Since I've declared this Fairy Tale Films Week on the blog and promised to share some of my favorite fairy tale films, I must start with The Slipper and the Rose. After all, barring the animated Disney features, this was my very first fairy tale film. And for years I knew virtually nothing about it, even its title.
This is one of those movies that would be played as filler on Sunday afternoons on one of the local stations and occasionally the networks. I wasn't given much TV viewing time as a child, especially on Sundays, but on occasion a bout of bronchitis or such would send me to the couch on a weekend where this would appear magically on the little screen for me, with me usually missing some portion of the beginning and thus the title and credits sequence. I didn't know what it was but I knew I loved it and I remember rediscovering it at least two or three times before I finally was old enough to get a title from the TV guide in the paper. (Oh, I feel old.) The film wasn't even that old for it was released in 1976 but just timed for my discovery.
Then I eventually was able to record it when we owned a VCR and watched it quite a bit. I eventually saw it on the big screen when I was in college when it was shown one Friday night on campus. I was thrilled. I remember sitting in the theatre with some friends. It was a big audience that night and the first time Richard Chamberlain broke into song--for this is a musical--most of the guys in the audience broke into hoot and hollerin' laughter. They didn't know they were in for a musical, especially with Mr. Thorn Birds himself. Yes, the musical numbers just suddenly happen, so it is a shock, but I imagine a lot of guys didn't have very successful date nights if they didn't wise up quick because I doubt I was the only girl in the theatre with an emotional attachment to the movie.
Is it a perfect movie? No. Is it still a hidden gem? Yes, certainly. Here are my reasons why:
1. The aforementioned music. I think the music to this one blows Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella away, even my favorite version with Julie Andrews. I like some of the songs from R&H and even performed a few of them long ago for a musical comedy class, insuring I was quite intimate with them. I prefer these songs by the Sherman Brothers who also gave us the music to Mary Poppins. The tunes are catchier but lusher at the same time. And overall, they are consistently better than the R&H ones. There are some standouts by R&H but there are some I just don't like very well, too. I like all of the music offered here by the Shermans. Personal taste, but I have met many over the years who agree.
2. One of the bitterest complaints against this version is how passive Cinderella is. Valid point. However, I've always considered this movie to be the prince's story. We all forget that he is just about as passive as her in the tale. We even tend to dislike him for just being a silent paragon of princeliness who hasn't much character at all, a blank blob we can lay our own expectations over. The Slipper and the Rose shares his story about politics and protocol. He is expected to marry well and most certainly not for love. This becomes an important part of the plot, one usually glossed over or completely ignored in other versions of the tale. He has to fight for what he wants. It's different and thus entertaining. There are some unexpected twists to the story, too, not major ones, but somewhat unusual.
3. The setting and scenery and costumes, oh my. This is lush. It's the 70s fantasy version of another era and it is pretty to look at if not the height of historical accuracy. However, it is Cinderella so is historical accuracy necessary? No.
4. All the character actors. Singing and dancing no less. If you love BBC productions, so many of the faces we know, especially from older movies and series from the same era, are here. And they sing and dance which is quite amusing.
5. The Fairy Godmother as played by Annette Crosbie. She just may be my favorite fairy godmother. If I could pick one for myself, I'd pick her without a moment's hesitation. These days she is best known for One Foot in the Grave but she is a brilliant fairy godmother and made such an impact that I recognized her immediately when I first saw One Foot in the Grave. She has great lines and delivers them with great aplomb, many referencing other fairy tales which makes it fun for me as a grown-up who gets the references. She is spunky and funny and very no nonsense, a great antidote to the Disney Fairy Godmother with her Bibbidis and Bobbidies and Boos.
Finally, the DVD is out of print and selling rather expensively. There are several illegal videos on YouTube--the studio hasn't pursed them--but I always feel bad showing them here even if they are one of the few ways to view the film since the studio isn't releasing the movie for purchase right now. However, I found a passable movie trailer made by a fan, so I thought I would share it here.