Wednesday, March 28, 2012

One of my favorite books as a kid was "The Swiss Family Robinson"; review of Disney's 1960 film brings back "memories"


One of my favorite books as a kid was “The Swiss Family Robinson”, by Johann Wyss. I had a 1949 Illustrated Junior Library edition, with many full page color drawings, and many chapters.

After Monday night’s dystopic version of survivalism, I decided to watch the 1960 Disney version of “Swiss Family Robinson”, directed by Ken Annakin, with  music by British symphonic composer William Alwyn (a theme from the third symphony is used a lot;  I could have used the brazen conclusion of #4).  John Mills and Dorothy McGuire play the parents, with James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran as the boys.

The book and film make for an effective snapshot of “conservative” ideas about freedom, with particular emphasis on bonding social capital.  The family must remain close and connected to survive in the wilderness and prevail against enemies (wild animals and later pirates, especially with the sequences near the end where the family defends itself  from high ground so well, almost out of Clausewitz.)  Dad makes a surprising standard of living with his own hands, building a palatial tree house with separate master bedroom for the “Mrs.”, even bringing the organ from the crashed ship. 

At one point the parents wonder how the boys will ever meet young women and conceive of what it would mean to have families of their own.  Later, the boys show some chivalry when they find out that Bertie, whom they rescue, is a girl but has kept up well  (in terms of physical strength) pretending to be a young man.  The character Jenny, prominent toward the end of the book, doesn't appear in this film.

The movie premiered during Christmas when I was a senior in high school and I didn’t see it then. 

The film is one of the earliest to be listed as filmed in “Panavision” which was replacing “Cinemascope”.

I remember some other films from that period well. For example, I saw “The Guns of Navarone” with a best friend just before going to William and Mary, and in Williamsburg saw “Splendor in the Grass” and then  (with a different music friend) Anatole Livak’s “GoodbyeAgain” (or “Aimez-vous Brahms?”), in which the sad minuet from Brahm’s Third Symphony becomes a leitmotif.  For me, life would soon change, as I’ve explained elsewhere.

The Disney DVD for “Robinson” has a Donald Duck cartoon, “Sea Salt”.

I actually saw Disney’s 1954 “20000 Leagues Under the Sea” (Jules Verne) twice, early Cinemascope.

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