Musical Monday: The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (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 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968)– Musical #571

Studio:
Walt Disney Productions

Director:
Michael O’Herlihy

Starring:
Walter Brennan, Buddy Ebsen, Janet Blair, Lesley Ann Warren, Kurt Russell, Jon Walmsley, Pamelyn Ferdin, John Davidson, Wally Cox, John Davidson, Richard Deacon, Bobby Rhia, Goldie Hawn, Butch Patrick (uncredited)

Plot:
Set in 1888, the musical Bower family auditions to play at the Democratic convention for Grover Cleveland in the election of Cleveland vs. Benjamin Harrison. The Bower family moves from Missouri to the Dakota Territory, which is largely Republican. The family gets involved in a local political battle as grandpa (Brennan) is a Democrat and the rest of the town is mostly Republican.

Trivia:
-The film is a true story based on a book written by Laura Bower Van Nuys, who was the youngest of the Bower family.

-Filmed in 1966, this was supposed to be a two-part, hour-long TV special called “The Family Band.” Walt Disney thought the project was flat and asked the Sherman brothers to help write songs.

Goldie Hawn in an uncredited role as a dancer with John Davidson

-Goldie Hawn’s film debut. She was credited as “giggly girl.”

-Music written by brother songwriters Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman. The Sherman brothers wrote a total of 11 songs for the production while eight were used in the final product.

-750 children were interviewed for roles in the film, according to a June 15, 1968, article in the El Paso Herald.

Highlights:
-Walter Brennan singing

Notable Songs:
-“Let’s Put It Over with Grover” performed by the whole Bower family
-“The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band” performed by the Bower Family
-“The Happiest Girl Alive” performed by Lesley Ann Warren
-“Dakota” performed by John Davidson
-“‘Bout Time” performed by John Davidson and Lesley Ann Warren

My review:
The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968) isn’t a well-known Disney film. I actually had never heard of it until I picked up one of those inexpensive three movie sets, because it included “The Happiest Millionaire,” the only Greer Garson movie I have yet to see.

And while IMDB does not list this movie as a musical, there is no doubt that it is one. The film opens with the family singing and I don’t think anyone stops singing for the first 20 minutes of the movie. It really isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that the first half of this film has more lyrics than lines.

The film starts out with the family practicing and auditioning to perform at the 1888 Democratic convention for Grover Cleveland with a song that Grandpa (Walter Brennan) wrote about Grover Cleveland. So that’s what the movie is going to be about, right? The family’s adventures of traveling to the convention, performing and becoming a big sensation?

Wrong. The family doesn’t perform at the convention because they decide to move to the Dakota territory. And then we follow their adventures there where the mostly Republican territory takes issue with Democrat Grandpa’s political ideas. And the family band plays every so often.

Now, this movie was based on the real Bowers family and an autobiography the youngest daughter of the family wrote, so I guess this is close to what happened with the family. But real life doesn’t always make sense when it comes to a film script. By the last half of the film I was scratching my head thinking, “So is this ploy just about people disagreeing about politics? I thought this would be more about a family band!”

At one hour and 50 minutes, I think this storyline could have been 20 to 30 minutes shorter. Had it simply been about a family band performing, one hour and 40 minutes may have been permissible, but I’m not really sure why this is so long or what filled the time.

What’s really interesting about “Family Band” is it’s cast. Knowing nothing about the film, I had no idea about the unique blend of actors and was surprised by some of the cast members. I really only knew Lesley Ann Warren, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn (in an uncredited role) were in the film. First, I was shocked to see Janet Blair, who seemingly had not aged since My Sister Eileen (1942) and looked beautiful as ever. Also, if you’re a Waltons” fan, Jon Wamsley (who plays Jason Walton on the show) is in the film as one of the younger siblings.

Oh and did I mention that Walter Brennan sings? I did love that. I was also happy to see Buddy Ebsen dancing in the film. Ebsen danced in a few 1930s and 1940s MGM musicals but it seems to be a rare site in his later films. Lesley Ann Warren does some great dancing in the film and Goldie Hawn appears as a dancer, stealing Warren’s boyfriend.

While there are multiple songs, the Sherman brothers did a great job with some toe-tapping tunes that will get stuck in your head (especially since they are performed so many times throughout the film).

I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t like the film…it was delightful. It just wasn’t what I expected and I had several questions once it ended. If you’re a Disney fan and haven’t seen this one, you should round out your Disney viewing and give it a watch.

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