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"Family" films usually create me cringe. Saccharine plots, cloying kiddie actors, goopy dialogue...no, thank you! But "The Parent Trap" succeeds admirably as both children-friendly fare and reasonably witty, sophisticated comedy. The high-class production values don't hurt, and neither does the magnificent cast, right down to the hero roles. The ever-dependable Una Merkel is a gem as the smart-talking maid, having lost none of her streetwise timing since her brassy blonde days in the 1930's. Charlie Ruggles is extraordinarily lovable as the grandfather, and Cathleen Nesbitt plays wonderfully vs kind as the domineering grandmother. Leo G. Carroll once again benefits a movie simply by his appearance, and even Nancy "Miss Hathaway" Kulp is on board as a butch camp counselor (quite a stretch). Of course, at the heart of it all, is the bravura performance of Hayley Mills as twins Susan and Sharon. She's never revoltingly sweet--there's a winning streak of spice in her personality that separates her from all another kid stars. Plus, her kicky pre-Beatles British accent and snub-nosed beauty lend her a more worldly air than her contemporaries. The ravishing Maureen O'Hara, in one of her last major roles as the twins' mother, Maggie, starts the movie as a nondescript cipher, but her glamorous metamorphosis in the latter half of the movie shows just how funny and sexy she can be. Mitch, the twins' father, is played by the ruggedly handsome Brian Keith, who generates the right mixture of roughneck toughness and paternal warmth.And the criminally-overlooked Joanna Barnes plays Vicki, the predatory golddigger looking to sink her claws into Mitch. Vicki's verbal duels with Maggie and the twins are surprisingly catty for a children's film, and delivered with excellent villainy. The very 1961 flourishes are priceless: the hopelessly tone-deaf Tommy Sands and Annette Funicello "singing" the theme song; the "formal" dance, with the women all decked out in crinolines and laces; Susan plastering her bungalow wall with pictures of her favourite pin up men (Rick Nelson!); and, my private favorites, Sharon and Susan showing every another their parents' photos: hyper-posed, glamorous Hollywood 8x10 glossies! The plot now plays like a highly sanitized Rock Hudson/Doris Day bedroom farce, except that Susan and Sharon direct the course of action. You know what the ending will be even before you watch the movie, but it doesn't really matter. This is a delightful bon-bon of a flick, as irresistible to adults as to their children.
This is one of the greatest Disney films ever made. It is funny, warm, and it is something everybody can enjoy. To watch this in the twenty first century is a unbelievable trip back in time. This film is very 60's, but that does not create it out of date, the tricks and gags are timeless. I loved this film when I saw it for the first time many years ago. Therefore, when the fresh 1998 makeover came out, I had to see that too. The fresh one is also sweet and warm, but the original ver is the best. If you see this ver first and then all or some of the fresh afterwards (as I tried, for fun, one was on TV and I have the another on DVD), the fresh one reveals itself as being superficial and a bit cheasy compared to the original.
Although the split-screen technique had been around for a decade or so, it was usually more noted for its failures than its success, and the actor needed to enjoy dual roles usually took tremendous heat for their failure to make two physically identical but distinctly various characterizations on screen. But with THE PARENT TRAP, with the hard dual role resting on the shoulders of an extremely young star, Walt Disney struck gold. It would be the single highest grossing movie the studio had released up to that time, and even some forty years soon the baby-boomers who flocked to see it in 1961 regard it as one of their favourite film experiences.But THE PARENT TRAP has a lot more going for it than mere nostalgia. The cast is really, really good, featuring the ever-likable Maureen O'Hara and Brian Keith in leading roles and a host of nice hero actors (including Leo G. Carroll and Nancy Kulp) in minor roles. And then there is Haley Mills. The daughter and sister of noted English actors, Mills was no newcomer to the screen when THE PARENT TRAP went before the cameras--she had even picked up an Oscar for her earlier Disney movie POLLYANNA. Even so, this was no guarantee that she should pull off the feat of double roles, something that had daunted even the legendary Bette Davis. But she did.The storyline has been said so often that surely each one knows it by now. A wife delivers twin daughters--but shortly afterward divorces her husband, and every wins custody of one child. The kids are raised without any knowledge of every other's existence... until they unexpectedly bump into every another at summer camp, place two and two together, and devise a scheme to receive their parents back together again.Even today, and in spite of its familiarity, it's an amusing idea, and while the current script is low in spots the cast, and especially Haley Mills, makes the most of it. There's plenty of slapstick, lots of laugh-out-loud scenes, and enough charm to beguile all but the most cynical viewers. And Haley Mills clearly demonstrates why she was regarded as the single most gifted kid actor of her era: although she plays both Susan and Sharon with the same edge of mischievous fun, they do indeed come off as fully various personalities.Of course, digital technology has left the old split-screen technique in the dust, and today its simple to see the flaws in the technique that weren't so obvious at the time. And the quality of the movie transfer is not the best: while this isn't the worst transfer I've seen, it is full of artifacts nonetheless. Even so, the appeal of the story, the cast, and most particularly Haley Mills create up for a lot, and this Disney double DVD comes finished with a host of gifts (including a making-of documentary and an audio commentary track by director David Swift and Haley Mills) that fanatics will play quite a bit.If you were a fanatic of the movie then, you'll remain a fanatic of it now. And if you wish to introduce your family to a truly charming film experience, you couldn't create a better choice.Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
New York, NY 10013
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