Thursday, November 10, 2011

Monkeys, Go Home - 1967

Walt Disney died on December 15th, 1966 and left behind a studio of talented people to carry on his legacy. However, it would take more than a year for audiences to stop seeing his direct influence. Monkeys, Go Home was the first film released after his death, but production had been fully wrapped before his death. It's based on a book called The Monkeys by G.K. Wilinson, and since monkeys were featured in Disney films almost as much as dogs its no wonder that it was selected for adaptation. And with Dean Jones quickly becoming the studios biggest star, Walt was looking for other projects for him.

Andrew V. McLaglen was chosen to direct his only Disney film after much success directing for TV. Maurice Tombragel adapted the screenplay after writing a Disney film that featured a chimp called Moon Pilot. Maurice Chevalier costars with Dean Jones in his final film performance. He previously starred in In Search of the Castaways and had an album of Disney songs on Disneyland Records. French actress Yvette Mimieux stars as Jones' love interest. She would return to the studio years later in The Black Hole. The rest of the cast was filled with French actors who were flown to California for the shoot. Most of the film was shot at the Disney Studio and on location nearby. Many of the Zorro sets were redressed to be an Italian village. The Sherman Brothers wrote a song for the film called "Joie De Vivre."

The film begins with footage of a car driving through the Italian countryside as the credits play. A man named Hank gets out of the car in the village to pick up the deed to an olive farm he inherited. Father Sylvain arrives to welcome him and tells him it will be impossible for him to harvest the olives himself without a large family. Father Sylvain sends a pretty girl named Maria to help Hank get settled, meanwhile he sends for four girl monkeys he worked with in the US Air Force. Maria helps Hank train them to pick olives. When a greedy man who wants Hank's land finds out, he convinces the village to protest against the monkeys, viewing them as a threat for their jobs. Hank brings the monkeys to the village and they melt the hearts of the locals, who give up their protest. However, he then finds out that the olive buyers won't buy olives picked by monkeys. To convince someone to buy his olives, he offers them rights to all of the olives in the village by having his monkeys pick the other farmer's olives free of charge. Maria falls for Hank who doesn't return the favor and they have a fight, just as a woman arrives claiming to be Hank's cousin and co-owner of the olive farm. Maria uses the monkeys to scare her away and Hank realizes he loves her. When the wind comes to blow the olives down, the town is overjoyed to have the help of Hank's monkeys. However, Maria buys a male monkey to add to the family and it distracts the girls, who stop picking olives and try to get his attention. Father Sylvain gives a speech to the village about helping your neighbors and the village helps hank pick the rest of the olives. The film ends with Hank proposing to Maria.

Monkeys, Go Home premiered on February 2nd, 1967 and was released on February 8th. Critics agreed that it was full of monkey humor, but claimed that viewers who don't enjoy monkey antics would find it unenjoyable. It didn't do well at the box office and premiered on The Wonderful World of Color in 1970. It was released on home video in 1987.

Critics may have been too harsh on the film in 1967 because the monkeys don't receive as much screen time as they claimed. The film is really about Hank's struggles to succeed as an olive farmer. However, compared to other Dean Jones Disney comedies, it clearly isn't as good and it's easy to see why audiences weren't as receptive to it as The Ugly Dachshund. But if you enjoy Disney animal comedies, you will find yourself amused by Monkey's, Go Home. A field of olive trees were planted next to the animation building at the Walt Disney Studios, which remained there for years until a parking structure was built over the land.

Monkeys, Go Home is currently available on DVD. The film is presented in fullscreen, although it was originally released in widescreen 1.75:1. A minor restoration has been done, but the picture does suffer from white artifacts. There aren't any bonus features. The film is available on iTunes in widescreen, where it is also available in HD. This film is unlikely to get another physical release on DVD or Blu-Ray, so this may be the only way to own the film in widescreen.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Follow Me, Boys - 1966

Walt Disney was a true American and did many things during his career to help the nation, including handing over his studio during World War II as an army base and making short propaganda films to help the effort. Follow Me, Boys is dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America, an institution that close to Walt's heart. The film is based on a novel by MacKinlay Kantor from 1954 called God and My Country. In 1965 Walt Disney released a sentimental film about small town life called Those Calloways that was a box office failure, and in many ways Follow Me, Boys seems like an attempt to correct what went wrong with that film.

