Halloweek Musical Monday: Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)

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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

bedknobs_and_broomsticks_xlgThis week’s musical:
Bedknobs And Broomsticks” (1971)– Musical #534

Walt Disney Studios

Robert Stevenson

Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Roddy McDowall, Sam Jaffe, John Ericson, Reginald Owen,Cindy O’Callaghan, Roy Snart, Ian Weighill

Set in England in during World War II in 1940, Miss Price (Lansbury) is learning how to become a witch when she has to take in three children who were sent to the country and away from the bombing in London. Because of the war, the Witch’s College-run by Emelius Brown (Tomlinson) closes so Miss Price and the children travel on a flying bed to London to learn a spell that will help England in the world.

-“Bedknobs and Broomsticks” was an attempt to recapture the popularity and success of “Mary Poppins” (1964), according to The World of Musicals: An Encyclopedia of Stage, Screen, and Song, and Song by Mark A. Robinson
-Julie Andrews was originally asked to play the lead. Andrews turned down the road but then reconsidered, but the role was already offered to Lansbury, according to Julie Andrews: An Intimate Biography by Richard Stirling. According to the American Film Institute, Andrews later had second thoughts about turning down the film, since Disney helped her get her start with “Mary Poppins.”
-Lynn Redgrave, Judy Carne and Leslie Caron were also offered the lead role in the film, according to the American Film Institute.
-Based on the novels “The Magic Bed-Knob or How to Become a Witch in 10 Easy Lessons” and “Bed-Knob and Broomstick” by Mary Norton.
-Debut for child actors Cindy O’Callaghan, Roy Snart and Ian Weighill.
-Songwriting brothers Richard and Robert Sherman wrote the songs for the film. The Sherman brothers said in an interview that the song “The Beautiful Briny” was originally written for “Mary Poppins ” (1964) but wasn’t used.
-Walt Disney bought the film rights to the first Mary Norton story in 1945, according to the American Film Institute.
-Alan Maley, Eustace Lycett and Danny Lee won an Academy Award for Best Effects, Special Visual Effects
-The film was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Music, Original Song, “The Age of Not Believing,” Best Music, Scoring Adaptation and Original Song Score
-Angela Lansbury was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress for a Musical/Comedy

David Tomlinson referees  a cartoon soccer game.

David Tomlinson referees a cartoon soccer game.

Notable Songs:
-“Portobello Road” performed by an ensemble
-“The Age of Not Believing” performed by Angela Lansbury
-“The Beautiful Briny” performed by Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson

My review:
“Bedknobs and Broomsticks” starts out with great potential.

An excellent cast with Angela Lansbury, David Tomlinson, Roddy McDowall, Sam Jaffe and Reginald Owen. A seemingly adorable premise of child World War II refugees paired with an unlikely host who dislikes children and happens to be an apprentice witch.

But after the first 20 minutes, the movie starts to go downhill.

When the Witch’s College closes down due to the war, Lansbury and the three children search out the school’s professor, played by David Tomlinson, to learn the last spell to help England during the war.

This hunt for the last spell takes the cast into an exhausting 20 or 30 minute bit in cartoon land, playing soccer with lions and dancing with fish.

I was relatively interested in the film until they hopped into cartoon land. The mix of live action and cartoon was an innovative feature at the time, was popular with film critics and won an Academy Award. However, once the film goes into the cartoon portion, it seems to lose direction, not make much sense and drags everything to a halt.

Along with the overly long cartoon portion of the film, half the cast in this film is wasted. I was excited to see Roddy McDowall, Reginald Owen and Sam Jaffe in the credits, but collectively, they are only in the two hour film for 10 minutes.

While this movie was trying to recapture the magic of “Mary Poppins,” it simply falls flat. The children lack the charm of the kids in “Mary Poppins” and the songs aren’t as catchy, though they are also written by the wonderful Sherman brothers.

One notable feature is the dance number for “Portobello Road.” It’s lengthy but impressive. The only irksome feature is that the female hair and costumes are not accurate for war era England.

Angela Lansbury does end up being able to hold off Nazis, ready to attack the small English village, in a rather…creative way that is also a little creepy.

Overall, while the film has a lovely cast and starts off having a cute storyline, it really is overly long and could do without the cartoons. This is a good example as how Disney films were declining in quality after Walt Disney’s death.


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