Think Walt Disney and my reader might immediately say "Mickey Mouse"! Another, "The Great Locomotive Chase", or even the controversial "Song of the South". How about "Disneyland Park" itself? While someone else remembers a good cry at the end of "Old Yeller", or the death of "Bambi's mother". Animated fans might also mention "Dumbo", or the first CinemaScope cartoon feature "Lady and Tramp". The point is there are many possibilities and this article looks at two groups you might not normally think about.
DARK FANTASY FILMS 1929 TO 1985
Dark Fantasy is not something usually associated with the name Walt Disney, or Family Films. It is normally defined as a darker subgenre of Fantasy. That combines elements of Horror creating a sense of "Dread and Gloom". Which according to Merriam-Webster is part of the definition of "Terror".
TWO CLASSIC 1929 HORROR CARTOONS
The first of Walt Disney's "Silly Symphony" was "The Skeleton Dance", released August 22, 1929. The five minute and thirty-two second cartoon is found on many lists of early Horror films, because of its subject matter. It is not extreme Dark Fantasy, but fits the definition and in many ways laid the foundation of what would come 8 years later. In it Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks took a favorite location of Horror tales and motion pictures and had a little fun with what you find there.
It is after midnight the graveyard is still and dark. The skeletons of the dead come up from their graves and go into a dance routine. Which is set to "The March of the Trolls" by composer Edvard Hagerup Grieg and arranged by Disney composer Carl W. Stalling.
Not to be outdone, on December 2, 1929, Mickey Mouse found himself in "The Haunted House".
Above 1929's "Mickey" and "Minnie Mouse". She's not in this cartoon that plays off "Haunted House" movies of the period.
Walt Disney's next entry was true Dark Fantasy and would also be the first feature length cell animated film.
As an aside, this feature film was part of a 30 years long feud between Disney and rival animator Max Fleischer. My article, "The Walt Disney, Max Fleischer Animation Feud", covering the history of the two studios can be found at:
SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS premiered December 21, 1937
The tag line on the above original poster for the animated feature was slightly off:
THE MIRACLE OF THE MOVIES to amaze you, charm you, thrill you!
Even though 11years old Shirley Temple presented Walt Disney with an "Honorary Oscar" consisting of One Large and Seven Smaller Oscar's in 1939.
Upon "Snow White and the Seven Dwarf's" general release, February 4, 1938, it became apparent that the Disney publicity department's tag line for the motion picture had left out:
and Terrifying For Very Young Children!
Who were getting frightened by the "Queen" turning into the "Old Witch". That character herself, to a lot of parents, made the animated feature a truly "Grimm Story" for their children.
The look of the "Wicked Queen", voiced by stage and screen actress Lucille La Verne, was actually a homage to another character from a favorite 1935 motion picture of Walt Disney.
In 1935, producer Merian C. Cooper, who two years earlier gave the world both "King Kong" and the "Son of Kong". Made the first sound version of British author H. Rider Haggard's "SHE". The film tells the story of adventurers "John Vincey" and "Professor Horace Holly", portrayed by Randolph Scott and Nigel Bruce. Who discover the lost city of "Kuma" and "Queen Ayesha, She Who Must Be Obeyed", portrayed by Helen Gahagan.
Above Helen Gahagan in the colorized version, supervised by Stop Motion Animator Ray Harryhausen, of Merian C. Cooper's 1935 "SHE". Below the "Wicked Queen" in Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarf's". Note the crown and the medallion for comparison and Harryhausen's choice of colors for the colorized version of the motion picture.
When that fails, the "Evil Queen" takes matters into her own hands, and true to the story, becomes the old "Witch". Even though this was an animated sequence, the transformation was shocking to younger children. Which Disney made reminiscent to the film transformation scenes in the motion picture versions of Robert Lewis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde".
After eating the "Poison Apple", which is documented as effecting apple sales, you have the "Seven Dwarf's" finding the apparently dead "Snow White". Followed by their chase after "The Witch" up a mountain in a storm. "The Queen-Witch" falling to her death was a little too realistic for younger audiences.
But true love's kiss breaks the poison apple's spell and turned an otherwise Dark Fantasy into a Happy Ending one.
The budget for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarf's" was $1.49 million dollars. As of 1993 the animated motion picture's worldwide box office was $418 million dollars.
