Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Actually based on a book by Ian Fleming. Yes, that Ian Fleming, the one who wrote all the James Bond books that the movies are based on. Roald Dahl, the famous children’s author, was the screenwriter. Desmond Llewelyn, famous as Q in James Bond, appears as Coggins in the beginning. Gert Fröbe, aka Goldfinger, is antagonist Baron Bomburst. The film also stars Dick Van Dyke (Mary Poppins) as Caractacus Potts and Benny Hill appears as the Toymaker. The Sherman Brothers also wrote the music for this film, though it is not a Disney film (though we all kind of assume it is since it shares many elements). This was another of my brother’s and mine favorite movies as young children; our mother didn’t mind too much, aside from the repeated watches and the long run time.
The film actually begins in the dark, with just car engine sounds, then reveals Edwardian car races. The main car wins several Grand Prix races in Europe between 1907 and 1908, until it crashes and burns in its last race after swerving to avoid a child. Now it’s a wreck on a lot, though two children are happily playing in it. The junkman wants to buy it as scrap and seems to dislike children. But they race home to tell their father he can buy it, though they narrowly avoid being run over by a young woman. Truly reprimands them for running in the road, and not being in school, so she takes Jeremy and Jemima home. Their father is Caractacus Potts is an inventor and we first see him trying to propel into the air with rockets. His experiment doesn’t go quite according to plan and while the children laugh at their father’s antics, because they’re children and don’t quite realize the danger, Truly throws water on him to put him out. He’s annoyed and is not at all bothered by the fact that his children were not in school. Truly tries to reason with him, and is marginally impressed by his other inventions housed in his windmill workshop.
Potts uses a series of machines to cook sausage and eggs for dinner, sweetly telling his children that they are his reason for being. “Someone to care for/ to be there for/ I have You Two.” They’re joined by Caractacus’s father, who tries to bring his son’s head out of the clouds; though he is known to go out to a small shed and say he is off to India, or Antarctica. Caractacus decides to try to sell his whistle sweets (they make noise through the holes when you blow in them) to a local sweet factory, run by Lord Scrumptious. He’s aided by Truly, Scrumptious’s daughter. Caractacus calls in invention Toot Sweets, “the candy you whistle/ the whistle you eat” and soon the whole factory joins in dancing. But all that whistling has brought several dogs into the sweet factory.
Jeremy and Jemima are selfless children and offer their father their “treasures” as money for his inventions rather than their beloved car. Their father sings the lullaby Hushabye Mountain to them to encourage sweet dreams. Then he decides to try one of his inventions at the evening’s fair. The haircut machine unfortunately fails and Caractacus is chased through the fair. He hides amongst a dancing troupe and has to join in on Me Ol’ Bamboo (this is such a fun song). He does well and is surprised by the tips that are tossed into his hat. He surprises his children the next morning by bringing home their car. Then spends the next several days closed up in his workshop, fixing the car. And when it finally comes out, it is a sight to behold.
The trio go on a picnic and pick Truly up on the way when they accidentally run her car off the road into a pond. Caractacus offers to carry Truly in her pristine white dress out of the pond and she is even intrigued by the car. And the unusual sound its engine makes: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. “Oh you/ pretty Chitty Bang Bang/ Chitty Chitty Bang Bang we love you…near, far/ in our motorcar/ oh what a happy time we spend.” All four spend a happy day at the beach. The children are extremely fond of Truly and she seems fond of them as well. Jemima comments that Truly’s name fits her well, Truly Scrumptious, for she had to be called something lovely. Jeremy and Jemima wish together that their father would marry Truly.
Caractacus begins a story for his children about pirates, led by Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria, who has heard of the marvelous Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and wishes to have the car for himself. And the story comes to life. Chitty is in fact a magic car and air bags come out so Chitty can float away. They stow as it drives back onto dry land, after avoiding the Baron’s ship. The Baron sends spies ashore to capture the car, or Caractacus. The family takes Truly back home and she sings on her estate how she has fallen in love with a Lovely Lonely Man. (It’s a pretty song, but rather forgettable. I just remember the swing at the end for some reason). The spies do not do a good job of their mission, though they are rather funny. They manage to capture Truly’s father instead of the family. So the two spies pretend to be gentlemen to visit the Potts’ home and they come across the grandfather, thinking he’s the inventor. They call in the Baron’s zeppelin and lift the small shed, with Grandpa Potts inside. His family spot him and follow the zeppelin in Chitty. Except they drive off a cliff, almost into the sea.
