Mary Poppins (1964)

“I didn’t really like it, but I did like it,” said our five year-old critic about Disney’s quite long, but phenomenally entertaining Mary Poppins. It did need a pause for us to explain nannies and suffragettes, and we took an intermission after eighty of its hundred and forty minutes, but he laughed with the slapstick and the dancing and the animation.

For those of you who don’t know much about this movie, it’s about a mysterious and magical nanny who comes to the Banks home to uproot a few things and arrange events so that Mr. Banks will be a more attentive father to his kids. Mom and Dad are played by Glynis Johns and David Tomlinson – add him to the very long list of actors who would have / should have made a better Lord Ffogg opposite Johns in Batman a couple of years later – and the kids by Karen Dotrice and Matthew Garber.

Bringing magic into the family’s life, there’s Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, but you mustn’t overlook Ed Wynn as a strange Uncle Arthur, who has a contagious habit of levitating when he laughs. Andrews is not merely practically perfect in every way, but perfect, period. Van Dyke is an absolute joy to watch, if not to listen to. You make allowances for this being a movie with only a half hour of plot because the music and the dancing are so entertaining, but there’s really no allowances for his terrible accent. But you can forgive him because “Step in Time” is just so amazing. In much the same way that the swordfight in The Princess Bride is as good a swordfight as you’ll ever see in a movie, this is the definitive song and dance in a movie for me, even more than the iconic Singing in the Rain. It could go on another five minutes, and only the churlish would object.

Honestly, a hundred and forty minutes and the only thing that takes me out of this movie is Van Dyke’s accent. It’s incredibly fun, supremely witty, packed with great performances, and sports at least four songs that darn near everybody in the western world knows. Our son may not have really liked it, but I did.

For some reason, my laptop adamantly refused to play this DVD for me to get some captures, so the sole image here comes from Cinema Blend.

Batman 3.13 – The Bloody Tower

Well, just when you thought this story could not get any dumber, Batman and Batgirl escape from Lord Ffogg’s dungeon by way of the Indian rope trick. The less said about that, the better.

Daniel identified his first special effect tonight. He saw right through that African killer death bee, or whatever they called it, and said that it was fake. But he wasn’t sure whether it was meant to be a toy bee with a killer sting that could still hurt Robin, or whether it was a fumble of the production. Eventually, he erred on the side of caution and ran to hide, just in case.

Anyway, this is the end for Rudy Vallée and Glynis Johns’ characters. This story really works for child audiences, but for adults, it’s a mammoth missed opportunity. Compared to the rollercoaster feel of the three-parters in season two, this really was tedious, dull, and really lacked focus. I didn’t enjoy it at all, apart from some playful innuendo that Adam West and Yvonne Craig brought to the scene where Batman uses a file to cut Batgirl free from her chains. Have a look at it sometime, and watch their faces. It’s not even remotely subtle.

Batman 3.12 – The Foggiest Notion

Oh, look, it’s 1967.

Watching this turkey through my son’s eyes reveals a little more about why I may have been enthralled by this story as a kid. It really is unusual in scope, and our heroes are constantly behind the villains, entrapped again and again. Even knowing who and where the villain is, they can’t get the upper hand. Lord Ffogg doesn’t even have to hide in some abandoned umbrella factory or disused joke book warehouse; he and his sister flaunt their wealth and power and the good guys cannot seem to win. Especially when most of the shows this season are over and done with in thirty minutes, to have Lord Ffogg and Lady Penelope Peasoup not just evading capture, but downright slapping the good guys around really does make them look like awesomely powerful foes.

The proof? Daniel is miserable. He’s having trouble articulating it, but things feel completely hopeless in a way that the old cliffhanger deathtraps just don’t convey. Here, it’s just one trap and one obstacle after another. Two episodes in and Lord Ffogg is totally in charge of the situation. If you’re an adult, it’s just tedious, but if you’re a kid, it’s apparently overwhelming. That is how I remember it, and that is how he is experiencing it.

But proving that some things never change even though they clearly should, co-writer Charles Hoffman still somehow found room for another wacky Batcomputer gag. This time, the computer is trying to spell “winch” but can’t get the vowel right until Batman slaps the computer hard enough. Hoffman is the only writer who attempts to mine comedy out of the computer. Everybody else knows that it isn’t funny.

Batman 3.11 – The Londinium Larcenies

The last time out, I said that we were tabling Batman for a bit, and we will. Its replacement show hasn’t arrived, and to be honest, I’m much happier to get this mess of a story over with rather than leave it as something to look forward to.

Yeah, time has not been kind to “The Londinium Larcenies.” It’s unusual, because I remember completely loving this story as a child and feeling that it was epic. Something clicked in my little kid head and I thought that Lord Ffogg was one of Batman’s greatest opponents, and that the story, which takes him away from Gotham City for the only time, left our hero out of his element. There’s also a really scary moment with a killer bee coming up.

About ten years ago, I went halfsies on a bootleg DVD set of this show, because it sure didn’t look like it was ever coming out legitimately. I left most of it alone as I never seemed to have the time, although I did marvel at the ten full hours of bonus features the bootleggers assembled. (No kidding; ten. It’s even got Peter Graves hosting an A&E Biography on Cesar Romero.) I did make time to rewatch the first two episodes of this story, expecting excellence, and couldn’t make it to the third. It’s awful.

A big part of the problem is the casting of Rudy Vallée, of all people, as Lord Ffogg. Why they couldn’t have hired, you know, an actual British person for this job is beyond me. The rest of the cast is full of the sort of expats who knew how to believably say “cor” and “blimey” and “stone the crows, missus, what a sticky wicket” and, like Glynis Johns (playing Ffogg’s sister Lady Penelope) and Maurice Dallimore, frequently ended up in Walt Disney films set in jolly, merrie old Engerlund. (Bizarrely, this isn’t the only example I can come up with of an ostensibly British criminal duo on TV played by a British female and an American male passing as English; there’s a Columbo with Honor Blackman and Richard Basehart.)

Anyway, Ffogg could have been played by Bernard Fox or Terry-Thomas or, heck, Dallimore himself would have made more sense, but they went with Vallée, fresh from the huge success of the stage and film productions of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and he just sleepwalks through the episode like he could not possibly care less. Earlier in this blog, I mentioned how Adam West had some animosity toward guest star Otto Preminger. Yvonne Craig was, similarly, less than impressed with Vallée, and had some really choice words about him and his crummy attitude in West’s autobiography.

But the real problem with this story is that it’s smug and it requires everybody to be stupid. There’s not even a reason to suspect Lord Ffogg in episode one. Somehow, the Dark Knight Detective jumps from “the criminal creates his own fog” to “there’s this guy with a big lawn full of fog grass,” and fingers him. And the humor never rises above “Barnaby Street! Londinium! Ireland Yard! Get it?”

It is amusing, at least, that Monte / Monty Landis, another expat who started his career in the UK in the 1950s and moved to Hollywood around 1964, plays Lady Penelope’s cockney butler and somehow manages to be even more wooden than Parker on Thunderbirds.