Musical Monday: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

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.

chitty4This week’s musical:
Chitty Chitty Ban Bang (1968) – Musical #724

Studio:
United Artists

Director:
Ken Hughes

Starring:
Dick Van Dyke, Sally Ann Howes, Lionel Jeffries, Gert Fröbe, Anna Quayle, Benny Hill, James Robertson Justice, Heather Ripley, Adrian Hall, Desmond Llewelyn

Plot:
Caractacus Potts (Van Dyke) is a down-on-his-luck inventor restores a former winning race car. He takes his children (Hall, Llewelyn) and an acquaintance, Truly Scrumptious (Howes), on a picnic where he tells them a magical adventure story about the car.

Trivia:
• Based on the 1964 novel “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car” by Ian Fleming.
• Roald Dahl adapted the novel for the screen.
• Julie Andrews was originally offered the role of Truly Scrumptious.
• Dick Van Dyke initially turned the film down, according to his autobiography.
• The first film that the Sherman Brothers composed music for that wasn’t produced by Disney.
• Only film of Heather Ripley and the first film of Adrian Hall.

chitty3

Highlights:
• “Doll on a Music Box” number

Notable Songs:
• “Doll on a Music Box” performed by Sally Ann Howes
• “Hushabye Mountain” performed by Dick Van Dyke
• “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” performed by Dick Van Dyke
• “Me Ol’ Bamboo” performed by Dick Van Dyke

My review:
Over the years, I’ve written about the quality of late-1960s/early-1970s musicals as the genre declined. Everyone was still trying to chase a hit in the wake after “Sound of Music” (1964), the over budget sleeper success that unexpectedly hit it big.

“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” was one of those late genre musicals that just doesn’t quite hit the mark—for me at least. Others seem to love it, or at least have fond childhood memories of watching it. I did not grow up on this film and watched it for the first time at age 34 (the day before reviewing this actually).

This musical strikes me as so many other musicals at the time that all have a similar formula:
• A costume musical set in an earlier time period (see also: Oliver, Camelot, Dr. Dolittle)
• Overly long at 2.5 to 3 hours
• The songs largely sound the same

I struggled to write the plot of this movie because … most of it is just a story/dream sequence. How is a children’s movie 2.5 hours long? While the story isn’t my cup of tea, it all just seems unnecessary and weakly strung together. Why did this need to be so long?

I think the most disappointing thing is that the songs aren’t very good (save a few) … and it’s the Sherman Brothers! The Sherman Brothers (Robert Sherman, Richard Sherman) were the genius composers behind the songs in films like “Mary Poppins,” “The Parent Trap,” “Summer Magic” and “The Jungle Book.” But even musical geniuses aren’t fool proof to be successful. And like with most composers, you can hear some self-borrowing. “Me Ol’ Bamboo” sure sounded like “Step in Time.” “Chu-Chi Face” felt incredibly unnecessary. Not sure why these characters needed their own song.

Sally Ann Howes described the movie as: “if you put Mary Poppins together with James Bond, this would be their child.” If it truly had been that, I think it would have been interesting and better. The fact that all the (awful) adventure was just a story told on the picnic.

chittyOkay, I’ll try to share some positives:
Sally Ann Howes is lovely. I’ve read some reviews that felt Howes was miscast and Julie Andrews (who was originally imagined for the role) would have been better. Andrews couldn’t have saved this film, and Howes is really the only bright spot that’s in the movie. I just wish Howes could have had a larger musical film career, with the same success she found on the musical stage. The only part of the film that I liked was her performance as “Doll on a Music Box.”

I’ll also say this for the story: I do think it’s sweet that these were stories Ian Fleming created for his child. I’d be curious what Fleming would have thought of this film had he lived — he probably wouldn’t have cared for it.

Dick Van Dyke can’t save this film either. He was a genius on television, and I find his work better there (outside of a few films, like Mary Poppins).

I know many people love this film and have fond memories of watching it. My dislike of this film is not taking away from your joy; I only wish I could have shared it. I went my whole life without seeing this movie. I’m now confident that I can go the rest of my life without ever seeing it again.

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1 thought on “Musical Monday: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

  1. I am one of those people for whom Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a fond childhood memory. Unfortunately, I saw it for the first time again when I was in my twenties and I learned that, well, it just isn’t very good! Honestly, the only things I really like about the film are the title song, “Me Ol’ Bamboo,” and Sally Ann Howes. I know a lot of people will disagree with me, but I think Julie Andrews would have been miscast as Truly Scrumptious. Miss Howes was perfect in the part!

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