Louis Pelletier adapted the screenplay and Norman Tokar directs, the same screenwriter and director from Those Calloways. Fred MacMurray stars alongside some other famous Disney actors. Vera Miles plays his wife after starring in Those Calloways. Luana Patten returned to the studio for the final time after starting her career as a child actor in Song of the South. It was also the film debut of young Kurt Russell, who would become the studio's biggest star for the next decade. Other familiar faces include Elliott Reid (The Absent-Minded Professor), Donald May (A Tiger Walks) and Parley Baer (The Ugly Dachshund). This was the last film for Charles Ruggles, most recognizable as the grandpa in The Parent Trap. Exterior filming was done on Disney's Golden Oak Ranch, with interior sets filmed on the Disney Studio lot. The original working title throughout production was On My Honor. The title was changed when the Sherman Brothers wrote a song for the film called "Follow Me, Boys."

The film opens with footage of a bus driving through the country as the credits roll and title song plays. Inside the bus is a traveling band. After an emergency stop in a small town called Hickory, one of the band members named Lem meets a bank teller named Vida and falls for her. He decides to stay there and gets a job in the general store. He wins Vida over by volunteering to be scout master for to start a local boy scouts troop. He meets her again later while out on a walk with his troop. Her car breaks down and the troop pushes her back. On their first date, they see a boy named Whitey stealing from the store. He hurts his ankle and Lem helps bind it and doesn't turn him in. Whitey has an alcoholic father and is the only boy in town who hasn't joined the troop. After Lem and Vida get married, he catches Whitey spying on his troop and he gets in a fight with one of the boys. When Lem steps in, he gets Whitey to join the troop. Shortly after, Vida discovers that she is incapable of having kids. At parents night for the troop. Whitey's father embarrasses him when he shows up drunk. Later that night, his father dies of a heart disorder and Lem and Vida take him in. Several years later with a new troop, Lem is kicked off the land he's been using for the scouts all these years. The owner, Mrs. Seibert, is fighting her greedy nephew who claims she is mentally unfit and is now in control of the land. Lem helps prove that she is sane in court. Whitey returns from war with his new wife and when the store owner dies, he leaves it to Lem. As Lem gets older and his health starts to turn, Whitey convinces the scouts to stop letting him be their leader since he won't step down willingly. However, they make him "scout master emeritus" and hold a big parade for him, during which every boy from every troop he ever lead shows up to congratulate him. He is also presented with an honorary law degree, which is what he would have done with his life if he hadn't been a scout master.

Follow Me, Boys premiered on August 1st, 1966 and opened in theaters on December 1st. Critics were hard on the film claiming it was full of cliches and that it was too saccharine. However, audiences disagreed wholeheartedly and the film was a success, grossing almost $6 million.  It was rereleased in 1976 edited down from 131 minutes to 107 minutes. It made its TV debut in 1981 and was released on home video in 1984.

I'm not a big fan of Those Calloways, but I think Follow Me, Boys achieves the same desired results in a more successful way. It's a truly heartfelt film that will make you feel good and it has some of the trademark Disney fun along the way. I think critics in 1966 were overly harsh on it. While the runtime is a little long and the film allows the audience to get bored a few times, the payoff at the end is worth the wait. Kurt Russell gives an amazing performance to a role that could have been very unlikeable in lesser hands. And the adult cast rise to the challenge of playing characters at two very different ages because the film takes place over the course of twenty-some years. Some of the opening credits are jokes, including crediting the town of Hickory and listing its population (the film was made entirely in California near the studio). 

The last time Walt Disney appeared on film was for an introduction to a special engagement screening of Follow Me, Boys during which he advertised some of his upcoming projects, including Blackbeard's Ghost, The Happiest Millionaire and The Gnome Mobile. D23 has made this video available to the general public as part of an episode of their Armchair Archivists series, which is presented below:
Follow Me, Boys is currently available on DVD. The film is presented in fullscreen, although its original theatrical presentation was widescreen 1.75:1. There doesn't appear to have been a restoration. The film flickers and is plagued with white specks and discoloration. The first four minutes also feature a bright yellow boarder surrounding the picture. Bonus features include interviews with several of the boys that played the boy scouts and a photo gallery of publicity material. The film is available on iTunes in widescreen and in HD, but the digital copy does not come with any of the bonus features.