractacus in the stage production. I keep hoping it will be done in a community theater within reasonable driving distance. What a thrill that would be, to play this character that I’ve loved since childhood!

    Thank you for this write-up Ken. I was so pleased at the lovely thoughts and memories that we share of this beautiful film!!



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    1. Hi Mike
      It's so cheering to read how much this film means to you! I can hardly imagine what an impression a film like this would make on a 6-year-old, but from the way you describe it, the experience was nothing short of magical. Seeing it six times, yet!
      And better still, your affection for it hasn't waned in the least over the years, your love of the music, performances and story seeming to be precisely what its makers had hoped to inspire in children when it was conceived.

      Brilliant that you still have several model cars, as well.

      I remember when CCBB aired on TV at Thanksgiving. Back in the days before VCRs that initial holiday broadcast was my first time seeing it since to played in theaters with “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” sometime in 1971.

      I always get a charge out of reading the ways in which movies make an impression on people’s lives. It’s all about a person’s reaction to and relationship with a film...it remains fluid and subjective. Often that feeling is realized at its best when two people hold strongly-held, diametrically opposed feelings about the same movie. That is as it should be.
      Thank you for sharing your happy childhood memories of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, one of those movies considerably enhanced by seeing on the big screen (I used to have my program from CCBB, now I wonder if I didn’t sell it on Bay). You bring your experience very much alive to the reader, and your comments are a valuable addition to this post, what with giving readers a genuine child’s-eye-view of seeing children’s movie at the time of its release.
      And, I too, hope one day you get the opportunity to play Caractacus in the theatrical production. Would be so perfect if you were part of a show that could be the unforgettable childhood theatrical experience of someone else.
      Much appreciated, Mike, and thank you so much for the kinds words. Enjoy your holidays!

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  6. I know I saw CCBB at least 3-4 times when it first came out -- something having to do with rainy days at day camp -- and I remember finding it less than transcendent (in the Wizard of OZ sense), in fact a little boring, but with many, many unforgettable moments. I still watch it from time to time but I just fast-forward to the highlights, which for me are the title song (thrilling in stereo), Chu-Chi face, and my God, that music box song: can't get enough of it. Honestly, I couldn't even tell you what else was going on: I remember the kids in cave, the child catcher -- that's about it. And Dick Van Dyke's inventions...and the Truly Scrumptious song...and Toots Sweet...okay, more than just a few unforgettable highlights. But I still have that sense memory of being bored by it as a kid. Maybe it was just too long...

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    1. Hi Peter
      When reading some of the old reviews for this film while prepping for this post, a common complaint among critics (outside of the largely unanimous critical outcry over the underwhelming blue screen flying effects) was that the film/screenplay felt fragmented. And your comments perhaps bear that out.
      CCBB seems to be one of those films that's difficult not to enjoy in parts, but kind of a bitter pill to be ingested whole (that running time!)
      My partner has never actually sat through the whole thing, preferring I show him the individual musical numbers. And while I love the movie and probably can watch it anytime, my 3 sisters (who all saw it with me those many times at the theater) have never watched it again after that first Thanksgiving Day TV broadcast.
      CCBB with commercial interruptions seemed to emphasize the film's fragmented quality, and removed from the forced-focus of a theater setting and that big, colorful screen, each of them found the film to be a tad boring in spite of how much they loved that title song and various sequences.

      Your stream-of-consciousness drawing forth of memories of the film is really rather marvelously conveyed, as I'm certain it echoes the inner process of many: individual moments that shine and stand out in relief, but the particulars of plot and action float in a hazy blur of a very clear recollection of just how long this movie is!
      By the way, I'm impressed you saw this 3-4 times!
      Thanks very much for reading and commenting, Peter!

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  7. Hi Ken-
    An interesting choice for your latest post. I recall watching it once on home video back in the 80s and not being particularly taken with it (Willy Wonka was my go-to repeat favorite), but I can still recall the chorus of "Toot Sweets" so there you go. Your post has definitely sparked in interest in revisiting it.

    On an "Bonus Material" note, I'm very amused to (re)learn that the musical number "The Ol' Bamboo" originates here. It's featured in the fun 70's beauty pageant satire "Smile" with Bruce Dern (which a quick search shows you did an earlier post about-looking forward to reading your thoughts on it!). I can't hear the song without picturing Michael Kidd leading the girls with very little dancing experience through the routine with long sticks. Hilarious.

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    1. Hi Pete
      I'd been wanting to write about this movie for a while, but for the last two years or so, due to the increasingly ugly social climate here in the US I've shied away from movies that reflected an image of humanity totally at odds with what some factions of our country sought to embrace.
      My taking a look at it again is, I guess, a sign that I'm feeling more hopeful!
      And I can totally understand your being unimpressed with the film. As I mentioned, when I was a kid and tried talking to my peers about it, no one was interested nor had seen CCBB, they all were much more taken with THE LOVE BUG. Seems as though there as as many who find it "meh" as find it memorable.

