Saturday, 17 January 2009

Movie Review: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

It will be hard to find a big-budget movie that has more hammy over-acting than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The major musical film productions of the 1960's, like My Fair Lady, Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, never took themselves too seriously, but the cast of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang take the cheese factor to a whole different, and rarely seen, level.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. The film as directed by Ken Hughes and produced by Albert Broccoli's James Bond production team, is squarely aimed at the child market, and it is, after all, based on an Ian Fleming story that he wrote for his children. The movie does not pretend to be anything other than a live-action grand comic adventure, and delivers the over-the-top exaggerated emotions and visuals that would consequently be expected. However, at an overblown running length of 2 hours and 27 minutes, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is likely stretching the attention span capabilities of its target audience.

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. Gert Frobe is Baron Bomberst, the overblown ruler of the mythical Vulgaria, who 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 saving his car and 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, 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 of the movie, 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 probably the best laughs of the movie; James Robertson Justice as Truly's dad; and Anna Quayle as Baroness Bomberst.

The song melodies are catchy and memorable, but the lyrics are quite forgettable. The music and lyrics are by Richard and Robert Sherman, and the fact that the Shermans are not household names is a warning of sorts. Still, there are some good musical moments, most notably the "Me Ol'Bamboo" and "The Roses of Success" numbers. Unfortunately, there is also the truly atrocious and seemingly endless "Lovely Lonely Man" that Howes is saddled to deliver.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a movie with a line of dialogue, brilliantly delivered by Robertson Justice, that goes as follows: "I suppose you blue-faced baboons have an explanation for this outrage?!" 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.

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