Martin Rayburn goes near (Chitty), far (Chitty), in a motorcar...
There are two movies which to me always invoke memories of Christmas past. They belong on my annual Christmas playlist as much as either Scrooge or Miracle on 34th Street does, yet neither of them are traditional Christmas films. They are family fantasy movies, and my association with them and the festive season stems from their annual television broadcast each and every Christmas school holiday during the 1970s. One is the delightful The Wizard Of Oz, the other is the enchanting Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
At a tender age I would look forward to the day my father would come home with the Christmas Radio Times. I would sit down and scour every inch of every page, pen in hand marking an "M" next to all the programmes I wanted to watch. I can quite imagine me punching the air in delight and audibly screaming "YES" when I found the day Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was on, even though nearly each and every year I would suffer nightmares thanks to the Child Catcher. To this day, I still feel
an uneasy chill when I hear the words "kiddie-winkies".
Regardless of the scares I knew were coming, I have always absolutely adored this film. It was perfect cinema for a young boy, imagination grabbing, and a well-crafted,
timeless fairytale which wasn't 'soft' like so many others. Nowadays, I love it as an adult because of the memories it evokes, because I can sit down with my family and watch the delight they get out of it, and because I still to this day genuinely enjoy each and every minute of it. I'll be humming the tunes for weeks on end afterwards too. Of course, adult me started to notice that it's full of suggestive
double meanings - the type
of things that shoot straight over kids' heads and make adults snicker
knowingly - which is just even more reason to love it.
I'll defend Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts to the cows come home. The American wonderfully portrays the a wacky inventor who inexplicably lives
in England with his two inexplicably English children and the inexplicable Grandpa Potts (Lionel Jeffries). Inexplicably they reside in a windmill/laboratory - how cool is that when you're 6? I'm telling you, it's still cool when you're 46!
Caractacus rescues a junked
motorcar from rusting in a field and restores it to new. Say hello to Chitty
Bang Bang, named by the children because of the sounds the car makes. Soon after Potts and his two
children go on a picnic with local high class rich girl, Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes). Surely one of the greatest character names in 1960s cinema, rivaling that of Pussy Galore. It should come as no surprise that both 'Bond' and 'Chitty' come from the pen of Ian Fleming.
As the day winds down, Potts begins to tell
the children a story, in which the foursome embark on a great adventure in
the resplendent Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The magical motorcar can fly,
drive itself, and perform other out of this world
functions. And so begins one of the greatest cinematic fairy tales ever.
Our heroes end up in a far away kingdom ruled over by the Baron and
Bomburst (Gert Frobe and Anna Quayle), a terribly sad place where children
have been outlawed, rounded up, and kept in a dungeon. The gang and Chitty
invade the kingdom to rescue Potts' father, who has mistakenly been
identified as the inventor of the flying car and kidnapped. There, they
befriend the Toymaker (Benny Hill) who hides the children while they attempt to spring
grandpa Potts. Enter the Child Catcher (Robert Helpman), who lures the children with free
lollipops and takes them away to the dungeon. Potts and the Toymaker (who
now only makes toys for the child-like king) hatch a plan to infiltrate the
castle, rescue the elder Potts and the twins, and free all the other
children as well.
I have so many favorite scenes in this film. From the moment they drive in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and sing the classic song, to Granpa Potts in the outside toilet. The musical numbers are all exceptional, I particularly like the scene in the
castle where Truly and Potts are disguised as huge toys for the Baron's
birthday. Truly is a wind-up doll on a music box, and Potts is a marionette
who does a dance number. Dick Van Dyke excels here, he totally convinces you that he really is on
strings. As an adult, one of the only scenes in the movie I didn't enjoy as a child has become one of my favourites. It's when the Baron and Baroness are readying themselves for bedtime. They
prance around the room in nightclothes calling each other by cute pet names. However, whenever the Baroness isn't looking,
Baron Goldfinger takes a swing at her with an axe! It's the most
entertainingly erotic scene you could get away with in a children's film, and one that would completely go over any kids head.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a rare treat. It's a film that appeals to children and keeps
interested at the same time. Let your children watch it, watch it with them, or
just watch it yourself when you're in the mood for some pure, escapist fun. It means Christmas time to me, and even though I own the DVD (of course I own the DVD!) I'll still flick through that Christmas Radio Times and keep one eye out for its broadcast (usually Channel 5 nowadays). When it's on I'll still sit down and watch it - with commercial breaks and everything. And I'll still try not to think about the Child Catcher when I go to bed.
"Come along, kiddie-winkies!"...
By day, an ordinary bloke in a dull 9 to 5. By night, a tired ordinary
bloke. Martin still hasn't worked out what he wants to do when he grows
up. He is currently 46.