      And I thank you for jogging my memory about The Ol' Bamboo in that wonderful movie SMILE! I too have a segment of those rehearsal sequences stuck in my mind: it's when Michael Kidd reminds a dancer that she can't bow and do a high kick at the same time or she'll knock herself out.
      I owe you a vote of thanks for recalling that film for me and I plan on rectifying an error and will include it in my Bonus Materials section.
      Thank you again, Pete, for reading so many of these posts. I always enjoy your contributions!

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  8. I never knew (or didn't remember) that Barbara Windsor appeared in this!
    I noted her obit earlier this week and just got her autobio 'All of Me'.
    I mainly know her from EastEnders, where she had that 'just try me' vibe!
    I'm going to have to rewatch this for a look a the kid-friendly version (even if she's only in it for a minute).

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    1. Yes, it's such a very small role, but as CCBB was the biggest and most expensive musical to date, with (dashed) hopes of becoming the next MARY POPPINS, I can imagine any number of UK stars would have been happy to appear in it, even if for a flash.
      Even after all these years I only just recognized cockney character actor Arthur Mullard (MORGAN! A SUITAIBLE CASE FOR TREATMENT -1966) as Windor's boyfriend in the scene.

      As much as I like Barbara Windsor, I've never seen her on EASTENDERS, I'm not aware of it ever being broadcast over here. I think I'll take a glance at YouTube where there must be a clip or two.
      Re: Your second comment- Thanks so much for stopping back and filling us in on what Windsor had to say about working on CCBB in her autobiography, which goes for a small fortune on Amazon (like you, I wouldn't have been able to resist looking ahead, either!)
      Thank you very much, Mr. F, for reading this and especially for your comments which serve as a kind of mini-tribute to the great Barbara Windsor, who died just five days after I posted this essay.

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  9. I couldn't resist looking ahead, she worked on CCBB for 'three or four days' and was glad to work with Dick Van Dyke (about three quarters of a page)!
    That's it.

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  10. Sally Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious, and she was. Looking back, you should've known that Ian Fleming wrote the original book. Years ago, I heard that the opening Grand Prix montage was based on a true story, and the rest was fiction. I don't know how true that is or not.

    The scene where they enter Vulgaria and the Potts kids are thrown in prison by the proto-fascist monarchy simply for being children has frequently been compared to the Third Reich. A similar comparison can be aimed at the Burgermeister Dynasty in the 1970 Christmas Special "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," which I used to like a lot since I was a kid, because it presented Santa Claus as a hip dude fighting "the man."

    As for The Childcatcher, nowadays when I hear that name, I don't think of this movie. I think of the penultimate song on the 1996 Lush album "Lovelife."

    Just a few thought on this movie for your blog.

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    1. You're right. Ian Fleming based his car (even its name) on a real-life prize-winning race car in the 1920s that was built and raced by Count Louis Zbrowski & his engineer Clive Gallup. The rest is fantasy.
      And indeed, fictional depictions of fascist governments and regimes do evoke Nazi Germany. Noting the similarities between children-hating Vulgaria and the toy-hating Burgermeister is very apt.
      I'll have to take a listen to the Lush song sometime. Thank you for reading this post and contributing your thoughts!

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  11. Fun fact; Dick Van Dyke was almost Fagin in Oliver! around the same time. God knows what he would have done with that role.

    Both were shot more or less next door to one another at Shepperton Studios.

    The back end of the 1960s was flooded with musical roadshows. According to film historian Matthew Kennedy in his book Roadshow! "In the 7 years that followed Sound of Music, it became de-rigueur for any musical to be released in the roadshow format if they wanted to be major, important or lavish".

    To be clear in the mid-1960s, roadshows were not just for movie musicals; Doctor Zhivago found massive success with the roadshow marketing strategy, just that the format of the musical lent itself more to the roadshow making them more frequent.

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  12. Roadshows were everywhere back then, and it wasn't just movie musicals getting this treatment. Quite a lot of historical dramas were also getting this treatment too. Inevitably all of those later roadshows were imitations of sorts.

    You had Chitty obviously, 1968's The Lion in Winter attempting to be Becket, 1970's Scrooge wanting to be Oliver! and 1971's Nicholas & Alexandra trying to be Doctor Zhivago.

    Then you had movies like Far from the Madding Crowd, Mary Queen of Scots, Patton and Fiddler on the Roof dragging milking the Roadshow for all it was worth.

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