The big Hayley Mills movie of July 1961, the one that everyone remembers, is "The Parent Trap", a primal flick for every child of divorce during that era. Mills' contract for six Disney movies was non-exclusive, meaning that she could continue to make small British films like this one. At fifteen, Mills was too mature for the part of Kathy, a little girl (obviously pre-sexual) who believes that Jesus Christ "Himself" (Alan Bates, then 27, as Arthur Blakey, a homicidal fugitive from justice) has found sanctuary in the family barn.
Mills' open face and honest eyes are persuasive, but she really needs the thick coat and bulky scarf she wears throughout the narrative and most of the other children in the cast are half as tall as she is. Nevertheless, Kathy, little sister Nan (Diane Holgate), seven-year-old brother Charlie (Alan Barnes) & nine neighborhood kids are overwhelmed by the prospect of caring for "Him" by fetching provisions and begging for stories. Obligingly, "He" reads His Disciples the tale of "Ruth Lawrence, Air Hostess", straight out of the newspaper.
There's only one way this story can end, naturally: The fascination here rests mainly on the effect Blakey has on the youngsters and vice versa. As the leading child star of the sixties, Mills wielded even more power in her films than Shirley Temple did in her vehicles of the thirties. In the course of nine movies, Hayley Mills redeemed a homicidal fugitive from justice twice, brought joy to an entire town, reunited her estranged parents, braved danger to find her missing father, saved her insolvent family, tangled with Greek gangsters and a governess who was an ex-convict AND solved a kidnapping case too tough for the FBI! No wonder her fans were let down when her sole plot function in her early adult pictures was to lose her virginity.
If the delicate "Whistle Down The Wind" yarn was overstretched in 1961, it was too little too late in the summer of 1998 when a musical version opened at London's Aldwych Theatre. For that adaptation, Andrew Lloyd Webber transported the story to the U.S. Bible Belt, circa 1959, only to be greeted with blistering critical reviews. (Filmed on location in Lancashire, produced by Richard Attenborough and based on the novel by Hayley Mills' mother, Mary Hayley Bell.)
© 2004 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 12/31/03
Whistle Down the Wind
UK - 1961