Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hayley Makes Me Glad

To celebrate National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, I'm going to break with our usual post, and contribute to the Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon, in which we'll discuss films that are sources of comfort when days are bleak. I'll be discussing Pollyanna (1960), starring Hayley Mills as the title character.

After the death of her missionary parents, Pollyanna Whittier is taken in by her Aunt Polly Harrington (Jane Wyman). Aunt Polly takes her position as the leading citizen of the town of Harrington seriously, much to the disgust of Mayor Karle Warren (Donald Crisp). The Mayor feels that Polly's domination of the town's affairs demean his role as a voted official, and eliminates citizen involvement in the workings of the town. Aunt Polly also has very decided opinions on her late sister's marriage to a man who she saw as beneath the Harrington family, and about the rearing of children. But she is not prepared for is Pollyanna, a little girl secure in her parents' love and accustomed to making lemonade out of lemons. Pollyanna brings with her a determination to be happy and to teach everyone around her "the glad game".
Over the years, the name Pollyanna has become an insult. Merriam Webster defines the word as "a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything".  Pollyanna has not had an easy life - her mother died when she was young, and she's recently lost her father. As missionaries, they were dirt poor, and couldn't even get their little daughter a doll. So, her father invented the glad game as a way to help his child appreciate what she had rather than bemoan what she lacked. Like all of us, Pollyanna gets angry, sad, and frustrated, but she tries to look for the good in people, for then (according to the medallion she has from her father), you will surely find it. 

Hayley Mills is perfect as Pollyanna; then again, I'm rather biased when it comes to Ms. Mills - I think everything she does is great. I recently had the opportunity to see her in an Off-Broadway play, and was thrilled (Party Face). She brings a sincerity to the character of Pollyanna. She's not perfect. She becomes furious at Mrs. Snow (Agnes Moorehead) whose obsession with death frustrates the child. She scolds Jimmy Bean (Kevin Corcoran) for his tree-climbing, but finally climbs trees herself. She loves her Aunt Polly, but lies about her maid Nancy's (Nancy Olson) relationship with George Dodds (James Drury). 

Several scenes have always stood out for me and cheer me when I'm down. After Pollyanna's encounter with Mr. Pendergast (Adolphe Menjou), she develops a fascination with the crystals that ornament his lamps - the rainbows they throw when held in the sunlight enchant her. So, in spite of his protestations, she begins hanging them from his window, to fill the house with rainbows - until finally he too is engrossed in the project. Another is her visit to the Reverend Paul Ford (Karl Malden), who has a fire and brimstone approach to religion (primarily at the urging of Aunt Polly). Though forbidden to talk about her father by Aunt Polly, Reverend Ford is intrigued by Reverend Whittier's beliefs, resulting in Rev. Ford's conversion to a more loving approach to God.

And of course, there is the relationship between Pollyanna and Aunt Polly - a woman who has rejected love (in for the form of Dr. Edmund Chilton, well played by Richard Egan), and is astonished by the instant love that Pollyanna lavishes on her. When Pollyanna runs to kiss her good night, Ms. Wyman's amazement sums up Aunt Polly in an instant. It's a marvelous moment.
Pollyanna's ability to try and see the glass as half-full is truly satisfying. She doesn't always succeed, but if she did, then she really would be the blissfully unaware creature of which she is frequently accused. But she's not. She's a wonderful, warm little girl who wants love (and a doll) and who has the magical ability to put a smile on your face. Don't believe me? Ask Tillie Lagerlof (Reta Shaw) or Angelica (Mary Grace Canfield). They will back me up!
I'll leave you with one of my favorite scenes: Pollyanna discovers a rainbow:

16 comments:

  1. Loved her always. Her movies are definitely comfort food for the spirit.

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    1. Saw it when it first came out. Loved it ever since. A beautifully crafted film with an amazing cast. David Swift always did a good job. They should have passed a law, decreeing that Hayley Mills would stay that age forever!

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  2. I got a cold right around the time I found out about the blogathon topic. All I wanted to watch was this!

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  3. Such a great little film. Not only does it always leave me feeling happier, but also a bit more patriotic, thanks to Pollyanna's solo in America the Beautiful. When I first watched this as a child I didn't realize how many of the actors were famous classic film actors. Now, I'm amazed that Disney was able to get so many of them to appear in his film.

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    1. I suspect Walt Disney liked to hire actors he admired, and he didn't worry about their age. Witness his relationship with Fred MacMurray!

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  4. I feel glad just reading your tribute! “Pollyanna” is delightful on so many levels. It is a sure fire remedy to a sour stomach. I love visiting with its host of stars of both cinema and television. And I always watch yearning for a slice of that fabulous looking cake Rita Shaw prepared.

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  5. I think POLLYANNA is Disney's best live action film. My wife and I watched it again last Christmas and it holds up remarkably well. The whole cast is sublime and I love the scene in the field between Karl Malden and Hayley Mills.

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    1. I think if I have to pick my favorite live action Disney film, it would end up being "The Moon Spinners". But "Pollyanna" is my slice of peace and I film I delight in watching over and over again.

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  6. What a wonderful choice! Full disclosure - I was so in love with Hayley Mills as a kid that I wanted to change my name to Hayley (not to mention speak with a British accent). My Hayley devotion continues to this day and I recently saw her in a play in NYC. She is still adorable.

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    2. “Party Face”? I saw it too. She was Wonderful!

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  7. It's a shame that the word "pollyanna" has become a put-down. Sadly, it says a lot about our society, because who doesn't love a person who always tries to see the good in others?

    The next time I'm having a less-than-stellar day, I'm going to track down Hayley Mills as Pollyanna. A perfect choice!

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    1. I think so few people have seen the film or read the book, they just think that Pollyanna is happy all the time. I don't think they realize what she has gone through, and that she is grasping for a way to survive her pain. And doing it quite well!

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    2. Not long ago a friend and I drove up to Santa Rosa (CA) to check out the house there that was used (exteriors) as the family home in Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt." It turns out that the house that was used as Aunt Polly's house in "Pollyanna" is just a block or so up the same street. What an absolutely lovely neighborhood!! And were we ever feeling glad...but, on subject, if there ever was a film to warm your heart and soul when down in the dumps, "Pollyanna" is it. And HM was a perfect fit in the role. Great write-up of an upbeat, uplifting classic.

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    3. How interesting that they are in the same area. Thank you for telling me!! I appreciate your kind words on the post.

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