Hayley Mills, what can we say about her? She was an English actress, daughter of actor John Mills, and shot to fame as a child actress in many early Disney films. She acted in a total of six theatrical films for Walt Disney, many of them being hits. After her time with Disney, she would go on to acting in more mature film roles as well as starring in the Disney Channel 80’s sitcom, “Good Morning, Miss Bliss” as the titular character.
(Fun fact: The show didn’t do well and was soon canceled. The rights were bought by NBC and then remade as the hit 90’s sitcom, “Saved by the Bell”, completely without the character of Miss Bliss. Imagine how that must have made Hayley Mills feel!)
But in today’s post, we’re going to be looking at her very first film at the Disney Studios. And that film is none other than “Pollyanna” based on the classic children’s novel by Eleanor H. Porter. I’d just like to say that I’ve never read the book, so I have no idea what’s supposed to happen. Hence I won’t be comparing the film to the book. With that said, let’s dive into the review.
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
So the film opens up to
Oh boy, I can see that this movie is going to be quite unforgettable already, and not in a good way.
We then cut to the town of Harrington, a small town with a Mayberry sort of feel to it. A train has just arrived at the train station and off steps a young girl named Pollyanna, played by the aforementioned Hayley Mills.
Her parents have died, thereby making her an orphan,
and she’s come to Harrington to live with her Aunt Polly…Polly HARRINGTON, that is! Yep, the town is their ancestral town, so much so that Aunt Polly actually has quite a lot of control over the town which we’ll find out later.
Pollyanna is picked up at the station by Aunt Polly’s maid, Nancy, and gardener played by Nancy Olson and Nolan Leary, respectively.
They then drive Pollyanna to her new home.
Pollyanna, understandably, is astonished at the opulence and exquisiteness of her new home and spends much time admiring it. She then meets her new guardian, Aunt Polly, played by ex-President Ronald Reagan’s ex-wife, Jane Wyman.
What can we say about Aunt Polly? She’s extremely wealthy and feels that it’s her responsibility to look after her ancestral town. It sounds very generous of her, but she has a problem: she’s not very loving. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not a MEAN person, but compassion isn’t the basis of her actions. She does things for the town because she feels that it’s her DUTY to do it. This means that she’s put much of her money into many of the businesses of the Harrington citizens. This in turn means that she has a level of control over the town and its citizens, because they fear her wealth and power. This’ll be more apparent later on.
After Aunt Polly and Pollyanna introduce themselves, we come across the other workers in the house including the cook, Ms. Lagerlof, played by Reta Shaw,
and the grouchy upstairs maid Angelica, played by Mary Grace Canfield.
Come to think of it, even Reta Shaw guest-starred on “The Andy Griffith Show”.
Wow, 15 minutes into this movie and I already love the character actors. That’s a good sign!
Anyway, Angelica shows Pollyanna to her new room.
She shows Pollyanna to her new room.
She shows Pollyanna to her new room.
SHE SHOWS POLLYANNA TO HER NEW ROOM!
As you can see, Aunt Polly has taken special care of Pollyanna by giving her the smallest and highest room in the house near all the clutter of unwanted junk. Bless her heart!
Later on, Aunty Polly and Pollyanna get to know each other a bit more through dinner, talks, and clothes-shopping. Aunt Polly explains to Pollyanna that since she’s a Harrington, she has to dress and behave well to be an example for the whole town to follow.
After shopping for clothes one day, Aunt Polly and Pollyanna hear of bad news. Apparently the fire brigade has been called out to the Harrington House, a local orphanage that the original Harrington constructed many years ago. Oh look there’s his bust now!
Apparently, a busted pipe
Sigh, like I was saying, a busted pipe caused two boilers to explode and flood the orphanage with water, an accident causing much damage to the building and even resulting in a hand injury to one of the orphanage…workers, I guess.
Wow, we have a city that’s like Mayberry and three characters who’ve guest-starred on “The Andy Griffith Show”. Maybe this was originally meant to be a “The Andy Griffith Show” movie, but all the main actors couldn’t make it, so they padded it with some “The Andy Griffith Show” guest stars, Ronald Reagan’s ex-wife, and an up-and-coming Disney phenomenon!
Well, it was just a thought!
