June has been the month to catch up with previously unseen Hayley Mills Disney movies. A few weekends ago I enjoyed Hayley in THE MOON-SPINNERS (1964), a light mystery set in beautiful Crete.
Today I caught an earlier Hayley film, IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS, at a sold-out screening on the Disney Studios lot. The movie was shown as part of D23's ongoing Fifty and Fabulous series.
I very much enjoyed THE MOON-SPINNERS, but unfortunately IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS wasn't made with the same polish. Hayley and Maurice Chevalier give the movie their best light touches, but they can't counteract the leaden screenplay by Lowell S. Hawley, which was based on the book by Jules Verne. What's more, George Sanders is completely wasted as the villain of the piece.
As our story begins, Mary Grant (Mills) and her brother Robert (Keith Hamshere) attempt to speak to Lord Glenarvan (Wilfrid Hyde White), the owner of the shipping line which employed their father, Captain Grant (Jack Gwillim). Captain Grant has been long missing, but a gentleman named Jacques (Chevalier) has miraculously found a bottle with a note giving clues to their father's location.
Mary, Robert, and Jacques persuade Lord Glenarvan and his teenage son John (Michael Anderson Jr., THE SUNDOWNERS) to help them search for Captain Grant and his crew, and the adventure is on.
The movie starts out well, wasting no time plunging viewers into the story, but it quickly falls apart. The scattered script requires a willing suspension of disbelief more times than can be counted, but it doesn't provide enough magic to make the audience willing to buy in to the bizarre situations. For example, when the searchers are high in windy, snowy South American mountains, they're clad only in woolen ponchos; no gloves, no hats, no heavy coats, and yet they're all perfectly comfortable. Likewise, the characters stand right next to an erupting volcano without appearing the least bit warm.
Our intrepid heroes are also confronted with a landslide and a flood, miraculously -- and surprisingly calmly -- surviving both. And then there's the condor... Peter Ellenshaw's special effects are impressive for the era, but they're also obvious, especially in service to such a weak story.
Just a couple of years later director Robert Stevenson would have a far better experience mixing the ordinary and the magical in MARY POPPINS (1964), which I consider Disney's greatest live-action achievement. Likewise, while the songs the Sherman Brothers wrote for IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS are immediately forgotten, they would win Oscars for Best Song and Best Score for MARY POPPINS. George Sanders would also fare better in a later Disney film, voicing Shere Khan in THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967).
Although the film was a disappointment, it's always a treat to set foot on the historic Disney Studios lot in Burbank. The small lot feels more like a college campus, with its orderly walkways lined with shade trees. The Studio Theatre is an impressively plush venue, with deep cushioned chairs, not to mention a brief overture and light show as the screening began. The movie was preceded by the Donald Duck cartoon CONTRARY CONDOR (1944), which was perfectly themed to be shown with the main feature.
IN SEARCH OF THE CASTAWAYS is available on a DVD which is available for rental from Netflix or ClassicFlix. The movie also had a VHS release, and it can be streamed via Amazon Instant Video.
Related Posts: Tonight's Movie: Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009) and a Visit to Walt Disney Studios; Tonight's Movie: Tangled (2010) at the Walt Disney Studios; Tonight's Movie: One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) at the Walt Disney Studios; Tonight's Movie: The Absent Minded Professor (1961) at the Walt Disney Studios.