Monday, January 31, 2022

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR FEBRUARY ON TCM

 


Frances Hodgson Burnett brought pleasure to countless generations of readers and earned herself critical praise with her writing, in particular three novels which have made the transition to the screen and stage countless times, Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), A Little Princess (1905), and The Secret Garden (1911). 

It is difficult for me to imagine that The Secret Garden was first adapted for the movies in 1919 and the second feature was not produced until 1949. Since that time, there have been countless movie versions, television mini-series, an animated feature, and a Tony-winning Broadway musical among its incarnations.

Mary Lennox played by Margaret O'Brien is both a neglected and spoiled child. She is bitter and lonely and acts out on these emotions. Born in India to British parents whom she lost in a cholera epidemic, it is determined by authorities that the orphan be sent back to England and the care of a distant relative, an uncle by marriage, Archibald Craven played by Herbert Marshall.

Archibald Craven is plagued by a hunchbacked, guilt, memories, and secrets. He tries to bury these secrets, literally and through drink and absence. Prior to leaving on one of his frequent trips to London, Craven tells the orphan girl, whom he had hoped would be beautiful: "It's a poor house for children, Mary. Perhaps you're equal to it. I'm not." 

Mary finds her new home in Yorkshire very strange indeed. Gladys Cooper plays the cold and tyrannical housekeeper. Dennis Hoey is "Mr. Craven's man" who battles Cooper for control. Reginald Owen is the gardener who has his own secrets. Elsa Lanchester is a giggly housemaid who tolerates no nonsense from a headstrong girl, yet has sympathy for Mary's plight. Her brother Dickon played beautifully by Brian Roper is a nature boy who becomes a friend to the isolated orphan. He is an unaware yet remarkably perceptive friend and teacher. 

Brian Roper (Dickon), Margaret O'Brien (Mary), Dean Stockwell (Colin)

Norma Varden plays a nurse in the Craven household. Why is there a nurse in the house? It is to care for the "poor boy." Craven's son Colin is played by Dean Stockwell. The boy is a cripple with the threat of an early death hanging over him. Colin is a great one for giving the staff a hard time through his behavior and tantrums. Mary has finally met someone who matches her, fault for fault. These cousins are holy terrors who must raise themselves out of the depths of their despair. In an outburst for the ages, Mary breaks Colin down: 
"I was worse the day I was born than you are this minute!"

The secret of the Craven family and of the locked-up garden on the grounds will prove life-affirming and cathartic for our trio of youngsters. The adult cast is superb, especially George Zucco as a doctor with common sense and the correct prescription for the shut-up Colin and his father. 

Robert Ardrey (The Green YearsMadame Bovary) wrote the screenplay for The Secret Garden under the auspices of producer Clarence Brown for MGM Studios. The prestigious film was directed by Fred M. Wilcox (Lassie Come Home). 

I find in the best of Clarence Brown's work, producing and/or directing, a particular empathy for the outsider especially as represented by the lonely, isolated world of children in such films as The Yearling, Intruder in the Dust, Ah, Wilderness!, The Human Comedy, National Velvet, Angels in the Outfield, and this lovely version of The Secret Garden.  


TCM is screening The Secret Garden, 1949 on Thursday, February 24th at noon Eastern Time. Other classic novel adaptations in the lineup include Pride and Prejudice, 1940, Little Women, 1933, The Age of Innocence, 1934, Murder She Said, 1961, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, 1968.


Previous titles in the Caftan Woman's Choice series.





14 comments:

  1. I only saw the version from 1993, with Maggie Smith. Didn’t know there were other versions—but I could easily imagine Margaret O’Brien in this story.

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    1. MGM used their best at the time and it is a quality movie. The surprise to me is the years it took before various filmmakers saw depth in the mterial.

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  2. This is a lovely film and one of Margaret O'Brien's best. It's also a great reminder of what a fine child actor the late Dean Stockwell was. However, I am partial to the beautiful 1993 version of The Secret Garden.

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    1. Indeed, if TCM were airing the 1993 movie it would be a Caftan Woman's Choice. The source is inspiring.

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  3. Thanks for the heads-up. I often think of the writers of what would become children's classics in that era - these and so many other titles that later generations would first discover through the movies - and remakes- made of them. How the authors would have marveled at that, had they a crystal ball.

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    1. The reach, through film versions of classic tales, certainly would have pleased the creators of these timeless stories.

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  4. Great write-up on this film -- This is such a lovely version of the novel, and the children are superb (as is George Zucco, one of my faves!). I also like how the film version is much darker than the original book, with a real 'noir' feeling to it. It brings out the redemption at the end so much more movingly. Great recommendation!

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    1. My heart soars and breaks at the cathartic release of these lost hearts.

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  5. I saw this for the first time a few months ago, and fell in love with it. I've seen a later adaptation of the novel, but I really liked this one.

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    1. When a movie finds that place in your heart, it is there forever.

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  6. MARGARET O'BRIEN was also in LITTLE WOMEN that year (1949)! That is a good picture of the three children. BRIAN ROPER's shirt looks fancy. Was the wardrobe appropriate to the time period the movie was depicting? It probably was because the studios were good about that back then(I think). DEAN STOCKWELL was a cutie with all that hair! CLASSIC TV FAN

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    1. I saw an interview with Margaret where she admitted to a crush on Dean Stockwell (and "all that curly hair").

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  7. Did you know that The Secret Garden was Elizabeth Taylor's favorite book as a child? Watched this with my Mom about a year ago and we both enjoy the movie. And I liked both of MGM's child stars, Margaret and Dean! Cheers, Rick

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    1. I did not know that about Elizabeth. We have a kinship.

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