The Parent Trap

I can’t remember a time when parent trap wasn’t a huge part of my life. From watching it on the TV as a kid to enjoying a recent restoration screening at an archival conference I attended in Seattle, The Parent Trap was an omnipresent film. It was a regular VHS rental, a musical I knew the songs to, a comedy that I could completely identify with as a kid. It didn’t matter that my parents weren’t divorced, I wasn’t a twin and I sure as hell wasn’t Hayley Mills – there was (and still is) something undeniably relatable about the story of these two sisters, split at birth, meeting at summer camp for the first time since they were infants and connecting.

 

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On a more personal note, Parent Trap is also the first big screen work I ever saw my grandmother in. Although I grew up in Hollywood, and accompanied her many times to the sitcoms that she guest starred on or was patiently babysat backstage at the Mark Taper Forum if she was doing a play, until I watched David Swift’s 1961 Disney live-action film, I had never seen her in something that my friends might have seen her in too! And yet there she was. On the screen ever so briefly (such is the life of a character actress), interacting with the ethereally beautiful Maureen O’Hara and then carrying a birdhouse made of popsicle sticks up the stairs with great disdain!

I sometimes wonder if my strange affinity for this film didn’t start with my familial confusion after seeing the film. For a while after seeing the film, I became convinced that my mom was in Parent Trap. If my Nana was in it, well, it would make sense, right? Except that my mother is not Maureen O’Hara. My mother, also an actress, had a very similarly styled luxurious head of red hair (bottle-born, mind you) when I watched the film. But Parent Trap was released in 1961. My mother was a teenager! Children – great at aesthetic analogies, terrible at release dates and math. At some point, I figured out that my mom was not O’Hara or that Disney had not cast my mom as Maggie, but the traces of my attachment to the film remain.

 

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The thing is, it’s a genuinely inviting film. It’s darkly inviting. It’s about divorce, splitting up families, playing horrible tricks on people you care about, being truly awful children and all in the name of familial solidarity and reunification. You have one of the best casts that might have ever been put in any children’s film: the aforementioned goddess Maureen O’Hara, who plays Maggie McKendrick, the Boston mother of the twins, Brian Keith (*swoon*) who plays Mitch Evers, the California father, and Hayley Mills on split screen as both Susan and Sharon McKendrick.

That split screen element is nothing to blow off – this film may well have been one of the first times that many children recognized that it was a very specific effect that the filmmakers were using to make one kid appear as two. The popularity of Disney and Disney entertainment attracted a huge audience for their materials, whether they were cartoon or live action. So it is not unthinkable that many children (myself included) looked at Hayley Mills slack jawed and asked their parents: Whaaaaaa??? HEY. HOW DID THEY DO THAT??

 

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Revisiting this film as an adult is even more pleasurable (if that is at all possible). While you may have enjoyed The Parent Trap as a kid, if you are a film fan (and if you go to the New Bev, clearly you are), revisiting the film will allow you to explore that film fanship even more fully through its awesome cast.

Example one: Brian Keith. The dad, Mitch. While he is absolutely wonderful in Parent Trap and shows how brilliant he could be at comedic roles, you may have recently seen him in a film here at the New Beverly – Sydney Pollack’s The Yakuza (1970). He was well known for westerns (television and film alike) and many wonderful performances in other respected TV work, from Alfred Hitchcock Presents to 77 Sunset Strip. But if you want a great Brian Keith film that will knock your socks off? Go for the adaptation of the David Goodis novel, Nightfall (Jacques Tourneur, 1956). Not at all like Parent Trap, do not show it to your kids, but do not miss it.

 

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Other people who show their faces in this fabulous work and should have their due: Una Merkel and Charlie Ruggles. Merkel plays Verbena, but she was in a heavenly amount of pre-code films as well as being well known for comedic works like The Bank Dick (Edward F. Cline, 1940) with W.C. Fields as well as the sadly underloved kidnap-comedy The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (Norman Taurog, 1957). And the lovely Charlie Ruggles- if you haven’t seen his catalog of work, you are most certainly missing out. Ruggles plays Charles McKendrick, but you may also know him as Major Applegate from Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938), amongst other brilliant comedic works like Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935) and the incomparable Trouble In Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932). But if you want to laugh until you can’t breathe, check him out in the film that was also Cary Grant’s debut: This is the Night (Frank Tuttle, 1932). That movie IS INSANE.

There are dozens of reasons to attend the screening of The Parent Trap at the New Bev. The Kiddee Matinees are always fun. The film is not at all condescending and it works for adults as well as kids. The print that is being shown is an IB Tech Print, which means that it is going to look lush and beautiful, bringing out all the fun of summer camp and parental trickery alike. As Sharon and Susan sing in “Let’s Get Together” (one of the many songs in the film written by Disney music-writing power team, the Sherman Brothers), “We can have a swingin’ time!”

The Parent Trap screens in I.B. Technicolor 35mm February 25 & 26.

 

 

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