Last night I watched Mary Poppins and I believe it may be the greatest film ever made.
Just tick the boxes – cinematography, gorgeous; performances, flawless (David Tomlinson turns in a performance every bit as subtle as Welles’ Kane, and Julie Andrews is almost inhumanly wonderful); scoring, magnificent (quite aside from the foot-tapping tunes there’s a strong element of leitmotif); choreography, breathtaking (for my money, “over the rooftops” is better than Riverdance); special effects, groundbreaking (the combination of animation with live action is still being copied less successfully); and most strikingly, a script so sharp you could slice carrots with it.
We all remember how much fun it is, of course. Actually, the writing is even more witty than I remember, with moments of knowing satire:
Michael: I want it to feed the birds.
Mr Dawes Snr: Fiddlesticks, Boy. Feed the birds and what have you got? Fat birds.
…exchanges worthy of Oscar Wilde:
Mrs Banks: She seemed so solemn and cross.
Mr Banks: Never confuse efficiency with a liver complaint.
…and moments of absolutely bonkers silliness which could have come from a Goon Show – my favourite:
Horseman: View hallooooo!
Horse (who sounds a bit like Alec Guinness): Oh, yes, definitely. A view halloo.
Fox (who has the most outrageous Irish accent I’ve ever heard): View halloo? Faith and begora, it’s dem redcoats again!
But it is a multi-layered script, with a running theme of the damaging effect of capitalism (Bert the Cockney is so poor he can’t even afford a proper accent, but he is free and happy whilst Mr Banks is trapped in the world of the bank – “they makes cages in all sizes and shapes, you know. Bank-shaped some of ’em, carpets and all…”) Banks’ attitude to his children and wife is frankly disturbing, bordering on the negligent – although he doesn’t do anything so obvious as slap Mrs Banks about, it’s very telling that while she marches up and down singing about “sister suffragettes”, when her husband walks in she turns into a meek, obedient wife who mainly says “yes George”. This is what makes Mr Banks’ ultimate redemption quite so moving – in fact, the climax of the film, when Mr Banks is humiliated before the assembled bankers, is perhaps its strongest sequence – although the events of the scene are absurd, it is lit and acted every bit as seriously as a sinister boardroom scene in a tense drama. For a Disney film it is astonishingly unsentimental and all the more effective for it.
But it is not a film that has been studied at length or that is discussed by film theorists in hushed tones, and the only reason I can think of for this is that they have been put off the film by that bloody awful bit where they all have tea on the ceiling, which doesn’t have any of the qualities mentioned above.
I suppose it’s too late for a director’s cut?