Are you tired? Run down? Do you have that all-in-dragged-out feeling? If you do, please do not reach for Lotireg, for that clever little guy named Speedy, or even for vitamins x, y, or z. Instead, I shall suggest a sure-fire tonic. Go to see Mary Poppins (Buena Vista, Robert Stevenson). Here we have Walt Disney at his best, and that is very good indeed.
Mary Poppins, a musical fantasy, is based on the adventures of the fictional English nanny created by P.L. Travers about twenty-five years ago. Miss Travers, an Englishwoman, must be gratified to see how successfully her magical nursemaid has been brought to life on the screen. Mary Poppins has all the ingredients that make for an outstanding film: fresh, lilting, singable songs: dazzling choreography: strikingly effective settings: enchanting whimsy; rib-tickling comedy; satire that is pointed but never cruel; an exceptionally well-made script; expert direction; and a brilliant cast. In addition, there are special technical and scenic effects which must be seen to be appreciated.
Julie Andrews, the charming and gifted musical-comedy star who appeared in the original Broadway productions of My Fair Lady and Camelot, is completely captivating as Mary Poppins. Dick Van Dyke displays remarkable versatility in a demanding, many-faceted role. It would be difficult to find any flaws in the performances of the supporting players. The children—Mary's charges and the heart and center of the story—are sweet, natural, and appealing.
There may be those who do not respond to excursions into sheer fantasy. To them Mary Poppins may seem a bit sweet, rather childish, and a little too long. But I doubt that most movie-goers will be able to resist the infectious gayety of this fine film. For this is clean, wholesome, and beguiling comedy for the entire family. I was surrounded by families—from babes in arms to octogenarians. Their response to Mary Poppins indicated complete approval and carefree, wholehearted enjoyment.
The next film on my list does not lend itself to carefree, wholehearted enjoyment. Fail Safe (Columbia, Sidney Lumet) plunges us abruptly into a nightmarish world of grim reality. The possibility of nuclear war casts a long and ominous shadow over the nations of the earth. Can a nuclear holocaust in fact come about as the result of a mechanical failure in the complex and intricate system designed to direct and control the monstrous weapons of modern warfare? Fail Safe, adapted from the widely read novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler, is based on the premise that this can happen. The picture is exciting, the acting is good, and the action builds to a shattering and completely unthinkable climax. The film is also terrifying in its implications. This leads me to ask whether there can be any ethical justification for the deliberate exploitation of a subject which involves the fate of civilization. To be informed is right and desirable. To be misinformed is not.
The Visit, Friedrich Duerrenmatt's trenchant and sardonic study of an embittered old woman's macabre plan for revenge, scored a hit on Broadway in 1958. It is safe to predict that the film version of The Visit (20th Century-Fox, Bernhard Wicki) will not fare so well. Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn appear in the roles that were played with brilliant success by Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt in the stage production. But the characterizations presented by Miss Bergman and Mr. Quinn lack both depth and conviction. And Duerrenmatt's scathing exposition of the manner in which the townspeople not only succumb to the corrupting power of greed but actually succeed in rationalizing their actions is wholly perfunctory.
Fred Zinnemann must be ranked with the ablest directors of our day. Unfortunately, Behold a Pale Horse (Columbia) falls far short of the standard of excellence we have come to associate with Mr. Zinnemann's work. The photography is magnificent; but the acting is lackluster, and the story moves at a snail's pace.
Here are other current film releases. All are run-of-the-mill. Send Me No Flowers and I'd Rather Be Rich, both from Universal, are shoddy and in poor taste. Kisses for My President (Warners) is downright silly. Cartouche (Embassy) is a swashbuckling adventure yarn. Fate Is the Hunter (20th Century-Fox) is a thrill-a-minute melodrama. And Invitation to a Gunfighter (United Artists) is a cliché-ridden horse opera.
Two TV shows presented during the month of October relieved the tedium of the mediocre new programs which made unimpressive debuts and of the endless political palaver which assailed our ears. The first was the successful launching of Syn Com III on October 7. This remarkable synchronous communications satellite was used to transmit the Olympic Games in Tokyo to many parts of the world. And on October 25 a grateful nation paid a final tribute to a distinguished American. The fame of Herbert Clark Hoover is not confined to the United States. Nor does it rest on the fact that he served as our 31st President. Mr. Hoover belonged to the world. Who can even attempt to evaluate the work of this truly great humanitarian? Mr. Hoover exemplified the best of the qualities which we like to call American.