Anyway this incident calls for Aunt Polly to host a town meeting of sorts at her house so that she and the other major members of the town can discuss what is to be done about the orphanage. The mayor wants to tear down the dilapidated building and erect a brand-new building with multiple improvements.
But Aunt Polly merely wants to repair the current building because she sees the orphanage as a family landmark of the town. The mayor tries hard to convince her and the others that repairing the orphanage would be more costly than building a new one, but acquiesces to Aunt Polly because nobody’s on his side.
Why is nobody on his side? Because Aunt Polly’s wealth and reputation rule the town, like I said earlier, and nobody would DARE oppose her in any matter.
Even the local Reverend, played by Karl Malden, is influenced by her, so much so that she has a say in what the topics of his Sunday sermons will be!
And what kind of things does she want woven into the Sunday sermons?
Yep, she makes the Reverend into a “fire-and-brimstone” preacher. You see, her intent behind this is to have the Reverend strike fear into the hearts of the people on Sunday and let it sink through their minds for the rest of the week.
On the Sunday after the “town hall” meeting, we receive a very long sermon from the Reverend that honestly has many good points, but they’re ineffective because of the way they’re being delivered. Now we all know that yelling and blaming can never help anyone. The purpose of a sermon is not to frighten everyone to a degree of disgust and hopelessness, but to warn and help everyone make themselves better one day at a time. Sadly, many “fire-and-brimstone” preachers of any religion don’t understand this concept. Ooh, Polly Harrington, you’re such a weird villainous non-villain!
So everyone leaves the church on Sunday extremely disgusted and/or frightened beyond their wits. After the sermon, Pollyanna wanders by the orphanage and meets a young orphan boy named Jimmy Bean, played by Kevin Corcoran.
Jimmy Bean is a bit of an escape artist and frequently escapes from the orphanage to have fun and return before anyone finds out that he’s missing. This time, he invites Pollyanna to come along with him on his “fun-filled” adventures. They go fishing
and go climbing in a tree in old Pendergast’s place. Mr. Pendergast is a bit of a recluse and doesn’t want anyone trespassing on his property. So you can imagine what his reaction is when he catches Pollyanna and Jimmy Bean in his yard.
Hey, Mr. Pendergast is played by Adolphe Menjou and in an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show”, Andy Griffith’s character compared Don Knotts’ character to Adolphe Menjou!
Alright, alright, I’ll stop!
Anyway, after calming down, the kids realize that Mr. Pendergast isn’t really a bad guy. He actually owns many antiques and is quite learned in science. This is evident when Pollyanna notices some rainbows on his wall.
They become friends and then leave the house. Meanwhile, we cut to Aunt Polly in her house as an old friend and lover has stopped by to see her. Dr. Chilton, played by Richard Egan, was in town and hadn’t seen Aunt Polly for five years.
They soon start chatting as Dr. Chilton wants to see if Aunt Polly feels the same about him as he does about her. They both seem interested in getting back together, until talk of the orphanage comes along. Dr. Chilton finds the current building inadequate for the number of children while Aunt Polly still wishes to merely repair the building using her own money. Dr. Chilton points out that people don’t like false charity, and let’s just say that they don’t end their meeting amicably.
We then cut to the next day in which Aunt Polly is doing a charity drive. What exactly does this charity drive consist of? Delivering jars of calf’s-foot jelly to all the citizens of the town.
Pollyanna and Nancy are the main helpers in this endeavor and go around delivering the jelly to every house. Finally, they get to Mrs. Snow’s house. Mrs. Snow, played by Agnes Moorehead, is a hypochondriac obsessed with dying and having everyone do what she says. But when Pollyanna visits her, she, like Mr. Pendergast, succumbs to Pollyanna’s charms and the two become friends…ummm…acquaintances of sorts. How do they bond? By making rainbows with the prisms of Mrs. Snow’s lantern.
So as you can see, much of the movie is just Pollyanna visiting and interacting with people. Is there some semblance of plot? Well, now there is. The mayor takes matters into his own hands regarding the orphanage decision and decides that a new orphanage will be built regardless of what Aunt Polly says. He decides to hold a charity bazaar to raise money for the new orphanage, and surprisingly many people like the idea and support the mayor. It’s the first time in history that the majority of the townspeople ever opposed Aunt Polly.
