THOSE CALLOWAYS—-Disney’s release of its showcase Mary Poppins became such a giant hit in summer of 1964 that perhaps it just suctioned away the studios attention or need for a big Christmas release. Maybe it was just editing timing, but this pleasing family film was dumped in the cold of late January 1965, not prime boxoffice ground, while the smaller item Emil And The Detectives drew the coveted holiday spot. With just so-so reviews, this slice of Americana underperformed, grossing $9,200,000 coming in 30th of the years moneymakers, topped by Walt’s other offerings for the year, The Monkeys Uncle, swinging to #18 and That Darn Cat purring into #4.
Lengthy at 131 minutes (trimming 15 would have helped), leisurely, mostly serious, it may have just been a combo of the various elements that have left it in the FMG (Faded Memory Bag). I saw it with my folks when it debuted, and as a 10-year-old was mainly impressed by its pretty color and the cuteness of a 22-year old Linda Evans. Looking at it anew, five decades on, shows a thoughtful environmental statement (Walt did like animals), and some pointed script barbs at the love of money over nature.
Set in the 1930s, taken from a juvenile readers novel (Paul Annixter’s”Swiftwater”) Louis Pelletier’s script has the independent-minded Calloway family (Brian Keith, Vera Miles and Brandon deWilde) amusing and frustrating their rural, bucolic Vermont neighbors by setting up a sanctuary for the annual flocks of migrating geese. Along with some opportunists seeing gold in the geese (via shotguns), conflict comes in the father’s occasional alcohol battles, mother’s anxiety over the future and son’s coming-of-age issues. There’s a desperate close-quarter fight with a wolverine to amp up the excitement.
The three leads are all strong (their family affection is heartfelt) and there’s a reliable supporting cast of familiar character actors, led by Walter Brennan. Max Steiner composed the last of his more than 300 scores, it’s suitably sweet but not overpowering, and the Technicolor cinematography is beautiful: Vermont’s fall splendor get a rich display. There’s some goofy business with a pet bear.
With Ed Wynn, Philip Abbott, John Larkin, Parley Baer, Frank deKova, Tom Skerritt (32, but still young-looking enough to play a teenager), Russell Collins, John Qualen, John Davis Chandler, Roy Roberts and Frank Ferguson. Directed by Norman Tokar, one of his many solid jobs for Disney. Tokar had done three of the studios dramas–Big Red, also scripted by Pelletier, Savage Sam and A Tiger Walks . They didn’t pull nearly the audience as the comedies and after Those Calloways, and poor response to the following year’s The Fighting Prince Of Donegal, subsequent to Walt’s passing in December of ’66 his heirs at Buena Vista rarely ventured into darker territory, sticking with the surefire safety of kiddie laffs. Those Calloways is an attractive and affecting time capsule blend of old-fashioned and refreshing storytelling from the days when there was a beating human heart behind the corporate colossus.