Musical Monday: The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) – Musical No. 654

Studio:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Director:
Henry Levin, George Pal (the fairy tales)

Starring:
Laurence Harvey, Karlheinz Böhm (billed as Karl Boehm), Claire Bloom, Barbara Eden, Walter Slezak, Oskar Homolka, Martita Hunt, Ian Wolfe, Bryan Russell, Tammy Marihugh
Fairy tale characters: Russ Tamblyn, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Backus, Beulah Bondi, Clinton Sundberg, Sandra Bettin, Robert Foulk, Terry-Thomas, Buddy Hackett, Otto Kruger,

Plot:
A biographical film on brothers Jacob Grimm (Böhm) and Wilhelm Grimm (Harvey). Jacob and Wilhelm have been hired by the Duke (Homolka) to write a family history of his life. But the more serious Jacob frequently pulls the workload, while Wilhelm is more fanciful and finds more importance in documenting fairy tales.
Mixed into the biographical narrative are fairy tales that are acted out as one of the narrative characters tells them. These include:
– The Dancing Princess
– The Cobbler and the Elves
– The Singing Bone.

Trivia:
• Filmed in Cinerama and was released as a roadshow film.
• MGM and Cinerama began production on the first two Cinerama productions around the same time: “How the West Was Won” and “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.” “The Brothers Grimm” was completed and released first, according to “MGM” by Tino Balio.
• George Pal acquired the Grimm property in 1956, according to Balio’s book.
• When this film has been aired by Turner Classic Movies, it includes the prologue, overture, intermission and exit music. These were not included in the 1992 laserdisc release.
• Henry Levin directed the narrative story. George Pal directed the fairy tale vignettes.
• Russ Tamblyn’s singing voice was dubbed by Gene Merlino.
• Russ Tamblyn briefly reprises his role of Tom Thumb, which was released in 1958 and also produced by George Pal.
• Costumes were designed by Mary Wills.

Laurence Harvey and Karlheinz Böhm “The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm”

Highlights:
• The dancing scene in “The Dancing Princess” vignette.

Notable Songs:
• “Dancing Princess” performed by Russ Tamblyn, dubbed by Gene Merlino
• “Christmas Land” performed by a chorus of children
• “Ah-Oom” performed by elves
• “Dee-Are-A-Gee-O-En (Dragon)” performed by Terry-Thomas and Buddy Hackett

My review:
In the 1960s, film studios were pulling out all the stops to compete with the newer television medium.

“Hollywood responded to the threat by making bigger movies — epics, adventures, sweeping period romances. The kind of stories you just couldn’t get at home on a 19-inch television,” said TCM host Ben Mankiewicz during an Oct. 2017 introduction to the film during a George Pal spotlight.

George Pal, known for his animation innovations, pitched the idea of a biographical film on the Grimm Brothers, who were well known for documenting and preserving fairy tales that previously were just passed on by word-of-mouth. While telling the Grimm brothers’ story, he also wanted to mix in the fairy tales they were sharing.

“The Wonderful World of Brothers Grimm” was one of six major productions released between 1960 and 1963 by MGM; produced, hoping a large epic would carry the studio. The others included”” “Cimmaron,” “King of Kings,” “Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse,” “Mutiny on the Bounty” and “How the West was Won.”

“The Brothers Grimm” was shot in Cinerama, which is a widescreen process where three film projectors simultaneously project three images onto a large, curved screen.

Prior to this time, many of the Cinerama films were documentaries, and “The Wonderful World of Brothers Grimm” was one of the first narrative films to use this new film technology. “How the West was Won” began filming in June 1961, and “Brothers Grimm” began in July 1961 but was released first.

As a rule, this type of fantasy film and unique format usually isn’t my cup of tea. However, revisiting this film for the first time in years, I was engaged for the entire 2 hour and 18 minute film.

It has a lot going for it: an all-star cast lead by Laurence Harvey and Karl Böhm; vibrant Technicolor; and gorgeous costumes designed by Mary Wills.

After revisiting this film, I now want to see it on the big screen at a Cinerama dome when theaters fully open again! While perhaps not marketed traditionally as a musical, four songs are performed throughout and a beautiful dance sequence, so I think it can qualify as a musical.

Here is how the format works:
The story begins with the brothers, and we learn about their differences. These portions are directed by Henry Levin. Each time Wilhelm tells a story, the George Pal-directed fairy tales fade in and take over – in the same way a flashback or dream sequence may occur in another film.

The fairy tales include:
-The Dancing Princess: starring Yvette Mimieux as the princess and Russ Tamblyn as the woodsman. The story also includes Jim Backus as the king and Beulah Bondi as a gypsy.
The special effects used in this story include Tamblyn going invisible with the help of a special cloak. We see him slowly go invisible with only his head showing until he covers that too.

Publicity photo of Yvette Mimiux and Russ Tamblyn

– The Cobbler and the Elves: starring Laurence Harvey as the cobbler.
For the special effects in this story, we get to see George Pal’s famous stop motion with his puppets. According to the 1985 documentary “The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal,” Pal made the puppets so that their faces could be swapped out.

The Elves in “The Cobbler and the Elves” story

– The Singing Bone: starring Terry-Thomas as Ludwig, Buddy Hackett as Hans, Otto Kruger as the king, and Robert Crawford Jr. as the Shepherd.
This story’s special effects are the stop motion of the dragon that Hackett is trying to fight. We see more special effects when Hackett comes back to life, and his body is built from the bones outward.

Buddy Hackett in “The Singing Bone” story

My favorite of the stories was “The Dancing Princess.” It features a gorgeous, dreamy dance sequence with Tamblyn and Mimieux – and we also see Tamblyn acrobatic dancing before their duet.

I also love seeing Laurence Harvey in a more lighthearted role, as most of the films I’ve seen him in are dramas. I loved seeing Karl Böhm in this film, as I fell in love with him during the “Sissi” series.

I think this film could potentially be great for children, but the issue is that it’s so long that most children wouldn’t want to sit that long – or wouldn’t like the biographical areas. If I watched this with a child, I would only show them the fairy tale vignettes.

While this film hasn’t yet been released on DVD, you can catch it from time-to-time on Turner Classic Movies. It was recently shown during the 2016 31 Days of Oscar festival, in 2017 during a George Pal spotlight, and in 2018 during a fairy tale spotlight.

I wanted to highlight this film during the holiday season because the Cobbler and the Elves portion takes place at Christmas, so I bought a grey market DVD. Unfortunately, portions of the version I watched were cut off so I missed some of the scenery.

I really enjoyed revisiting this film, and I think it’s a lot of fun. While the storytelling is a bit non-traditional and it’s long, I think it has something for everyone: the Cinerama aspect may entice those who love the history of film technology, George Pal fans will love it, and it’s family-friendly with the fairy tales (though perhaps a bit long).

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1 thought on “Musical Monday: The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)

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