Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. The Moon-Spinners

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: The Moon-Spinners

Year: 1964

Source materials: based upon a 1962 suspense novel by Mary Stewart

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Box office: $3,500,000

Plot: A young English woman named Nikky Ferris takes a trip with her folk musicologist aunt Frances to the village of Elounda, on the island of Crete. They rent a room at the Moon-Spinners Inn, the innkeeper Sophia initially refusing them until her teenage son Alexis and Aunt Frances persuade her. Sophia’s older brother Stratos, having told her not to welcome anyone into the inn, questions Aunt Frances over why she chose the Moon-Spinners, then reluctantly allows her and Nikky to spend a night.

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During a wedding party at the inn later that evening, Nikky meets an Englishman named Mark Camford, who invites her and Aunt Frances to have dinner with him, as he hints Stratos is more than he appears. At the end of the evening, Nikky promises to meet up with Mark in the morning to go for a swim in the Bay of Dolphins. Mark then follows Stratos when he goes out night fishing along the Bay of Dolphins, only to be attacked while spying on the man.

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The following morning, Nikky learns that Mark abruptly checked out of the inn; she does not buy the story Sophia tells her. While taking a walk, Nikky follows a trail of blood to a church basement where Mark is hiding. Mark refuses to explain the details of his gunshot wound to Nikky, asking her to fetch some supplies for him. Nikky returns with her aunt’s first aid kit, a bottle of brandy, and a travel rug. Mark still refuses to explain his injuries while urging her to go to the nearby town of Agios Nikolaos with her aunt for safety.

 

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On her way back to the inn, Nikky runs into Stratos, who is looking for her after learning of the missing items from Aunt Frances. Nikky tries to lie to cover up for Mark, but Stratos sees through her and searches the church; Mark is nowhere to be seen. Stratos assumes Nikky is a liability and ties her up in a windmill while enlisting his associate Lambis to search for Mark, who later rescues Nikky with Alexis’s help.

Nikky and Mark take refuge in an abandoned temple inhabited by numerous cats, and Mark reveals he was a bank employee who handled the jewellery of the Countess of Fleet; he lost his job when he was attacked en route, and the jewels were stolen. Mark assumes Stratos to be his attacker who hid the jewels somewhere in the Bay of Dolphins.

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The duo spend the night in the temple. Stratos attempts to track them down, only to be scared away by the resident cats. The next morning, Nikky and Mark are discovered by a British gentleman named Anthony Gamble and are taken to his summer villa in Agios Nikolaos where his wife, Cynthia, looks after them. But Anthony, who is partners with Stratos, assures Stratos that he will handle the interlopers.

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Nikky learns from the Gambles that a rich woman named Madam Habib is travelling to Greece on her yacht. Mark realizes that Stratos intends to sell the jewels to her. But Mark is drugged by Cynthia, with the couple making preparations to send him to Athens to receive medical care. On the way to the hospital, Mark wakes up and tells Nikky he has to stop Stratos before it is too late. Nikky attempts to stop Mark before he kisses her and leaves, deciding to reach Madame Habib’s yacht as Mark fails to prevent Stratos from escaping with the jewels.

Nikky tells Madam Habib that Stratos is a thief and that the jewels she intends to buy from him were stolen from the Countess of Fleet, who happens to be an old friend of Habib’s. Stratos shows up, to sell the jewels, but so do Mark, Frances, and Alexis. A fight ensues. In the end, Madam Habib has police take Stratos off the yacht, and returns the jewels to Mark. The final scene shows Alexis leaving by boat, waving at Mark and Nikky, and implying that they will soon get married by the time they return to Crete.

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Background: Disney persuaded silent film actress Pola Negri, who had been retired for two decades, to return to the screen for this, her final film.

Changes from the Source Material:The lead character in the film is somewhat younger than in the novel. Traveling alone in the book, she is accompanied by her aunt in the film.