On July 17, 1955 "Disneyland Park", in Anaheim, California, opened up. My article on my first visit there a couple of months later, entitled "Disneyland 1955: A Childhood Memory of WALT DISNEY'S Original "Magic Kingdom", can be found at:
One of the first rides at "Disneyland" was "Snow White and Her Adventures".
I won't comment on the ex-California Senator, who beat married actress Helen Gahagan Douglas, riding in that particularly named car.
Where's Snow White?
The outside of the ride looked like the "Seven Dwarfs Mine" from the movie and the above mural greeted the riders, before they entered through the mine doors. As designed by the "Disney Imagineers", each guest was supposed to be "Snow White", but nobody was told that and everyone was looking for her inside. The ride is dominated by the "Wicked Queen" becoming the "Witch" and the "Seven Dwarfs" fighting her.
At one point the guests see "Dopey" pointing to a sign warning:
BEWARE THE WITCH!
Then after passing through "Snow White's" animal friends your mine car reaches a fork in the road. One way leading to the "Dwarf's House" and the other to the "Evil Queen's Castle" and of course that's where you go. In short it was scary to young kids, because also at the end of the ride. The "Witch" is attempting to drop a bolder on "Snow White" aka: the "Guests in the mine car".In 1983, after 27 years of the original ride, a new version was opened now called "Snow White's Scary Adventures". Which was finally a real warning to parents of younger children. Also, the outside is no longer the "Dwarf's Mine", but the "Evil Queen's Castle" and as riders walk to the mine cars. The guests pass a dungeon scene with the "Evil Queen's Book of Poisons".
The page the book is opened at reads:
One taste of the poisoned apple and the victim's eyes will close forever in the Sleeping Death.Additionally, the "C" Coupon to take the ride was now changed into an additional warning:
The above "C" coupon for the first 27 years of Disneyland Park reads that one of the "Fantasyland" Rides is:
SNOW WHITE'S ADVENTURESThe below "C" coupon from 1983 now has a warning and reads:
SNOW WHITE'S ADVENTURES (SCARY)
FANTASIA released November 30, 1940
Disney's great "Fantasia" was a failure when it originally came out, but over the years was recognized for the achievement it is. Walt set eight major musical compositions to animation for the purpose of reaching audiences who would never have heard them.
Two of the sections of the film might be considered Dark Fantasy, or has elements of that genre.
The idea of elements applies mostly to the first section, the popular "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" by French composer Paul Dukas. It also contains Walt Disney's lure to get audiences into the theater, "Mickey Mouse". Who dilutes some of the darkness of the piece.
The final two selections of "Fantasia" are combined to portray "Evil" being destroyed by "Good".
The first half is a classic piece of Dark Fantasy "Night On Bald Mountain" from Russian composter Modest Mussorgsky. That will be overturned by "Ave Maria" by Austrian composer Franz Schubert.
The first piece starts with a giant Bat-Like creature representing the Devil Then, harking back to that first "Silly Symphony", it raises the dead from their graves.
The screenplay for this "Supernatural Horror Story" was based upon Florence Engle Randall's 1976 novel. The screenplay was written by three writers.
Brian Clemens wrote for the British television series "The Avengers" from 1961 to 1969. In 1960 he was also writing for "Danger Man (Secret Agent)" and in 1974 Clemens created the story and wrote the screenplay for Ray Harrysen's "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad". A year later he wrote the screenplay for Hammer Films twist on the vampire tale, "Captain Kronos Vampire Killer".
Rosemary Ann Sisson also wrote for British television and worked on "Upstairs, Downstairs" and "The Dorothy L. Sayers Mystery" series. To most American audiences her work is known for two short run series, "The Young Indian Jones Chronicles" and "The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones".
Harry Spalding was a Canadian "B" picture writer. Among his credits are 1962's "The Day Mars Invaded Earth", 1964's "The Earth Dies Screaming" and 1965's "Curse of the Fly". He also wrote three shows for "The Magic World of Disney" between 1975 and 1979.
The motion picture was directed by John Hough. "The Avengers" was among his television work, but as a motion picture director my reader will find Peter Cushing's 1971 "Twins of Evil". Along with 1972's "Treasure Island" starring Orson Welles as "Long John Silver", author Richard Matheson's 1973 "The Legend of Hell House" starring Roddy McDowall and two other Disney entries that I will speak about in the next section.
