Tag Archives: Verna Felton

Sleeping Beauty (1959, Clyde Geronimi)

Seven credited writers on Sleeping Beauty and none of them could figure out any dialogue to give the prince. Though, notwithstanding some cute banter between the three fairies, there’s not much good dialogue in Sleeping Beauty anyway. Villain Maleficent doesn’t even get any. Eleanor Audley’s great in the part, but it’s not because of the dialogue, it’s because of the visuals. Sleeping Beauty is all about the visuals, which is why it can usually get away with not having great–or any–dialogue.

The film opens in prologue. There’s a new royal baby and she’s about to be blessed by three fairies–Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen, and Barbara Luddy contribute the voices–only then Audley shows up, a magnificent, malevolent “mistress of all evil.” She curses the baby then disappears. It’s up to Luddy to cast a spell to save the baby best as possible (Audley’s too powerful a mistress of all evil to just invalidate the curse).

The story jumps forward sixteen years, to when the curse is supposed to take effect. Mary Costa is voices the grown baby–though, frankly, Costa’s semi-sultry voice is a bit off for a teenage girl. Well, maybe not for Sleeping Beauty since the other part of turning sixteen is her parents to get marry her off to a prince, thereby bringing peace or something.

The only visible clash between Costa’s father (Taylor Holmes) and the prince’s father (Bill Thompson) is Thompson wants Holmes to get drunker than Holmes wants to get. Sleeping Beauty isn’t great on logic. When a movie looks like Sleeping Beauty, it doesn’t need to be great on much else.

The film starts in live action, a dolly into a storybook (Sleeping Beauty), which opens and the illustrations become the animation, the book’s text becomes the narration, and so on. But from the start, the animation is lush and wide. Sleeping Beauty is “Technirama,” a widescreen frame, and Technicolor. Supervising director Geronimi plays a lot with depth, as the fairies are raising Costa in hiding. The great palace is only visible in the background, something Costa has no interest in. Instead, she sings with the adorable forest wildlife and meets a dashing young man.

Sadly, she’s promised to a prince. There’s some drama, but not a lot. A lot of drama would mean less songs and more dialogue. I’m not sure Costa has any dialogue after she gets to the palace to celebrate not having fallen victim to Audley’s curse. Except Audley’s smarter than everyone else, maybe because the fairies are more adorable than they are smart, and the royals are all idiots.

Sorry, back to the visuals. The depth is amazing. The forest goes on and on, filling the frame, with jagged plateaus and endless trees. Geography doesn’t really matter in Sleeping Beauty. There’s apparently only one house in the whole forest, because when Costa’s young man comes calling, he finds the place right away. Too bad she’s off at the castle to meet her prince and Audley’s waiting to capture… someone. It’s never clear. Logic, like I said, isn’t Beauty’s strong point.

The evil stuff is evil, even when it’s amusing–Audley’s got some Gamorrean guards she zaps with force lightning when they’re dumb, which is all of the time. In her first scene to herself, it turns out the only reason Audley’s in such a pickle trying to get her curse to work is because her lackies are all complete idiots. No one’s very smart in Sleeping Beauty, except Audley some of the time and Costa’s young man’s horse more of the time.

But it doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful. The character designs are exquisite. When Costa and the prince stop talking, their expressions are still phemonenal. The animation’s not incredibly detailed on the faces–the fairies get expressions, Audley sort of gets them, no one else–but there’s so much visible emotion. The music, which has its ups and downs (just like the songs), gives the film its progression. It all takes place in a day and a half so there needs to be something to soothe the halty plotting. The music, often adapted from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Ballet, does the trick. George Bruns handles that adaptation.

There are some okay songs. The one with Costa in the forest with her animal friends and then the young man is great. But because of the way the young couple dance their way through the frame–Sleeping Beauty loves to play with reflections and there’re lakes in the forest. The fairies don’t get songs, they get banter. Luddy gives the best performance, mostly because she’s the only one to get any characterization.