Cast: Hayley Mills retuns as Nikky Ferris

Eli Wallach as Stratos. In 1945 Wallach made his Broadway debut and he won a Tony Award in 1951 for his performance alongside Maureen Stapleton in the Tennessee Williams play The Rose Tattoo. His other theater credits include Mister Roberts, The Teahouse of the August Moon, Camino Real, Major Barbara, Luv, and Staircase, For his debut screen performance in Baby Doll, he won a BAFTA Award for Best Newcomer and a Golden Globe Award nomination. Among his other most famous roles are Calvera in The Magnificent Seven, Guido in The Misfits, and Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Other notable portrayals include outlaw Charlie Gant in How the West Was Won, Hitman Leon B. Little in Tough Guys, Don Altobello in The Godfather Part III, Cotton Weinberger in The Two Jakes, and Arthur Abbott in The Holiday. One of America’s most prolific screen actors, Wallach remained active well into his nineties, with roles as recently as 2010 in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and The Ghost Writer.Peter McEnery as Mark Camford. As an actor for the Royal Shakespeare Company, he played the title role in Ron Daniel’s 1979 production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre at The Other Place and played several roles in the 1982 epic production of Nicholas Nickleby for the same company. Film roles include The Fighting Prince of Donegal and I Killed Rasputin.

Joan Greenwood as Frances Ferris. She played Sibella in Kind Hearts and Coronets, and also appeared in The Man in the White Suit, The Importance of Being Earnest, Stage Struck, Tom Jones, and Little Dorrit. Pola Negri as Madame Habib. She starred in several silent films in Germany including Sumurun (aka One Arabian Night,), Die Bergkatze (aka The Mountain Cat or The Wildcat, ), Die Flamme (The Flame, ),  Vendetta  and Sappho.  American films include The Crown of Lies, Good and Naughty, Bella Donna, and The Cheat. While she was filming The Moon-Spinners she made a sensation by appearing before the London press at her hotel in the company of a feisty cheetah on a steel chain leash.

Irene Papas as Sophia. She became famous in Greece, and then internationally through feature films such as The Guns of Navarone and Zorba the Greek. She was a powerful protagonist in films including The Trojan Women and Iphigenia. She played the title roles in Antigone and Electra. John Le Mesurier as Anthony Gamble. He is perhaps best remembered for his comedic role as Sergeant Arthur Wilson in the BBC television situation comedy Dad’s Army. A self-confessed “jobbing actor”, Le Mesurier appeared in more than 120 films across a range of genres, normally in smaller supporting parts.

Sheila Hancock as Cynthia Gamble. Her Broadway debut in Entertaining Mr Sloaneearned her a Tony Award nomination for Best Lead Actress in Play. She won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical for her role in Cabaret and was nominated at the Laurence Olivier Awards five other times for her work in Annie, Sweeney Todd, The Winter’s Tale, Prin, and Sister Act.Hancock’s first big television role was as Carol in the BBC sitcom The Rag Trade. She also played the lead roles in the sitcoms The Bed-Sit Girl, Mr Digby Darling, The Secretary Bird and Now Take My Wife. Her other television credits include Doctor Who, Kavanagh QC, Gone to the Dogs, Brighton Belles, EastEnders, The Russian Bride, Bedtime, Fortysomething, Feather Boy, Bleak House, New Tricks, Hustle and The Catherine Tate Show.  Tutte Lemkow as Orestes. His chief claims to mainstream familiarity were his roles as the fiddler in the film version of Fiddler on the Roof and the Imam who translates the inscription on the headpiece of the Staff of Ra  in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Lemkow appeared in  Moulin Rouge, A Shot in the Dark, The Wrong Arm of the Law, The Wrong Box, Ghost in the Noonday Sun,  Love and Death and The Intelligence Men. He played three roles in Doctor Who with William Hartnell’s Doctor: Kuiju in “Marco Polo,” Ibrahim in “The Crusade,” and Cyclops in “The Myth Makers,” as well as providing choreography for The Celestial Toymaker and Casino Royale.

Critical Reception:The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther offered a mixed review, praising “the ripening attractiveness of the young British actress Hayley Mills and some beautiful scenery in color on the island of Crete,” but calling the film “essentially an entertainment for the younger set.” With regard to adult viewers, he noted that “it is a picture in which standard melodrama abounds—the kind that the older observer may find just too bubbling with cliches.”

My take: Another film shot on location once again takes advantage of the vistas of Greece. Nikky is a fun protagonist.

Available on Disney +?: Yes

Next Week: Those Calloways