Uncredited was American television director Vincent McEveety.
The Main Cast:
Bette Davis portrayed "Mrs. Aylwood". Besides 1962's "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane", both 1964's "Dead Ringer" and "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte". Davis was in television Horror director Dan Curtis', "Dark Shadows", 1976 "Burnt Offerings". In 1978 her work included both Agatha Christie's "Death on the Nile" and the Horror mini-series "The Dark Secret of Harvest Home".
Lynn-Holly Johnson portrayed "Jan Curtis". The figure skater turned actress was seen in just one motion picture before this feature. 1978's "Ice Castles" showcased her skating. In 1984 Johnson co-starred in the remake of 1960's "Where the Boys Are", but she mostly appeared on television or forgotten movies until this picture. However, there was 1981's "For Your Eyes Only" starring Roger Moore as "James Bond".
Kyle Richards portrayed "Ellie Curtis". Richards was basically a television actress and her second on-screen role was, without credit, Disney's 1975's "Escape to Witch Mountain". In 1977 she was in "The Car", a story about a possessed automobile. While in 1978, Kyle Richards portrayed "Lindsey" in John Carpenter's classic original "Halloween".
Carrol Baker portrayed "Helen Curtis". Baker, who came to viewers attention as the child-bride in 1956's "Baby Doll" and played Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson's daughter in the same years version of Edna Feber's "Giant". Had just co-starred with Dennis Hooper in "Flowers of Vice" aka" "Blood Bath" made in Spain. Which was a long way down from the all-star 1958 Western "The Big Country" starring Gregory Peck, or 1962's all-star "How the West Was Won" in Cinerama. In 1964 the actress had appeared in both director John Ford's 1964 "Cheyenne Autumn" and as the "Jean Harlow" character "Rina Marlowe". In the motion picture version of writer Harold Robbins' "The Carpetbaggers" starring George Peppard. In fact in 1965, Carrol Baker was "Harlow", in one of the two dueling bio-pics about the actress that year.
David McCallum portrayed "Paul Curtis". British actor McCallum had been acting on British television since 1953. He portrayed the real-life radio operator that sent the first ever "SOS" message, in 1958's true account of the "Titantic", "A Night to Remember". In 1962 McCallum was a patient of Montgomery Clift in John Huston's "Freud" and a British naval officer in director and actor Peter Ustinov's version of Herman Melville's "Billy Budd". In 1963 David McCallum was part of "The Great Escape". Then it was on to American television from 1964 to 1968 portraying "Illya Kuryakin" on "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.".
Above David McCullum drives, remember this is the United Kingdom, his family to their new home in the English countryside.
Above Caroll Baker, Bette Davis and Holly-Lynn Johnson. Below Kyle Richards, Bette Davis and Holly-Lynn Johnson
"Jan" senses something unusual about the property and starts to notice blue lights in different shapes within the woods. Meanwhile, "Ellie" goes into town and buys a puppy she names "Nerak". Which is "Karen" spelled backwards. "Jan" now is told the mystery of "Mrs. Aylwood's" daughter's disappearance by the son, "Mike Fleming", played by Benedict Taylor, of neighbor "Mary Fleming", played by Frances Cuka.
A word about the screenplay:
Although the movie is very good. My reader must remember this is Disney. Even if Walt had passed away 14 years earlier.
The films on-screen-credited producer is Disney executive Ron Miller, but in actuality it was non-on-screen-credited Tom Leetch. Who had produced for Disney, 1970's "The Boatniks", both 1972's "Napoleon and Samantha" and "The Snowball Express", 1976's original "Freaky Friday" and 1979's "The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again".
Leetch had pitched the novel to Miller saying:
THIS COULD BE OUR EXCORIST
Enter Rosemary Ann Sisson to revise it. There would be a second rewrite by Harry Spalding and a third look at the screenplay by television writer Gerry Day. Who would receive no-in-screen-credit.
"Nerak" and "Ellie" are playing in front of the manor house. When the dog runs off and "Ellie" goes after him. Shortly afterwards, "Jan" discovers her sister is missing and starts to look for her. This leads to a pond and "Ellie" and "Nerak" playing beside it. Next, "Jan" notices some of those blue lights that suddenly cause a flash temporarily blinding her. The flash causes "Jan" to fall into the pond and almost drown. She is rescued by "Mrs. Aylwood" who will relate the real events of her daughter "Karen's" disappearance.