Pollyanna herself gets involved and is excited about all the preparation for the fantastic day. She manages to get people to make things to sell at the bazaar. For example, she convinces Mrs. Snow to knit patchwork quilts and Mr. Pendergast to sell prisms on a string and call them “Rainbow-makers”.
Ok, isn’t that a bit…cheating? Can you sell something that does what it’s supposed to do and patent it with a fancy name? I mean, it’s like if I got a bunch of rocks and sold them as “Water-splashers”. It just seems ethically wrong.
But there are still a few townspeople that are afraid to upset Aunt Polly, hence don’t support the bazaar. In order to quell their fears, Dr. Chilton and the mayor talk to the Reverend and ask him to promote the bazaar in his upcoming sermon. If the Reverend shows his support to the project, then the rest of the townspeople will be less afraid to support the project too. But, as we said before, Aunt Polly herself has control over what the Reverend preaches and does, hence he declines respectfully.
The men leave disappointed, and the Reverend too seems to be torn by the decision he made. As he plans his next sermon in private, Pollyanna approaches him and talks to him about her father. Apparently, her father was a fellow minister and he too used to get discouraged and upset at times.
One thing that he used to do to pick himself up was to remind himself to look for the good in people. He would even search through the Bible with Pollyanna for what he called the “glad passages”. These are the verses not about punishment and sin, but the verses about happiness, rewards, and rejoicing.
This story resonates deeply with the Reverend and he realizes that he needs to change. He’s been preaching whatever Aunt Polly wanted him to preach and became a puppet to Aunt Polly’s strings, so much so that he too was frightened to promote the bazaar for fear of Aunt Polly’s backlash. That’s when he finally realizes a very important lesson.
He then decides to make his next sermon be about the “glad passages” and he also mentions his support for the upcoming bazaar. This shocks our dear Aunt Polly.
Anyway, the night of the bazaar finally arrives. Everyone’s there except Aunt Polly (of course) and Pollyanna, who’s been forbidden to attend (by Aunt Polly, of course). But Jimmy Bean climbs up a tree into Pollyanna’s window and convinces her to disobey her aunt and come to the bazaar. Pollyanna listens to him. Shock.
Once there, Pollyanna has a wonderful time eating watermelons,
and eating corn.
Even the Reverend enjoys himself by dunking one of the members of his church into a tub of water via a baseball toss.
At the end of the bazaar, Pollyanna, along with a few other girls sing “America, the Beautiful” while wrapped up in cloth to look like the American Flag.
Pollyanna then heads home and climbs back up the tree to get into her window, but alas, she falls!
Ok, she doesn’t die, but her legs are paralyzed and she can’t walk. This incident causes Aunt Polly’s heart to soften a bit and she learns her lesson in developing love and not being quite so controlling in other’s affairs.
Dr. Chilton suggests taking her to Baltimore where he may be able to perform an operation on her to get her walking again. He asks Aunt Polly to come along with him and they head to the train station after all the townspeople (many of whom I didn’t talk about) wish Pollyanna, the girl who changed their lives, luck.
Did she ever regain her ability to walk? We don’t know, the movie ends here. Did they raise enough money to build a new orphanage via the bazaar? We don’t know, the movie ends here. Do Aunt Polly and Dr. Chilton ever get together? We don’t know, the movie ends here.
And thankfully it does, not because it’s bad or anything, but because there’s nothing else really to talk about (well besides those few loose ends that I just mentioned).
The film itself has a charm to it, like much of the early live-action Disney films had. Hayley Mills is extremely likable and an amazing actress, so much so that she earned a special Academy Award for her performance in this film.
Most of the other actors do well in their parts as well including Adolphe Menjou, Agnes Moorhead, Karl Marden, and Jane Wyman, of course. The weakest actor was probably Richard Egan, but he wasn’t horrible.
The film albeit has very little plot, or at least not in the beginning. But then again, the film is SUPPOSED to be like that. The film isn’t really about Aunt Polly’s control over the town, but it’s about Pollyanna’s interactions with the people and how she affected each of their lives. It’s similar to “Mary Poppins” in that sense.
The special effects, I have to say, were a bit disappointing, and I’d be lying if I said that EVERY scene in the film seemed necessary or enjoyable, but for what the film was worth, I quite enjoyed it, much to my surprise, although I wouldn’t defend it as a good film!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So my final rating for this film is 20/35 = 57.14% (F) !
And what WAS up with that butt-naked kid in the beginning?