27 DECEMBER 1963, Page 15

Films for Fun


MY son (whose entire filmgoing till now con- sisted of Harold Lloyd's World of Comedy and Henry V) came along to some of my films this week, exploring the cine- matic possibilities of Lon- don in the Christmas holidays from a seven- year-old's point of view. Orthodox children's films took all our available time and for the rest of the holidays we shall be six miles from a cinema and that labelled 'Picture Palace 1917' in a sort of pink pebbledash on the southern side. But if we were in London longer I think I should be more adventurous: I have a feeling the slapstick of Hallelujah the Hills (Paris-Pull- man) would go down well with any age; I'd even try out The Leopard (Canton), if it weren't, incredibly, coming off on Boxing Day, since at the worst you could take a yawning child out in the middle, and at the best all sorts of richness might come across. My main criticism of the orthodox children's films around now (though they're mercifully not cute the way they used to be: no simpering child stars are expected to appeal to their contemporaries, as they were in my Shirley Temple-haunted day) is that they talk down: like those tiresome books with a special child-size vocabulary, they put up un- necessary fences and limit the child's visual fun.

So first a little scouting around. The weirder technical processes have something to offer in themselves. Circlorama, just behind Piccadilly Circus, shows a film on eleven screens high above your head and all around you, so that the feeling of being right inside it is intense (and to me sea- sickening). This was pronounced exceptionally super and although I cannot face the thought of another visit, I think children, with stronger stomachs, may relish the heightened realism of engulfing waves and monster-sized flowers. Cinerama, at the Casino in How the West Was Won, the Coliseum in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad. Mad World, and the Royalty in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, offers a modified fcirm of the same feeling of involvement, the Grimm film in particular making horrid fun of precipices, cartwheels and anything that flies in the face of gravity, which drew squeals of delight from the children and made adults (me at least) squeamishly ,shut their • eyes. This latter film is the orthodox sort at its stodgiest, an orgy of Teutonic folksiness with only Martita Hunt to bring it a few inspired moments of mystery, beauty and toughness. Out-of-the-way cinemas may turn up unexpected delights—the Jacey news theatre in Charing Cross Road: for instance, alternates Laurel and Hardy with Chaplin and the Three Stooges, a week.. of each and then round again (it has a ten-minute film on the Beatles in Christmas week as well, they told me with pride); and anyone who has seen Laurel and Hardy without a child in the next, seat has missed about a third of the fun.

Disney turns up twice: old Disney at Studio One, with the much revived Fantasia, new Disney on -general release and at the Columbia with The Sword in the Stone. Fantasia has dated remarkably little, it still seems extraordinary in parts and excruciating in others, the usual Disney mixture of brilliance and vulgarity, only very much more so; and very well worth a Visit, with a child or .without. Myself, 1 dislike music illus- trated and can't help feeling impatient with a piece of artistic cheek (and occasionally artistic outrage); but my son adored the part on Stravinsky's Rite of 'Spring which showed the upheavals of the early world, and hasn't stopped talking about it since. The Sword in the Stone is more mainstream Disney. It claims to be an Arthurian tale based on T. H. White, but is really a good pantomime joke based on the antics of Merlin the wizard, a mixture of Uncle Matthew and Prolesscir Branestawm, who lives in the woods with an owl called Archimedes, and occasional bolts into the future to see what's cooking later on. This again is excruciating if you take it (Arthurianly) to heart, but you mustn't, because it's very funny if you don't : my

child and several others in the row nearly fell off their seats with laughing. Also pronounced super, in the same programme at the Columbia, was Dr. Syn, a thrilling sort of Scarlet Pimpernel, with a smuggling vicar (played by Patrick McGoohan), the press-gang and an astounding and jolly escape of six prisoners from Dover Castle under the nose of the cruel general who put them there. A small girl shrieked that she didn't like it and was carted out in fits, so mind the age groups (this applies to the Brothers Grimm as well, from which, now I come to think of it, another small girl was carted out in fits).

Flipper (Ritz and general release from December 30) is an unusually attractive animal film, about a boy and a dolphin. The theme is much like that of most animal films—boy makes friends with wild creature, boy separated from wild creature, creature (presumed destructive) threatened by angry adults, creature saves boy's life, reconciliation all round—but when the creature is as charming, smiling, mythologically suggestive as Flipper then it all becomes rather special; and to see a real boy riding a real dol- phin is curiously exciting and strange. The out- door scenes off the coast of Florida are radiant with sun and salt, and the characters, though simple, come across as people; particularly the gentle, aquatic boy suddenly presented with the problem of feeding a sick dolphin sixteen pounds of fish a day (solution: work for a fisherman and get paid in fish; give dolphin shows and charge a fish as entrance fee).

Mind your age groups and sensitivities again with Ben-Hur, which is going, the rounds once more and is still one of the very few over-three- hour films I'd see again with pleasure. And as usual with all age groups, keep an eye on the Classic cinemas, the Hampstead Everyman (thirty years old this Boxing Day), the Academy (at present showing the rather stodgy but well-spoken and straightforward Macbeth, with Judith Ander- son—very popular with schools—at its morning shows at eleven), the news cinemas for surprises and children's parties for ancient fun. They still show the Harold Lloyds and Chaplins and Buster Keatons we used to see at children's parties, already considered ancient fun. And for general release on January 6 there is Thirty Years of Fun, an excellent collection of snippets from silent comedies, Keaton, Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle and lots more.