"Mike" discovers his mother was there when "Karen" disappeared, but she refuses to say anything about that night. "Jan" goes to a reclusive aristocrat named "John Keller", played by Ian Bannen, but he also refuses to say what happened to "Karen". On her way back to the manor houseby walking through the woods. "Jan" encounters a hermit named "Tom Colley", played by Richard Pasco, and he admits to also being at the chapel.
According to "Colley", during a lunar eclipse, those present at "Karen's" disappearance, were creating a séance-like initiation ceremony. When a bolt of lightening hit the church bell tower and "Karen" just disappeared.
"Jan" makes a decision to recreate the ceremony during a solar eclipse. It is her hope that it will bring "Karen" back. She convinces "Mary" "John" and "Tom" to come to the chapel. Meanwhile, "Ellie" is watching the solar eclipse in the manor house's front yard. As the recreated ceremony proceeds at the church. "Ellie" goes into trance like state and walks into the woods to the chapel.
"Ellie", speaking in a voice not her own, explains to the others what really happened.
Quoting director John Hough from a "Huffington Post Interview", October 27, 2016, concerning the appearance of "The Watcher in the Woods" at the film's climatic sequence:
The animation was out of my control. I had no say,” Hough says.
The last four minutes undid all the good work of the previous 87 minutes when the monster came out,” he continues. “It moved in a very stiff way, and it really wasn’t up to what we were later going to see in later films.”The complete interview can be read at:
"The Watcher in the Woods" was one of the earliest uses of the new film medium "CGI". As John Hough mentions it just didn't work. Another example of motion picture CGI in its infancy came from Universal International in 1984's "The Last Starfighter".
The movie has an estimated total budget of $9 million dollars and took in a worldwide box office of only $5 million.
Back in 1962 low budget producer and director Bert I. Gordon turned to the legendary story of "St. George and the Dragon". He cast actor Gary Lockwood as "George" and Basil Rathbone as the evil sorcerer "Lodac". Gordon's feature film was "The Magic Sword".
The two were able to sell both Walt Disney Productions and Paramount Pictures on their concept and this became the "Dark Fantasy"--
DRAGONSLAYER released June 26, 1981
Besides writing the screenplay, Hal Barwood produced the motion picture and Matthew Robbins directed.
The Main Cast
Peter MacNicol portrayed "Galen". This was MacNicol's first on-screen appearance. Afterwards he would immediately be seen in 1982's "Sophie's Choice" co-starring with Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. In 1989 he portrayed the crazed "Dr. Janosz Poha" in "Ghostbusters II" and would move into television.
Caitlin Clarke portrayed "Valerian". This was also her first on-screen appearance and Clarke would mainly appear on television. From 1997 through 2000 she was a regular on "Law and Order".
Sir Ralph Richardson portrayed "Ulrich". Richardson started acting in 1933 with 9th billing in the Boris Karloff, Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Ernest Thesiger Horror movie "The Ghoul". In 1936 he was in director William Cameron Menzies "Things to Come" from a screenplay written by H.G. Wells. Sir Ralph Richardson's motion picture career would also include the Olivia de Havilland and Montgomery Clift 1949 "The Heiress", Sir Lawrence Olivier's 1955 "Richard III" and 1965's "Doctor Zhivago".
John Hallam portrayed "Tyrian". Irish actor Hallam was a regular on British television and appeared on "Moon Base 3", "Dr. Who" and "The Return of the Saint". His feature films include 1973's "The Wicker Man" starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, 1980's "Flash Gordon" and Kevin Costner's 1991 "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves".
Peter Eye portrayed "Casiodorus Rex". Eyre was also a regular on British television, but his motion pictures include 1993's "The Remains of the Day" starring Anthony Hopkins and Johnny Depp's 2001's "From Hell".
The story is simple, but it is the dragon, the 400 years old "Vermithrax Perjorative", that is the centerpiece of the motion picture. The cost to create it took up 25 percent of the film's budget.
"Vermithrax Perjorative" was designed by graphic artist David Bunnett. This was the first of only two works by Bunnett and the second was a 1993 video game.
