Parent Trap, The (1961)

“The nerve of her, coming here with your face!”

Synopsis:
A pair of estranged identical twins (Hayley Mills) — one (Sharon) living with their mother (Maureen O’Hara) in Boston, the other (Susan) with their father (Brian Keith) in California — meet each other accidentally at summer camp, and concoct a plan to switch identities temporarily. When Sharon discovers that her father is planning to marry a gold-digger (Joanna Barnes), she enlists Susan’s help in bringing O’Hara out to California to try to break up the impending marriage and bring their parents back together.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary notes that while Disney’s follow-up to Pollyanna (1960) is “a long way from being Hayley [Mills]’ best film… it’s the film her loyal fans feel the most nostalgia for because it really delighted [young viewers] at the time” it was released — both the “boys who had crushes on her and girls who wanted to be her”. He points out that while it’s an “overlong, predictable comedy” without “much humor”, “O’Hara and Keith make a spirited screen couple”, “there are many fine supporting performances by veteran characters actors”, and “Mills is, of course, a delight”. He argues that Mills’ “vibrant energy, wit, imagination and an optimistic view of the world” — in addition to her “mature talent, pretty features, and striking pre-Beatles British accent” — are “what made her so popular”.

There’s no disputing the cult status of this beloved film, the “second [Hollywood] adaptation of Erich Kastner’s [1949] novel Lisa and Lottie.” The first version, Twice Upon a Time (1953), was directed by none other than Emeric Pressburger, but remains oddly elusive; I’ve never seen it, and have no idea how to go about finding a copy. Meanwhile, two other previous non-Hollywood versions were made as well (one in Germany, and one in Japan), and in addition to later being adapted quite a few more times internationally, it was remade by Hollywood in 1998 with Lindsay Lohan in Mills’ roles. Clearly, the ludicrous storyline — Kastner was purportedly inspired by the similar plot device in Three Smart Girls (1936) — resonates with young viewers, who love to imagine that all their divorced parents need is simply a strong nudge towards reintroduction in order to happily reunite. Meanwhile, Kastner added the universally appealing notion that we may have an identical doppelganger out in the world, someone we know nothing about, but who we may run into by chance, and who will quickly become our closest confidante and companion. What’s not to love about this fantasy scenario?

Adult viewers, however, will likely have a terrible time accepting the notion that O’Hara and Keith split up their twin daughters at an early age and failed to tell either one about the other; it not only strains credibility, but leaves a decidedly sour taste in one’s mouth about their parenting decisions. Regardless, O’Hara and Keith do indeed make for an appealing would-be couple, especially when contrasted with the cartoonishly evil gold-digger played by Barnes (whose frosted hair and matronly hairdo make her appear much older than her actual 27 years of age). And Mills’ performances — helped tremendously by fantastic double-exposure special effects — make the film easy to sit through, even when all its other elements fail to inspire.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Hayley Mills as Sharon and Susan
  • Fine special effects

Must See?
Yes, as a cult favorite, and for Mills’ performance(s).

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One Response to “Parent Trap, The (1961)”

  1. Not a must.

    As is the case now for me with most classic Disney films, I hadn’t seen this since I was a kid. And, boy, does it not hold up well at all. Not even Hayley (whom I adore in film generally, as being in the top 5 best child actors as well as just having much screen charm) can put this one over successfully (esp. nowadays) – through no fault of her own. I’ve no doubt that the film (and Hayley in it) struck a particular chord with young audiences “at the time” – as Peary notes – but, aside from a handful of moments when the film comes to mildly interesting life, ‘TPT’ doesn’t ultimately pack enough of a satisfying punch.

    Director David Swift (and, of course, Hayley) had done such pleasing work with ‘Pollyanna’ the previous year – and that film still holds up today…which makes ‘TPT’ all the more of a disappointment and a slight chore to get through.

    Particularly annoying is the opening theme song – which is simply wretched. Annette Funicello must have subsequently been given a vocal coach, cause her singing here is like fingernails on a blackboard. Ick!

    FFs will want to make sure to check out ‘Whistle Down the Wind’, released the same year and which contains one of Hayley’s best performances in film.

    Fave moment: Keith gets nervous when he realizes he’s going to have to talk with Hayley about ‘the facts of life’. There’s an awkward moment of misunderstanding before Hayley blurts out that she knows all about that! 😉

    Gay FFs will get a kick out of seeing ‘our own’ Nancy Kulp in a small role as a camp counselor. She’s an absolute treat here but, sadly, given very little screen time.

    Note: The ‘doppelganger’ theme is used to wonderful effect in Kieslowski’s brilliant film ‘The Double Life of Veronique’.

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