The Parent Trap (1961)

The Parent Trap (1961)Synopsis: What could be better than one Hayley Mills? How about two? Special Academy Award®-winning actress Hayley Mills (Pollyanna) shines again, this time of playing twin daughters of a divorced couple (Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara). The girls, who have long been separated, meet accidentally for the first time at summer camp. After discovering that they are long-lost twin sisters, the two concoct an outrageous scheme to switch places in an effort to get their parents back together.

In her dual role, Miss Mills moves from slapstick to serious, refined to rock ‘n’ roll. Her delightful performance, coupled with a charming story, will capture your heart and have you doubling up with laughter!


The Parent Trap (1961) 7.5

eyelights: its amusing premise.
eyesores: its clichés.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

You may not know or remember this, but there was a time when motion pictures made their money over the long haul instead of on opening day. Before ‘Jaws’ and ‘Star Wars’, studios didn’t think in terms of blockbusters. They usually released movies gradually from a couple of big cities and spread out from there if they were successful. They would reap their rewards over weeks, if not months.

1961’s original ‘The Parent Trap’ falls in that tradition. Released on June 19, 1961, the picture went straight to number one in its first week of release. But it was knocked out the following week by ‘The Guns of Navarone’. However, Disney continued to support the picture and it reclaimed the number one slot in its fourth and fifth week. It even returned to number one in its eleventh (!) week.

It remained there for four more weeks, for a total of seven weeks (second only to ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’) eventually amassing a total of 25 million dollars at the North American box office. That’s in 1961 dollars, naturally. In 2015 dollars, it would be roughly 197 million dollars – and that doesn’t account for all the merchandising that studios do these days. It was a massive hit!

The premise of ‘The Parent Trap’ is pretty simple: two lookalike girls meet at a day camp and discover that they were separated shortly after birth. Curious about the parents they’ve never met, they decide to swap places and live in each other’s shoes for while – knowing full well that they would be found out and that their parents would consequently have to meet again.

But there’s something that they never anticipated: in the weeks since they’ve left for camp, the father has decided to marry. Now Susan and Sharon will have to conspire to prevent the nuptials and give their single mother a chance to win him back. The latter is pleased with this opportunity, and immediately makes the cross-country journey. But how will they rid themselves of his wily fiancé?

‘The Parent Trap’ is a light comedy that was clearly designed for younger audiences and their parents: the writing, performance and humour isn’t especially sophisticated and it has no grand designs. But it’s all quite decent and very much in line with this type of fare. It’s the perfect type of fodder for a slow afternoon, maybe as Sunday entertainment for the whole family.

It’s just a pleasant, amusing film.

The two things that I found astonishing about it are its length and the special effects:

The length is surprising: clocking in at almost 130 minutes long, ‘The Parent Trap’ is 40 minutes longer than today’s average comedy. This was typical in the day, but it demands quite an investment of its audience. In return, however, it serves up a more complete story arc, which is ultimately more satisfying. This same story would likely be truncated to crap or spread out into two parts now.

The special effects were surprisingly effective: the picture uses Hailey Mills for both Sharon and Susan and the filmmakers were able to integrate both in the same frame relatively well – especially considering that these were done with optical effects, as there was no CGI then. The results are so good, in fact, that instead of using more body doubling, Disney added more of this technique.

It’s not to say that all the effects in the picture are stellar, however: for some reason, the rear projection is actually terrible, with outdoor scenes not even matching the pace at which the actresses are walking. Another problem with the film comes in the writing, which is rife with dated gender stereotypes that are stomach-churning. Of course, if one consider the context, it’s passable.

In the end, I was reasonably entertained by ‘The Parent Trap’, even over fifty years later. I can see why it was not just a hit, but became a beloved family favourite: its offbeat story of mistaken identity and romantic conflict gives much to daydream about for all families. Plus which Hayley Mills acquits herself nicely in the parts, rendering Susan and Sharon endearing and smart.

When it was re-released in 1968, ‘The Parent Trap’ added even more to its tally, amassing well over 9 million dollars. It later spawned three made-for-TV sequels, all starring Hayley Mills in the roles of Susan and Sharon. In 1998, a remake starring Lindsay Lohan was released to lesser but nevertheless great success. Who knows how long before ‘The Parent Trap’ returns in one form or another.

Clearly, it is one of those beloved movies that will be around for a loooong time.

Dates of viewings: May 11-12, 2015


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