Bunnett's design was turned over to Phil Tippett, of "Industrial Light and Magic", who would be the "Dragon Supervisor" and create the model of the dragon. Next, the model went to Danny Lee, of the "Walt Disney Studio", to create the large dragon props for the close-up shots. One of these was a sixteen-foot head and neck. The props would be sent to Pinewood Studios, located just outside of London, where the live action filming took place. While back in the United States "ILM" would then create the special effects involving the dragon.
As I said the story was simple, but very dark. The setting is a six-century post-Roman kingdom in England. "Galen" is "The Sorcerers Apprentice" of the story and "Urich" is the sorcerer.
"Tyrian," the King's brutal "Captain of the Guard", has followed "Valerian" and confronts "Urich".
To prove his magic, the sorcerer tells the other to stab him. Which to the surprise of everyone else results in his death.
Above Peter MacNicol, Sir Ralph Richardson and Caitlan Clarke
Above "Tyrian" stabs "Urich".
"Galen" goes into momentary shock, but "Urich's" servant "Hodge", played by Sydney Bromley, tells the young apprentice they must cremate the body and place the ashes in a pouch. The pouch is to be taken to a burning lake, whatever that means, and the ashes spread over it. "Hodge" places the pouch around his neck. While "Urich's" magic amulet seems to choose "Galen" as its new owner. The "Sorcerer's Apprentice" decides he will go to "Casiodorus Rex's" kingdom, confront and destroy "Vermithrax Perjorative". How he will do this is anyone's guess!
On their journey, stopping a lake, "Valerian" takes a naked swim and "Galen" does also. Only to discover "Valerian" is actually a young girl hiding out from the lottery to be sacrificed to the dragon. The two will fall in love over their journey.
The king confiscates the amulet and imprisons "Galen".
"Galen" will be visited by the king's daughter, "Princess Elspeth", played by Chloe Salaman.
She comes to taunt him, but he shocks her by informing "Elspeth" that the lottery is rigged so that she is never picked. "Elspeth" confronts her father and confirms what "Galen" told her was the truth.
Meanwhile, the dragon frees itself causing an earthquake and goes on a rampage.
This all leads to "Valerian" being put into the lottery, but unknown to the king his daughter has rigged it so she becomes the sacrifice. The "King" returns to the amulet to "Galen" and asks him to save his daughter.
It is only the shield "Valerian" made for him from dragon scales that has saved "Galen's life.
He leaves the lair defeated and "Valerian" attempts to get "Galen" to the next town to start a life together.
Holding the amulet, "Galen" sees a vision and learns the "Urich" was too weak to make the journey and used him to make it for him. The vision also shows a lake of fire with the dragon next to it. "Galen" enters the lair and spreads the ashes over the lake causing "Urich" to return to battle the dragon.
The dragon takes "Urich" in his mouth and starts to fly away and "Galen" crushes the amulet destroying the dragon and his mentor.
As "Galen" and "Valerian" walk away "King Casiodorus Rex" declares HIMSELF "Dragonslayer".
In 1962 Bradbury published a Dark Fantasy novel that Walt Disney Productions would turn into a Dark Fantasy Horror motion picture entitled:
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES released April 29, 1983
By the pricking of my thumbs/ Something Wicked This Way Comes.
The screenplay was written by Ray Bradbury, but Bradbury and the director, Jack Clayton, had a falling out. When Clayton made changes to the screenplay without consulting the author. This would be the first of many problems in the production of the motion picture.
British director Jack Clayton made a name for himself with 1959's "Room at the Top" starring Lawrence Harvey and Simon Signoret and being nominated for the Academy Award for "Best Director". Clayton followed that picture with the outstanding 1961 ghost story "The Innocents' starring Deborah Kerr. Then three years later was the story of a mother falling into depression "The Pumpkin Eater". That feature film starred Anne Bancroft, Peter Finch and James Mason.
The Main Cast:
Jason Robards portrayed "Charles Halloway". Robards had recently been as "Admiral James Sandecker" in 1980's "Raise the Titantic" based upon the best selling Clive Cusser novel. The same year he portrayed "Howard Hughes" in "Melvin and Howard" and in 1981 was "President Ulysses S. Grant" in "The Legend of the Lone Ranger".