The third act, which is a narrative mess, is also a breathtaking action sequence. Geronimi and editors Roy M. Brewer Jr. and Donald Halliday create this phenomenal sequence. It’s not entirely successful–it’s a little rushed and there’s not really any nailbiting–but it’s breathtaking. Even when Sleeping Beauty is uneven, it’s gorgeous to behold.

It’s a beautiful film. Also one with a lot of problems.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clyde Geronimi; screenplay by Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright, and Milt Banta and based on a story by Charles Perrault; edited by Roy M. Brewer Jr. and Donald Halliday; production designers, Ken Anderson and Don DaGradi; released by Buena Vista Film Distribution Co.

Starring Verna Felton (Flora), Barbara Jo Allen (Fauna), Barbara Luddy (Merryweather), Eleanor Audley (Maleficent), Mary Costa (Princess Aurora), Taylor Holmes (King Stefan), Bill Shirley (Prince Phillip), and Bill Thompson (King Hubert).


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Goliath II (1960, Wolfgang Reitherman)

Instead of padding Goliath II out to an exhausting fifteen minutes, director Reitherman and writer Bill Peet should have concentrated on making it a good seven minute cartoon. Worse, there are animation problems every few frames in Goliath, like whoever photographed the cells didn’t know how to focus; at seven minutes, it might not look like such a mishmash.

The story involves a mouse-sized elephant and the problems he causes for his herd. From the first few seconds, it’s clear the story will either resolve with him growing to regular size or using his pint-size to the betterment of the herd.

I won’t spoil it, but it’s painfully obvious during the cartoon.

Reitherman does have some nice sequences–particularly a jungle at night one–but Goliath‘s mostly a waste of time in terms of animation.

It almost feels like a failed feature project, given the ballooned plot.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman; written by Bill Peet; music by George Bruns; produced by Walt Disney; released by Buena Vista Distribution Company.

Starring Kevin Corcoran (Goliath II), Barbara Jo Allen (Goliath II’s Mother), Paul Frees (The Mouse), Verna Felton (Eloise) and J. Pat O’Malley (Goliath I); narrated by Sterling Holloway.


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The Oklahoman (1957, Francis D. Lyon)

The Oklahoman is–well, I don’t want to sell it short because its discussion of racism and prejudice are rather straightforward and singular for pictures of its era–but at its core, the film’s a love triangle between fifty-two year-old Joel McCrea, thirty-five year-old Barbara Hale and twenty-six year-old Gloria Talbott. Talbott’s supposed to be playing an eighteen year-old, McCrea’s probably not supposed to be fifty-something, but I imagine mid-thirties is the intended age for Hale. McCrea’s character is likable enough, but it’s never clear why he’s got to beat women off with a stick. Maybe because he’s the star.

The film’s at its best when it’s concentrating on McCrea’s intolerance for bigotry (Talbott’s playing a Native American, with Michael Pate as her father and McCrea’s friend). The script’s strangely subtle in these scenes. There’s no explanation of what makes McCrea different from the rest of the settlers (there is a fine scene with some guys sitting around after Pate is suspected of murder, deciding they’d understand if he’d all of a sudden just decided to start killing whites). Not much about The Oklahoman is subtle, so this approach sets it apart. Unfortunately, since it doesn’t appear to be intentionally subtle–McCrea doesn’t have a belief in equality, equality is the way it is–there’s a lot the film misses about itself. The villain, Brad Dexter (who gives a pretty lame performance, but he just needs to be nasty so it doesn’t hurt much), isn’t just a bigot, he’s also a would-be oilman, lousy neighbor and aspiring rapist. But he’s also a cattleman and Hale’s a cattlewoman so she defends him in a couple arguments with McCrea. The film doesn’t seem to recognize she’s not just coming off as a cattle rancher herself, it pushes the line to where she’s coming off as a fellow bigot. McCrea’s performance, for the most part, certainly plays like he recognizes it. The chemistry between McCrea and Hale as a romantic couple is mediocre at best. When they’re peers and neighbors who argue–but hold some generally similar opinions and can’t resolve everything else with them–it’s great. Hale’s a strong female character in those scenes.

