Page 2, 13th December 1963

13th December 1963
Page 2
Page 2, 13th December 1963 — AT THE CINEMA by Freda Bruce Lockhart Tortoise, fish, and
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AT THE CINEMA by Freda Bruce Lockhart Tortoise, fish, and

two-horned goat A LL through its history the cinema has suffered from being judged by literary standards. As a film critic, I do not mind if a book needs alteration in its adaptation to the screen. But it does seem to me that a book which enjoys a certain prestige in public opinion should only be mutilated to make a movie of comparable quality.

To see a book of quality squandered to make an indifferent movie only because there is enough material in the book to supply half a dozen average movies offends me because of the waste.

Now I am not convinced that these ideas apply exactly to Walt Disney's The Sword in the Slone ("U," Columbia), because I never succeeded in reading T. H. White's celebrated book. But the film did inspire or provoke these thoughts. For some time I did have a copy on my bookshelves, and I know the rapture with which it was cherished by children-and by many of their grown-ups, too.

Inevitably their enthusiasm prepared me to find the film something very special in today's Disneyland: something really original among the mass-produced stereotypes turned out by his factory.

It is fair to say that The Sword in the Stone is pretty good Disney. The young hero, Wart, is not much of an improvement on his human predecessors from Snow White onwards so long as he is only a boy, a sub-teenager destined for the court of King Arthur.

But Merlin the magician is one of Disney's successful characters. With a splendid pale grey beard and Karl Swenson's voice he chants the right spells. has the right quiekiness to be a beloved teacher.

At the same time it is a triumph of the technicians to preserve Merlin's character no matter whether he takes the shape of a tortoise, a fish, a dunce. a squirrel or a two-horned goat.

The Wart's metamorphoses are also very funny and even his encounter with a little girl squirrel gets over the inevitable coyness of the sequence. In the background, Merlin's educated owl Archimedes is also a character, as is Sir Ector, the lean and hungry wolf-dragon.

The education seems on the whole more in line with the scientific modernism of Disney's "Secrets of Nature" than a handbook of mediaeval chivalry. Whether that discrepancy is due to Mr. Disney's philosophy, or to Mr. White's in his famous book, I cannot tell.

For the same reason. I cannot tell how far this film will satisfy readers who cherish the book. For myself. Mr. White has provided Disney with a far above average story.

The resulting picture I find very slightly better than average Disney, except in the sense that even an average Disney cartoon is a bit of a miracle, and unlike anything else.

I think it isn't quite the uniquely enthralling experience I gather the book meant to all who pride themselves on having the childlike eye.

The tradition of British farce is childish rather than childlike. When first I used to see Norman Wisdom, I thought he had the comedian's priceless gift of pathos, or at least, of being plaintive.

His latest movie, A Stitch in Time ("U," Odeon, Haymarket), gives the impression of a hardworking collection of routine textbook gags in a hospital setting of illness and sudden death which gises the film a faintly nauseous taste.

Some of the gags might be funny -Norman being catastrophically butter-fingered with a stretcher. Norman averting his eyes coyly from a nurse in bikini, Norman chasing in a motorised hospital trolley ladies bountiful, crutchcases. and other impedimenta.

Most of the gags, however. have been done years ago by Harold Lloyd, or Laurel and Hardy or the Mart Brothers. Surprise is the essence of laugh-raising, and I found very few surprises in "A Stitch in Time". Slight surprise, and even faint hope, is inspired by the long silent sequences, untethered by dialogue. But the knockabout sequences chosen for silent treatment are too old-fashioned to be raised far above bedrock British slapstick.

Then I was surprised after hope seemed almost gone, by Wisdom's resource and originality in that lowest form of comic life, female impersonation, to which he contrived to give both wit and point.

But such basic pantomime will surely find audiences at this season, so strangely identified with clowns and circuses.

In the current hypochondriacal vogue for clinical, surgical white settings. I suppose there is still some flavour to be squeezed out. As mysterious as the operations of British comedy are those of our star system.

In the familiar nurse's uniform, here hides an actress who in any other country would surely long ago have been a star.

She is Jeanette Sterk, so much thinner that I didn't recognise her face, and only the special warmth and glow of personal presence with which she has enlivened so many TV plays.

In the story, her patient is the attractive child who provides the object of Mr. Wisdom's sentimentality as Jerry Desmond is the stooge for his comedy.

Edward Chapman looks rather unhappy as Norman's butcher boss.




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