Jonathan Pryce portrayed "Mr. Dark". The Wales born actor was appearing mostly on British television prior to this motion picture. Afterwards he would star in director Terry Gilliam's 1985 "Brazil". In 1996 Pryce was "Juan Peron" in the musical "Evita" starring Madonna and later the news mogul "Elliot Carver" in the 1997 "James Bond" film "Tomorrow Never Dies"
Diane Ladd portrayed "Mrs. Nightshade". From 1960 through 1969 Diane Ladd was married to Bruce Dern and the two appeared in Roger Corman's 1966 "Wild Angeles" starring Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra. In 1974 Ladd was in the Jack Nicholson "Chinatown" and the Ellen Burstyn and Kris Kristofferson "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore". Between 1976 and 1985 she co-starred on the television series "Alice",
Royal Dano portrayed "Tom Fury". Among character actor Dano's work are two by director John Huston, 1951's "The Red Badge of Courage" and 1956's "Moby Dick" starring Gregory Peck. Dano was in Clint Eastwood's 1976 "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and in 1988 battled the "Killer Clowns from Outer Space". Between 1949 and 1993 Royal Dano appeared in 228 different roles and portrayed "President Abraham Lincoln" multiple times.
Vidal Peterson portrayed "Will Halloway". He has only 12 on-screen roles to his credit and this is the only feature film.
Shawn Carson portrayed "Jim Nightshade". This was the last of Carson's three feature films.
The story is set in the peaceful and sleepy turn of the 20th Century farm community of Green Town, Illinois, It revolves around two curious boys, the somewhat reserved and cautious "Will Halloway" and his very rebellious friend "Jim Nightshade". Both boys are on the verge of their 14th birthdays.
The boys first hear of a traveling carnival from a strange "Lightening Rod" salesman named "Tom Fury" and their curiosity is stirred, but the cautious "Will" makes the observation that most traveling carnivals have ended their tours by Labor Day and this is the start of Autumn.
The boys, as they often do to the worry of their parents, are out after midnight when they see "Mr. Dark" come to the outskirts of Green Town and in a matter of seconds set up his carnival.
The boys are both mystified with what they have just seen, but also it seems very ominous to "Will". "Mr. Dark" presents the boys with free passes.
Above seated is Royal Dano, Jonathan Pryce and Pam Grier as the "Dust Witch". Below other images of Pam Greer throughout the movie.
"Mr. Dark" plans to use his freaks and oddities to take over the rural town. His aim is to collect more innocent souls and that part of his plan involves his strange carousel. The boys have seen their school teacher "Miss Foley", played by Mary Grace Canfield, enter the house of mirrors at the carnival. Later, they met a strange blind girl who was crying and realized she's "Miss Foley" somehow changed. The two go to "Will's" father, the town librarian and most knowledgeable person in town, and tell him what they've seen.
The three start to research "Mr. Dark" and "Will's" father realizes that "Something Wicked This Way HAS Come". What he does not realize is that "Dark" is watching the three and planning his own counter measure.
"Mr. Dark" is also known as "The Illustrated Man", because he has tattoo's all over his body of the souls he has taken. He meets "Charles Halloway" on the street and shows him a future tattoo.
It is of "Will" and "Mr. Dark" plans to use the possibility of taking the boy's soul to keep his father at bay.
Meanwhile, "Will" and "Jim" discover that the carousel is the means of making the towns people younger as its music lures a victim for a ride. When it turns one way the age of the person becomes younger and soul is taken by "Dark".
In the end "Mr. Dark" is tricked onto the carousel and the boys reverse the direction causing "Dark" to rapidly age and die.
In the end the estimated budget for the motion picture was $19 million dollars with a worldwide box office of only $8.4 million dollars.
On has to wonder what author Ray Bradbury's original screenplay was before Jack Clayton tampered with it? For that matter what was Clayton's director's cut of the feature like, before the Walt Disney Company tampered with that?
With three Dark Fantasy motion pictures failures. You would have thought the Disney Company wouldn't have made another, but you would be wrong.
The production starred "The Mouseketeers". The cast included Darlene Gillespie as "Dorothy Gale", Annette Funicello as "Princess Ozma of Oz", Bobby Burgess was "The Scarecrow", Doreen Tracy was "The Patchwork Girl", Jimmy Dodd was the "Cowardly Lion" and Tommy Kirk portrayed the villainous son of the "Wicked Witch of the West". Kevin Corcoran was also in it. The following are some stills from the production.
