Bedknobs and Broomsticks
A Disney live-action film from 1971 that mixes in animation like Mary Poppins did. It is based on a book by Mary Norton and is a beloved movie from my childhood. It stars Angela Landsbury (the original Mrs. Potts and star of Murder, She Wrote) as Miss Eglantine Price, David Tomlinson (the father in Mary Poppins) as Professor Emelius Browne, and another Mary Poppins‘ alum is Reginale Owen; he played Admiral Boom in Poppins and General Teagler in Bedknobs. The Sherman brothers also wrote the music for this film. The 25th Anniversary Edition DVD release runs longer than the theatrical version; some songs had been cut and were now restored. Oddly, the most recent Blu-ray release goes back to the theatrical version. Sadly, there is no good soundtrack for the musical available; the most noticeable difference being in Portobello Road.
The opening credits run against a medieval tapestry backdrop, similar to the Bayeux Tapestry. It takes place in 1940, during WWII, near the White Cliffs of Dover. “Again – A time for valor. A time of whispered events. Now faded with the passing years.” A town stands in the shadow of an old castle; they are currently taking care of the children evacuated from London due to the bombings (similar to the main characters in C.S. Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). We’re briefly introduced to the Soldiers of the Old Home Guard, led by General Teagler. Miss Price shows up for her package and is forced to take three children. She’s very busy with important work and does not traditionally get on well with children, but she’ll do her duty until more suitable arrangements can be made. The local preacher fawns over Miss Price, though he flounces off when the postmistress points out he’s making moves because he admires Miss Price’s nice house and land.
Miss Price lives alone, aside from a black cat that came with the name Cosmic Creepers. When the children are asleep, she takes her package to her workshop and unwraps a broom, from Professor Emelius Browne’s Correspondence College of Witchcraft. She manages to successfully fly for a bit with a spell, until she topples over. The children see her when they attempt to sneak out back to London. Charlie thinks it is a wise idea to blackmail Miss Price, but he goes a little too far and she turns him into a white rabbit. But her spells never last very long and he quickly turns back, after being pursued by Cosmic Creepers. Miss Price lets them in on her secret; she plans to use magic to help the war effort. And to win over the children, she charms a bedknob with a traveling spell. Then persuades the children to go to London so she can get the last lesson from Professor Browne himself when he stops the course. Charlie initially doesn’t think the bed will work and Miss Price remarks he is at the Age of Not Believing.
But the bed works. Except they discover that Professor Browne is a street magician and self-admitted fraud and charlatan, though he does everything With a Flair. Miss Price ends up turning Professor Browne into a white rabbit when she confronts him. He is surprised that one of his spells worked; he simply put together words out of an old book. He then takes Miss Price and the children to the abandoned home he is squatting in (it’s abandoned because there is an unexploded bomb in the front yard). The children explore the nursery while he shows Miss Price the library. Except, instead of getting the desired book for Miss Price, he wants her to join him in a stage show. She’d be an assistant who could really do magic. But Miss Price, who reveals her first name is Eglantine is determined to find the book. She turns Browne into a rabbit again and he finally shows her the book, The Spells of Astoroth; of which he only has half. And the five magic words for the substitutiary locomotion spell; an “ancient and mystic art of causing objects to take on a life force of their own” are missing.
Miss Price demands they find the other half of the book and Browne takes them to Portobello Road, “street where the riches/ of ages are stowed.” This is one of my favorite parts of the film. An impromptu dance party breaks out and features several music and dance styles from around the British empire. They don’t have much luck finding the other half of the book until a slightly scary man leads them to the “Bookman.” He in fact has the other half of the book and is looking for the same spell. Except the book only states that the five words are written on the Star of Astoroth, worn by the sorcerer. The Star is now on the fabled Isle of Namboobu. The adults don’t believe such a place exists, but young Paul found a children’s book on it. So the children, Miss Price, and Professor Browne are able to use the bed to escape the Bookman and travel to the Isle of Namboombu. Well, the lagoon first and they are “bobbing along/ on the bottom/ of the Beautiful Briny sea.” This is where the animation comes in, for the animals dress and talk like humans. A bear catches the bed, but wants to throw the five humans back into the lagoon because the king has issued a “No Peopling Allowed” law. Well, they want to see the king.
Professor Browne manages to ingratiate himself to the king (a lion; in fact, the animation is very similar to Robin Hood) when he offers to referee the soccer match [note how they refer to is as “soccer,” rather than “football” as Europeans call it. You can tell it was produced by Americans despite most of the cast being English and the story taking place in England.] My brother and I loved the soccer match as kids, Browne getting trampled by the animals throughout the game. And they discover that the king wears the star. Browne manages to pocket the star and they’re chased off the island. Sadly, the star is of another world and cannot be brought back to ours; it simply disappears. But Paul saves the day again; his book has an illustration of the star and the words for the spell (technically, would have been helpful to know that before, but, kids love the animation). Browne suggests that Miss Price use the words “Tregura Mekoides Trecoru Satis Dee” with a flair. And she’s got it! She’s managed Substitutiary Locomotion! This is another beloved part of the film.
The little domestic scene is broken when news arrives that another family has offered to take the children. Miss Price has changed her mind and the children start to think of Professor Browne as a father figure. That scares him off a bit and he starts to head back to London, but the trains are finished for the day. Miss Price sings of Nobody’s Problems; she has it in her mind that she doesn’t want or need anyone else around, she’s quite comfortable with her life. But we all know she misses Browne [this part was cut from the theatrical release]. Except there are more important things to worry about now; the Germans have made a landing. They enter Miss Price’s house and stage their minor raid to induce panic and spread mischief. Miss Price’s memory fails her and she can’t turn the commander into a rabbit, but Browne manages to get away and sneaks into the house. He finds the spell and uses it on himself so he can get away again and find Miss Price and the children. They’re being held in the old castle.
Once he transforms back, he and the children convince Miss Price to use the substitutiary locomotion spell again. And this is my brother’s and mine absolute favorite part. The spell starts small, just the banners waving, but then a drums and horns start and the whole castle comes alive! The knights and Redcoats are reanimated and join together. Miss Price flies at the head of the army and they chant the spell. The Germans don’t know what to make of the phenomenon in front of them; Scotsmen and bagpipes stretching across the cliff. Their bullets only go through the empty suits of armor; they keep marching. A few minutes later, the Germans start retreating. The commotion has also woken the Home Guard and they rush to the coast. But the Germans manage to blow up Miss Price’s workshop as she flies over; the army falls, un-animated now. The Guard fires a few shots to warn the Germans and Miss Price is relatively unharmed. She’s pleased she did her part of the war effort, but has always known she could never be a proper witch with the way she feels about poisoned dragon’s liver.
They are now all a family; the children will remain with Miss Price and Professor Browne has decided to join the Army. The Soldiers of the Old Home Guard give him an escort to the station and he gives Miss Price a kiss farewell. The children at first fear that the rest of the time will be boring now, but Paul still has the bedknob.
This is the first film I ever saw Angela Landsbury in. I loved the children’s adventures and of course wanted to visit an island where the animals talk and play soccer. And even as a child, I was excited to see these reanimated knights face off against the Germans. And the budding dancer in me was fascinated by all the dancing in Portobello Road. I think the movie is now a forgotten gem; overshadowed by Mary Poppins (though I absolutely adore that movie as well).
Next Time: Another beloved childhood favorite of mine, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang