[Film Review] The Parent Trap (1961)

The Parent Trap poster.jpg

Title: The Parent Trap
Year: 1961
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Family, Romance
Director/Writer: David Swift
based on the book by Erich Kästner
Music: Paul J. Smith
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Editor: Philip W. Anderson
Hayley Mills
Maureen O’Hara
Brian Keith
Joanna Barnes
Una Merkel
Charles Ruggles
Leo G. Carroll
Cathleen Nesbitt
Ruth McDevitt
Crahan Denton
Linda Watkins
Nancy Kulp
Frank De Vol
Rating: 7.3/10

The Parent Trap 1961.jpg

Not the Lindsay Lohan 1998 remake but the original Disney bonanza starring Hayley Mills, re-teamed with director David Swift from her breakout POLLYANNA (1960) one year prior, it is a wholesome family jewel that can appeal to kids and adults alike.

But, there is a catch here, in order to pull off the identical twins separated at birth premise, a logical reason behind their parents’ seemingly cruel decision of keeping a lid on the truth as if they never give a toss about another half of the twins, must be propounded, only the result is not quite satisfactory, temperamental incongruity is a way-too-facile occasion of their failed marriage, especially both parents lead a well-to-do and respectable life, respectively, severing their consanguineous tie is not something of their ilk’s disposition.

Anyway, enough of this reviewer’s caviling about the set-up, 14-year-old twins Sharon McKendrick and Susan Evers (Mills, with the help of Susan Henning as her body double), meet for the first time in the summer camp, after latching onto the fact (in a cabin named Serendipity!), they decide to switch places, Sharon visits California to stay with her father Mitch Evers (Keith), while Susan is hot to trot to meet her mother Maggie McKendrick (O’Hara) in Boston, by impersonating each other.

Their tricks work wonderfully to warm the cockle of one’s heart, belated union larded with heartfelt embraces and affections, only Mitch’s housekeeper Verbena (Merkel, having a ball with her hilarious tight-lipped loquaciousness, but not without astuteness) senses something iffy when Susan’s dog refuses to approach Sharon. But time is running out for the twins who are spoiling for getting their parents back together, as Mitch is bewitched by a sultry gold digger Vicky Robinson (Barnes), and soon they will tie the knot. The hurdle is inevitably, stemmed from a man’s inanity, it doesn’t need a keen eye to discern the motive of Vicky and her mother (Watkins, sporting a perfect hag voice), and truth to be told, a magnificent Maureen O’Hara is simply out of the league of a bungling David Keith (although he has a terrific comic bent to make Mitch somewhat more than tolerable, bar an incredulous pratfall that is too slapdash for Disney’s standard).

After Susan letting on the whole switch scheme, she and Maggie blow in at Mitch’s domicile, and the girls will do anything to sabotage their father’s pending wedding, but it is Maggie’s guile that does the trick, and the rest is par for the course. But as soon as the girls’ appearances are unified (by way of a simple haircut in the camp), their disparate personalities built ebulliently in the first half-hour (Mills proffers a convincing yet very subtle dual personae indeed) also harmonize into a sameness, for shizzle their parents cannot tell them apart, so does the audience, quite a misstep to erase their individuality and the zippy city-versus-ranch upbringing clash at that stage, plus, encouraging playing elaborate-looking pranks might partially and insidiously incubate the heinous bully culture which would have been rampant for decades and then some.

In a nutshell, from Richard and Robert Sherman’s chirpy titular song accompanied by its dainty opening credits and title cards scenes (two chubby Cupids sharing a kiss steals my heart), to its seamless construction of two Mills in the same frame, THE PARENT TRAP proves to be a delightful confection when Disney is very much in its winsome wheelhouse.

referential entries: Swift’s POLLYANNA (1960, 7.2/10); Bryan Forbes’ WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND (1961, 7.9/10)

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