My article "M.I.C.K.E.Y. M.O.U.S.E.": Walt Disney's Original Mickey Mouse Club 1955 To 1959: A Mouseketeer in Good Standing Remembers" can be read at:
It would be later, in 1985, that "Walt Disney Pictures" and "Silver Screen Pictures II" blew the family friendly idea of "Oz" apart. The audiences had another Dark Fantasy motion picture to see.
Producer Paul Malansky would be associated with the "Police Academy" comedy series of the 1980's. However, he also had produced the 1964 Italian Horror film, starring Christopher Lee, "The Castle of the Living Dead", the Peter Fonda and Warren Oats 1975 "Race with the Devil", the 1979 Comedy-Western "The Villain" starring Kirk Douglas and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"Return to Oz" was directed by Walter Murch. Who also co-wrote the screenplay. Murch would only direct one other film and that was an episode of the animated series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" in 2011. Walter Murch seems an odd choice to direct a major motion picture, because his main professions were either in the "Sound Department", or as a film editor.
The co-writer of the screenplay was Gill Dennis and this was only the second of his nine screenplays. Dennis is credited with coming up with the story line that was made from a combination of author L. Frank Baum's "The Marvelous Land of Oz" and "Ozma of Oz".
Although, the 1939 screenplay writers, Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allen Woolf, based their work on L. Frank Baum's first novel "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz". That was to be an MGM Hollywood Musical and that meant a family film. Other than having the central characters and locations from that first novel. The screenplay was far away from what the author wrote about them.
For "Return to Oz", Walter Murch and Gill Dennis kept the terrifying tone and character descriptions of Baum's two novels. This would bring both praise from those that loved the written series and scorn from those who thought in terms of the MGM musical and "Disney Family Entertainment".
The Main Cast:
Fairuza Balk portrayed "Dorothy". At the time of this picture Fairuza was 11 years old as compared to Judy Garland who was 17. In 1996 Balk was one of the witches in "The Craft" and the same year she was "Aissa the Panther Woman" in H.G. Wells' "The Island of Dr. Moreau" starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. In 1998 the actress was in "American History X".
Nicol Williamson portrayed the dual roles of "Dr. J.B. Worley" and the "Nome King". Williamson portrayed "Sherlock Holmes" in 1976's "The Seven-Percent Solution" and was a great "Merlin" in
director John Boorman's 1981 "Excalibur". In 1997 he was the villain in "Spawn".
Jean Marsh portrayed the dual roles of "Nurse Wilson" and "Mombi". From 1971 through 1975 Marsh was a regular on the British television series "Upstairs, Downstairs", in 1972 she appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's "Frenzy", in 1980 the actress was in the forgotten George C. Scott Horror movie "The Changeling". In 1988 Jean Marsh portrayed "Queen Bavmorda" in director Ron Howard's "Willow" starring Val Kilmer.
Piper Laurie portrayed "Aunt Em". Among Laurie's diverse films are three very early Tony Curtis pictures, 1951's "The Prince Who Was a Thief", 1952's "Son of Ali Baba" and 1954's "Johnny Dark". In 1961 Piper Laurie co-starred with Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason in "The Hustler" and in 1976 she played Sissy Spacek's mother in director Brian DePalma's "Carrie" based upon the Stephen King novel.
Matt Clark portrayed "Uncle Henry". Mainly a television actor, Clark was also seen in 1969's WW2 "The Bridge at Remagen" starring George Segal and Robert Vaughn. He was in Lee Marvin's 1970 Western "Monte Walsh", Robert Redford's 1972 "Jeremiah Johnson", director Sam Peckinpah's 1973 "Pat Garrick and Billy the Kid", Clint Eastwood's 1976 "The Outlaw Josey Wales" and 1984's "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension".
Pons Maar portrayed the dual roles of "Nurse Wilson's Assistant" and the "Lead Wheeler". Maar is both an actor and puppeteer. In this feature he was the performance coordinator of the all the puppet action.
The setting is October 1899 and "Aunt Em" and "Uncle Henry" are worried about their niece "Dorothy Gale". Who still talks about a fantasy place called Oz as if its was real. The two believe she is stuck in a fantasy world that could cause her harm later in life. "Aunt Em" and "Uncle Henry" decide to take her to "Dr. J.B.Worley" for electrotherapy and "Aunt Em" leaves her under the care of "Nurse Wilson".
