The most fantasmagorical musical entertainment in the history of everything! The 1960s were still the time of the big budget musical, and many of these were set in the steampunk era, both in Europe and North America. In the case of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, we are in Edwardian England, in some town not too far from the coast, though we are not sure exactly where, but with the geological references, it looks like it could be in the southern part. This story was an unusual departure from the James Bond/ MI6 stories that Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl, and Albert R. Broccoli had been giving us during these Cold War years. I guess they decided it was time for a family film, and they did it on a huge scope.
The film features a absent-minded inventor, Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke), a widower with two children, Jeremy (Adrian Hall) and Jemima (Heather Ripley). Also staying with them is Grandpa Potts (Lionel Jeffries), a retired military man whom as seen one too many tours in India. Bring in a rich, young woman, Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) with a talent for making confections, and a rescued Grand Prix racing car, and you have the makings of a fun steampunk fantasy musical with songs that will stick in your head for decades. From the very beginning, we see that Potts will do just about anything to keep his kids happy, and is going to find a way to save the car heading to the junk yard from an ill fate. After a failed attempt to sell hardtack candies with holes in them to the Scrumptious Sweets company, Tootsweets, as they are called, due to the “toots” calling in all the dogs in the area to the candy factory. The dogs tear through the factory and eat all the candy-making ingredients. Later that day, Mr. Potts sees the fair coming to town, and takes a haircutting machine of his design to make some money. The machine fails after a big gorilla of a man gets a botched cut, and chases Potts through the fair. Potts ended up in song and dance show where they sing of the practical applications of “The Old Bamboo”. The audience throws coins, and he gets the thirty shillings needed to buy the old car.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang sort of blurs the line between reality and fantasy when we lose track of what is actually happening and what is a story that Potts is telling his children and Truly at a seaside picnic. The meat of the movie is the story that features the family and Truly and an attempt to steal the amazing car that Potts has created. The car can be turned into a hovercraft and a helicopter, and even has a magical guidance system. Quite a feat of engineering for 1912 or thereabouts.
The story features an evil baron, Baron Bomburst of Vulgaria (Gert Fröbe) who wants to steal the car to learn its secrets. Vulgaria is a nation in central Europe with a Bavarian-based culture, with a couple of kooks as a ruling family. Grandpa Potts is captured, because the baron thinks he is the car’s designer. Chitty and the Potts crew fly off to Vulgaria to rescue Grandpa, but this rescue mission becomes even more complicated when they find out that children have been “outlawed” in Vulgaria, due to the Baroness Bomburst’s (Anna Quayle) fear and hatred of them. The barony does have a toymaker (Benny Hill), but he only makes toys for the nobility to keep them entertained. Grandpa is in the dungeon with some classic egghead engineers and scientists trying to duplicate Chitty, and while Potts and Truly are searching for him, the child-catcher (Robert Helpmann) has been sent out to capture Jeremy and Jemima. Two hungry kids tempted by sweets and ice cream are easy prey to the manipulations of this minion of the Baroness. So now, Potts and Truly have to devise a plan to rescue both the kids and Grandpa. With the help of the toymaker, and the many children that have been living in hiding underground, they find a way that is colourful and somewhat silly, but effective.
It had been decades since I had seen this movie, and there was much more music and dancing than I remember, but that was the style of the musicals in the late 60s, and with the advent of the 70s, we would not see musicals again on this scale until 1978 with “Grease”, and then they would not come back again again until Disney’s High School Musical series. The movie was fun and full of fluff, but the kids we once thought were cute back in the day came off as being rather noisy, annoying, and whiny now, and a little bit too sugared up. Potts and Truly made a good romantic team, and got their Happily Ever After once the Tootsweets found a market, but it was nothing like Potts would have ever guessed. I was glad to have seen this movie again after all these years, but I don’t think we will ever see anything like it made again anytime soon.
I give this film a Musing review of