Almost A Classic: Bedknobs and Broomsticks

bedknobs and broomsticks indexA film I hadn’t seen for almost forty years, due to that my memories of Bedknobs and Broomsticks were fairly vague and all I remembered was that it featured a bunch of cartoon characters romping about with kids and Angela Lansbury’s lead. So watching it now as an adult it came as a real surprise as to how weird the film is, and that a big chunk of the finale features some rather unpleasant Nazis attacking poor old blighty.

It starts with Angela Lansbury’s Miss Price receiving a broom shaped package in the post that she’s rather excited about, but before she can try it out she’s saddled with three children, Charlie (Ian Weighill), Paul (Roy Snart) and Carrie (Cindy O’Callaghan), who have been evacuated from London as it is 1940 and Germany had been bombing the crap out of the city. Miss Price is reluctant to take them in at first until she’s told she has no choice, and eventually is persuaded as long as a more suitable home is found as soon as possible.

The rather chirpy kids aren’t too happy with being rushed off to the countryside either, and plan to flee back to their parents, but before they manage this they spot Miss Price flying about on her new broomstick and the next morning try to blackmail her in to making their stay a little more pleasant. We then learn that Miss Price is only an apprentice witch, and that her mail order course in becoming one has been truncated, so she and the kids head off to London to track down the man who runs it, Emelius Brown (David Tomlinson). This is where the bedknob of the title comes in to play, as Miss Price casts a spell that makes it all kinds of magical, and all they have to do is to tap on it three times and say where they want to go and they’ll be whisked away.

The film then involves a search for a magical book, and a missing magical phrase, which entails a trip to a very foggy London and a previously lost island of cartoon animals, before the finale involves the invading Nazis mentioned above. All of this is delightful fare too, as Miss Price not only slowly grows fond of the kids but falls for the initially dodgy but eventually heroic Emelius Brown. There’s a number of songs which aren’t the kind of thing you’d listen to sans imagery but they work well within the context of the movie, which is quite the unpredictable and unusual beast.

Among the oddness is a long song and dance number extolling the virtues of London’s Portobello Road, Miss Price’s initially dicey attempts at magic, a surprisingly psychedelic trip on the flying bed which looks like something out of 2001, Bruce Forsythe as a knife wielding thug who threatens to stab Miss Price and the children a couple of times, and best of all is the visit to the island of Naboombu with its underwater dancing, a football obsessed lion king, and the game that Emelius soon regrets volunteering to referee. The ending is sublime as well, and while I’ve enjoyed seeing many a Nazi get his just desserts on the silver screen it has never been quite so satisfying as it is here.

The dialogue is also often delightfully daft, from Miss Price’s explanation of the (surprisingly mangy) cats name – “I don’t believe in giving animals ridiculous names. I call him Cosmic Creepers because that’s the name he came with” while Charlie’s attempts at blackmail amount to “I’d like to see an occasional sausage on the table here. A bit of strawberry jam”. Mr Brown proudly admits “I am by nature a little bit of a coward”, while Charlie is shocked by the disgraceful fouls taking place in the football game, Carrie tries to defend them claiming they’re only animals, but Charlie angrily responds “That’s no excuse for dirty football” in a very funny manner.

There are a couple of flaws in the film, the song and dance sequence set in Portobello Road goes on for an age and has some soldiers of different nationalities dancing which adds nothing to the film at all, and because their interactions with the animated animals are so joyful it’s frustrating that said sequence only lasts for twenty minutes before we’re back to real life. And while I don’t want to be mean, some of the acting from the kids isn’t exactly Oscar worthy, though they do have charm and make this a very appealing effort.

With better songs, a slightly sharper script and a tiny bit of prudent cutting this would have been an entry for the “Our Favourite Films” section, but as it is it’s only almost a classic. It comes bloody close though, is packed full of extremely amusing performances, and has a gleeful sense of mischief to many a moment which is infectious and then some, and if you’re in the mood for a very funny and unusual slice of child friendly madness then this will deliver on all fronts.

★★★★

Alex Finch.
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