And…Intermission! Of course, Chitty saves them, because Chitty is magic and can fly. Grandpa Potts is now not in immediate danger and rather enjoys traveling in Posh style. The zeppelin does lose altitude, which gets Grandpa Potts a bit wet until they toss out the two spies. It’s a long flight to Vulgaria, but Chitty knows the way. A castle greets the Potts family (Neuschwanstein). The Baron in turn is mainly a large child; he rides a toy horse to his meetings. He demands Potts makes a car float. Potts senior despairs, but the other tinkers locked in the basement cheer him up with The Roses of Success, “up from the ashes/ grow the roses of success…from the ashes of disaster/ grow the roses of success.”
When Chitty lands, the villagers are not terribly helpful and they stare at the foreigners. Truly realizes there are no other children about. A horn sounds and the villagers scatter. A toymaker begrudgingly takes the family inside and hides them. And explains there is a law in Vulgaria that children are not allowed; the baroness hates them. A creepy man, called the Child Catcher comes through the square, claiming he can smell children. The Potts and Truly disguise themselves as Jack-in-the-box in the toymaker’s basement. But Chitty is captured. The toymaker takes Caractacus to view the castle’s defenses. Truly is left in charge of the children, but she goes out to get food and orders Jeremy and Jemima to stay put. But the Child Catcher comes back, gaily bedecked and claiming he has lollipops and ice cream. And well, children are easily attracted to lollipops and ice cream; except his wagon is a cage. Some of the villagers try to warn the children, but he makes off back to the castle with them. That evening, the toymaker shows Caractacus and Truly where the villagers hide their own children underneath the castle. Caractacus tries to give the children hope by singing them Hushabye Mountain, though Truly has to finish. Now, he has a plan.
The next day is the baron’s birthday. He starts with a visit to his wife, whom he actually can’t stand. The previous day, he had gleefully aimed a shotgun at her full skirt when Chitty launched her into the air, only slightly claiming it as an attempt to get her down. He does hit the skirt and she falls into the lake, unharmed, to his disappointment. Today, she’s in some odd lingerie and very long braided pigtails. To a child, their funny nicknames of Cootchie Face are cute and the baron keeps trying to kill the baroness, though as a kid, didn’t fully realize that. His later celebration is full of elderly purple-wearing court members miserably dancing. The baroness orders the toymaker in with a surprise; two lifelike dolls. (Actually, Caractacus and Truly in disguise). Truly is a Doll on a Music Box, Caractacus is a clown doll. He eventually joins in with the harmony of Truly Scrumptious. They distract the baron and the children sneak in. A few drop a hook from the ceiling and lift up the baron. A net is dropped, trapping the court and the children get a bit of revenge, even trapping the Child Catcher in a net. Caractacus, Truly and the toymaker search for Jeremy and Jemima and get them out. The villagers also enter the castle to save their children. Baron Bomburst and his baroness try to escape, but are caught in the cage by the children. Grandpa Potts emerges from the cellars and Chitty drives itself in to rescue its family. The whole family flies out and Vulgaria is now a free country.
The family is on the beach again and Jemima and Jeremy eagerly finish the story that their father and Truly get married. Caractacus doesn’t say much, just drives Truly home. Then tries to pass his children’s notion off as silly and puts his foot in his mouth. They discover Lord Scrumptious at the Potts home, happily playing with Grandpa Potts, who was his batman most likely during the Zulu wars (a batman was a solider assigned to a commissioned officer as his personal servant). Lord Scrumptious offers Caractacus a contract to produce his “Toot Sweets” for dogs. It will make him rich. Before he signs the paperwork, Caractacus races out to find Truly, running her off the road again. It’s now no longer ridiculous for him to marry Truly and she readily agrees, so he kisses her. Grandpa Potts refers to his son as an eccentric, and has no idea where he could have gotten it from (hmm…). Caractacus and Truly fly off in Chitty, passing over the house where their family waves to them.
I adore the theme song for this movie. The car is magical and I just smile at it. I see a lot of my brother and I in the Potts children (though we diligently went to school), but playing together and making up stories together. They are sweet children and though Caractacus may not be the best father, he is kind and loving and is even potentially willing to put his own dreams on hold to take care of them. I think the part in Vulgaria is funny; still nostalgic.
And interesting note: Peter Jackson owns one of the Chitty cars. He showed it off on the set of the Hobbit when they were filming Old Took’s birthday scenes. The young children were not interested, but the adults clamored to see it. I would be one of them! It’s revealed during the behind the scenes appendices…I forget at the moment if it’s with the extended edition or the theatrical edition.
Next Time: The beloved Mary Poppins