Saturday 17 January 2009

Movie Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

It's hard to find a big-budget musical that has more hammy over-acting than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This is not necessarily a bad thing. As directed by Ken Hughes and produced by Albert Broccoli's James Bond production team, the film is squarely aimed at the child market, and it is, after all, based on an Ian Fleming story he wrote for his children. Over-the-top exaggerated emotions and song-and-dance numbers dominate, but the overblown running length of 2 hours and 27 minutes does challenge any attention span.

Dick Van Dyke is Caractacus Potts (there are no subtleties in this movie), an eccentric but broke inventor and single dad, who transforms an old race car into a gleaming, floating, flying beauty of a machine. His two children are thrilled, but the evil Baron Bomberst (Gert Frobe), the overblown ruler of the mythical Vulgaria, decides to steal the magical car at whatever cost. Instead he ends up kidnapping Potts' dad (Lionel Jeffries), who is eccentric enough to makes his son appear normal. The second half of the movie has Caractacus and his kids on a wild mission to rescue granddad and save the people of Vulgaria from their tyrannical ruler.

Part of this adventure is a story-within-a-story, but that does not really matter -- it is all a vehicle for grand fun, some good laughs, rudimentary special effects, and an old fashioned romance between Caractacus and Truly Scrumptious (no subtleties at all), the daughter of the town's candy baron. Scrumptious is played by Sally Ann Howes -- the only performer in the cast almost trying to take her role semi-seriously.

Consistent with the grand comic theme, the supporting cast is terrific and colourful: Benny Hill as the toymaker of Vulgaria; the two Vulgaria spies (Alexander Dore and Bernard Spear) who provide the best laughs; James Robertson Justice as Truly's dad; and Anna Quayle as Baroness Bomberst. A scary candy-seller/kidnapper is a good source of don't-talk-to-strangers nightmares for the young. The music and lyrics by Richard and Robert Sherman are patchy but do provide some good musical moments, most notably Me Ol'Bamboo and The Roses of Success. Unfortunately, there is also the truly atrocious and seemingly endless Lovely Lonely Man that Howes is saddled to deliver.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang boasts the "I suppose you blue-faced baboons have an explanation for this outrage?!" line, brilliantly delivered by Robertson Justice. In the context of the movie, it works and it is very funny. Surrender to the child-like charms of this movie, and it will deliver an afternoon of innocent fun.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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