I have agreed to participate in Hitchcock’s World’s 1964 in Film Blogathon. And when I heard about said Blogathon, my first instinct was to write about the magical film that shaped my childhood and many others. If you recall, there was a time when I made a list of my top ten favorite movies and I put this film in the #9 spot. Now, I took the list down because I thought that it wasn’t accurate any more.
We are introduced to the household of 17 Cherry Tree Lane, where George Banks (David Tomlinson) lives with his wife Winifred, (Glynis Johns) and their two children, Jane and Michael. The last few nannies that have been hired for the children all failed to properly look after the children, and Mr. Banks puts an ad in the Times for a new nanny, demanding that the new nanny be stern and cross. Meanwhile the children ask for their next nanny to be pretty and play games with them.
Enter Mary Poppins, in an Oscar winning turn by Julie Andrews. She seems to be the perfect combination of both requests. The children do enjoy the adventures she takes them on, but Mr. Banks sees this woman as running his life, and seeks to stop it.
This movie won five Academy Awards, and it’s unusual for being the only time in Oscar history that a film won both the Best Actress & Best Visual Effects Oscars. (A feat that was ALMOST repeated this year, but no cigar.) The effects, while not the most convincing, still look pretty good, and the film’s production and costume design fit the era while exaggerating just enough to work.
One of the most interesting things about this film are the performances. Glynis Johns would have made 1964’s weak Supporting Actress field a little stronger, and Dick Van Dyke clearly gives it his all. (despite the infamous accent) But one performance that nobody really talks about is David Tomlinson as George Banks. Despite being a supporting character, George Banks is the emotional center of the film, and as the film goes on and he becomes less and less sure of himself, he just becomes amazing. My favorite scene in the film is near the end when he’s walking to the bank, knowing he’s about to lose his job. I swear, every single time I see the scene, I cry a little.
And of course, we have Julie Andrews. It’s so funny to me that she played this role only one year before her other iconic performance – Maria in The Sound Of Music. Both characters are similar in that they both come in to look after children and they both end up bringing some much-needed joy into the household. However, there are some key differences. While Maria is very much an open book, Mary Poppins is an enigma.
There’s a line late in the film that was improvised by Julie Andrews, which seems to explain her character. The children ask Mary Poppins if she loves them, and she responds, “And what would happen to me, may I ask, If I loved all the children I has to say goodbye to.” While we certainly get a sense that she likes what she does, we also see that she’s done it hundreds of times and purposely not getting emotionally involved with the children for her own sake. It’s beautifully subtle.
This film is filled with fun moment after fun moment. At first I started to worry that maybe the fun scenes went on for a bit too long, but the more I think about it, this would have been amazing back in 1964, especially for children. It momentarily turns into a disney cartoon and then brings you back into the real world. The pacing is wonderful.
There is a small nitpick I have about the film. You have Mr. Banks talking about how his world was well ordered before Mary Poppins came into it, but here’s this Admiral Boom guy who’s been here for a while. And everybody in the Banks household is totally used to him.
But again, it’s a small nitpick and judging from Saving Mr. Banks, it was most likely something that Pamela Travers insisted on. Mary Poppins is one of those films that defined the 60’s, let alone 1964. Today, something like this would be glossed over and certainly not nominated for any Oscars. (cough Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium cough) so it’s nice to know that the film got the attention it deserved and it deserves to be in every film collection.
And for those of you who are still skeptical, I think Doug Walker sums it up pretty well here.