Disney Screen series, and tonight's was the best of them all: POLLYANNA (1960).
I've seen it before on multiple occasions, but not for many years and never in a theater. It's one of Disney's very finest live-action films, with the remarkable Hayley Mills leading a superb cast which includes three Oscar-winning actors, Jane Wyman, Karl Malden, and Donald Crisp. Mills herself was so good in POLLYANNA that the Academy awarded her a special Oscar.
Other than being seen as a baby in 1947's SO WELL REMEMBERED, Mills had only made one other film when she was chosen to star in Disney's POLLYANNA. (Her father John Mills, incidentally, would star in another Disney classic released the same year, SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON.) POLLYANNA was the first of what would turn out to be half a dozen Disney films in the '60s starring this very natural and talented child actress.
POLLYANNA was written and directed by David Swift, based on the classic book by Eleanor H. Porter. The movie runs two hours and 14 minutes, but it's one of those rare films which is so richly made in every respect that the viewer isn't aware of the fact that it runs so long.
Mills plays the orphaned Pollyanna, who comes to live with her wealthy Aunt Polly (Wyman).
Pollyanna is initially treated as a child who hopefully won't be seen and heard overly much, treated kindly yet distantly, given new clothes but relegated to a room in the attic. The effervescent Pollyanna, who withstands the coldness of various adults and has a knack for finding the positive in any situation, is simply happy to have her own room for the first time.
No one pays much attention to Pollyanna at first, but bit by bit her sunny personality wins friends: first Aunt Polly's maid Nancy (Nancy Olson) and Nancy's boyfriend George (James Drury), then Aunt Polly's lost love, Dr. Chilton (Richard Egan), the Reverend Ford (Malden), and various members of the local community, including characters played by Adolphe Menjou, Agnes Moorehead, and Ian Wolfe.
Pollyanna changes the lives of those she meets for the better, but it's all very gradual and natural, never overly schmaltzy. Chronic invalid Mrs. Snow (Moorehead) takes a new interest in living; crotchety hermit Mr. Pendergast (Menjou) finds a hobby and even decides to adopt Pollyanna's friend Jimmy (Kevin Corcoran); and the minister comes to realize that getting to know his congregation personally and preaching more positively may enable him to reach more people than the fire and brimstone sermons encouraged by Aunt Polly.
Aunt Polly is changed most of all, with the ice around her heart finally cracking enough to let love into her life.
By the time Pollyanna has her "It's a Wonderful Life" moment at movie's end, it's just as moving as the scene where the town turns out to honor George Bailey; and just as with the earlier movie, the many great "faces" the camera pans by lend the film an added layer of poignance.
It's sadly common in this day and age to call someone a "Pollyanna" as a derogatory term, referring to someone as unrealistically optimistic, but watching POLLYANNA I was struck by what a very valuable life lesson the movie teaches. Life will always toss curveballs, but there's a choice in how to deal with things, and trying one's best to live the "glass is half full" life is infinitely more rewarding. The philosophical theme is beautifully underscored by the prisms reflecting rainbow lights which help change the lives of both Mrs. Snow and Mr. Pendergast.
There's much more to the movie, including a charity bazaar scene which is a lovely piece of Americana. Richard Egan, always a favorite, lends substance as the doctor who yearns for Polly despite her shortcomings. James Drury, who would later become THE VIRGINIAN, is adorably handsome as Nancy Olson's energetic love, and Olson is always a welcome screen presence. She would later star in Disney's THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961), SON OF FLUBBER (1963), SMITH! (1969), and SNOWBALL EXPRESS (1972).
last December), Olson, and Drury. (October 2015 Update: Sadly, less than a month after I wrote this, Kevin Corcoran passed away at the age of 66.)
In addition to those previously named, the superb cast also includes Reta Shaw (in a role foreshadowing her part in MARY POPPINS), Edward Platt, Mary Grace Canfield, Anne Seymour, Leora Dana, and Gage Clarke.
POLLYANNA was preceded by the Silly Symphony FLOWERS AND TREES (1932), which won the Oscar as Best Short Subject. It can be found on DVD in the Walt Disney Treasures set Silly Symphonies.
POLLYANNA was released on DVD as part of the short-lived but fondly remembered Vault Disney Collection.
The Disney Movie Club released it in a 55th anniversary Blu-ray but to my knowledge the Blu-ray has not had a regular retail release.
The movie can be streamed via Amazon Instant Video.
Previous Disney Screen reviews: OLIVER & COMPANY (1988), EIGHT BELOW (2006), THE LOVE BUG (1968), THE ROCKETEER (1991), and ROBIN HOOD (1973).