The Oklahoman has a number of strong female characters, actually. Talbott’s decent, has some good scenes. The script shortchanges her. Verna Felton is awesome as Hale’s mother. She gets the best lines in the film. Esther Dale’s got a small part as McCrea’s five year-old daughter’s caretaker. It’s never explained why McCrea waited until his late forties to start a family… but if the film had taken his age into account, it would have had a lot more potential. The last fifteen minutes or so flushes most of the characters’ strengths. The film forgets Hale’s a cattle rancher, forgets Talbott’s a strong person, ignores daughter Mimi Gibson’s established character. Just before the last scene, Hale explains how it’s going to be and it seems to make sense… except the next scene is completely different and makes no sense.

The film’s not self-conscious about being socially conscious, which is nice. But it does force a romance where there isn’t one and ignores the potential of exploring the characters and situations it creates.

But it moves really fast.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Francis D. Lyon; written by Daniel B. Ullman; director of photography, Carl E. Guthrie; edited by George White; music by Hans J. Salter; produced by Walter Mirisch; released by Allied Artists.

Starring Joel McCrea (Dr. John Brighton), Barbara Hale (Ann Barnes), Brad Dexter (Cass Dobie), Gloria Talbott (Maria Smith), Michael Pate (Charlie Smith), Verna Felton (Mrs. Waynebrooke), Douglas Dick (Mel Dobie), Anthony Caruso (Jim Hawk), Esther Dale (Mrs. Fitzgerald), Adam Williams (Randell), Ray Teal (Jason), Peter J. Votrian (Little Charlie) and John Pickard (Marshal).


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Lady and the Tramp (1955, Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske)

Lady and the Tramp was Disney’s first CinemaScope film. Amusingly, though an academy ratio version was produced at the same time, the modern home video unit created a pan and scan version for DVD, instead of just using that full frame version. Nice of them. We watched the CinemaScope version this time (the fiancée occasionally informs me we’re having Disney festivals). Though Disney’s finest visual achievement, Sleeping Beauty, was a few years later, Lady and the Tramp in CinemaScope is a breaking of the motion picture. The modern visual language of cinema grew from these films, owing everything to these early widescreen Disney pictures. Film–even with special effects–simply couldn’t do what Lady and the Tramp does… there’s no worry about focus in the frame, no worry camera movements… it’s incredibly free. Of course, as special effects and cameras have become able to duplicate Tramp’s achievements, no one has used them as well.

Unfortunately, the other inspiration from these Disney films is the damn set-piece. In Lady and the Tramp, it’s the songs. There’s an incredibly useless song in the middle of an incredibly useless scene (Lady in the pound), one only used to bring in the song. Without the scene, the film would move smoother… all it does is bring in new characters. These CinemaScope Disney films inspired George Lucas quite a bit and he one-ups Walt on these superfluous characters–Lucas made action figures out of them after all. That scene, along with the ending, foul up the otherwise pleasant experience. The ending, however, owes a lot more to old Hollywood–with the romantic leads taking backseat to the eccentric supporting casts.

Before that first, fiancée-induced Disney film festival in 2003, I never thought I’d see these films again (I saw them, of course, as a child, undoubtedly at the wrong aspect ratio). Today, after recently sitting through history get a big dis in grad school, I’m even more appreciative of acknowledging their influence than usual. I tend to just say Sleeping Beauty and let that film be it, but there’s something magical about Lady and the Tramp. It’s not supposed to be real life–a quality live action film had lost by the 1950s (it’s never recovered from the loss)–and Lady and the Tramp is better for that condition. It’s an utterly commercial venture, but it’s still filled with pleasing awe… Whether its creators were excited about making the film (I’m not sure when Walt Disney had fully drained the life from his employees), it certainly seems as though they were and it carries over to the viewer.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske; screenplay by Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright and Don DaGradi, based on a story by Ward Greene; edited by Donald Halliday; music by Oliver Wallace; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Peggy Lee (Darling), Barbara Luddy (Lady), Larry Roberts (Tramp), Bill Thompson (Jock), Bill Baucom (Trusty), Stan Freberg (Beaver) and Verna Felton (Aunt Sarah).


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