Just as "Dorothy" is about to get her treatment, "Dr. Worley's" asylum is struck by lightening. The power goes off and while in the dark the mysterious girl reappears and the two escape the building and fall into a river.
The other girl disappears and "Dorothy" finds herself on a chicken coop floating with a chicken. She falls asleep and when "Dorothy" awakens the chicken named "Billina" can talk and she is once again in Oz.
"Dorothy", Billina" and "Tik-Tok" now go to "Princess Mombi" for help. Instead they are imprisoned, because "Mombi" collects heads to change hers and she wants "Dorothy's", In the locked room that the three are placed is "Jack Pumpkin Head", voice by Brian Henson and operated by Henson and Stewart Larange. "Jack Pumpin Head" tells the others that he was brought to life by "Mombi's Powder of Life". For some reason "Mombi" is afraid of "Billinia" and wants to kill her.
"Dorothy" now meets the evil "Nome King". Who tells her he has turned the "Scarecrow" into an ornament. He will allow "Dorothy" and her companions three guesses as to which one is the scarecrow and if they fail will become ornaments themselves. However, before "Dorothy" starts to guess the "Nome King" offers her a way home and produces the "Ruby Slippers". A change from the L. Frank Baum stories and a homage to the MGM 1939 picture. In the novels the slippers are Silver. "Dorothy", of course, refuses.
There is a celebration and "Dorothy" is asked to be the new "Queen of Oz", but refuses. She learns that the girl in the mirror is actually "Princess Ozma", also played by Emma Ridley, who was imprisoned by the "Nome King" and has now been set free.
"Princess Ozma" grants "Dorothy's" wish to be sent home to Kansas, but she tells her that "Dorothy Gale" is always welcome in Oz.
Back in Kansas "Aunt Em" finds "Dorothy" on the riverbank. She tells her that "Dr. Worley's" asylum was burned down and he died attempting to save his machines. The two now see "Nurse Wilson" in a cage being escorted by Police, because the truth of what she and the doctor was doing is now known.
Parents who hadn't read, or heard a review of "Return to Oz" took their young children thinking of the 1939 musical and walked out of theaters with crying and frightened youngsters. The budget was $28 million dollars, but in the United States the film only made $11.1 million dollars. I couldn't find its worldwide box office, but today the picture is considered another Cult Classic.
The reason was two-fold, the complexity of the novels and the need for realistic looking humans.
The first problem facing the Disney Company can be illustrated simply by the fact that when Walt Disney made 1937's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". There were 8 people who contributed to the story and screenplay. For "The Black Cauldron" that number became 19!
That second problem had been solved, somewhat, by another animator. in Ralph Bakshi's version of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings". The was released three months after Disney shelved "The Black Cauldron". Bakshi had used the very old process of "Rotoscoping". Which was filming live actors in the roles and tracing over the film, frame by frame, turning them into animated humans.
The Disney Company would solve their problem with the use of the new technology of Computer-Generated-Imagery (CGI). The resulting animated feature would end as a combination of the improved looks of the typical Disney cell fare and the truly frightening imagery of CGI colliding on-screen.
Directing the project was the team of Ted Berman and Richard Rich. Their proceeding work was 1981's "The Fox and the Hound". Which was the first animated feature in "Dolby Stereo".
The story follows "Taran", voiced by Grant Bardsley, a young boy and "assistant pig-keeper" on the farm owned by "Dallen the Enchanter", voiced by Freddie Jones.
"Taran" learns that the "Horned King", voiced by John Hurt, is looking for "The Black Cauldron". Which, according to legend, can create an army of invisible undead warriors known as the "Cauldron Born".
The story has "Tarn" rescue the "Princess Eilonwy", voiced by Susan Sheridan.
He next finds the "King Sword" that enables "Tarn" to fight the "Horned King's" armies.
A strange mixture of characters are found in the "Horned King's" kingdom. Which seems to come right out of "Dante's Inferno" otherwise. Below he is holding his henchman "Creeper", voiced by Phil Fondacaro. Perhaps "Creeper" was meant to appeal to small children with his design and execution, but it didn't work. Just as the three non-Shakespearian witches seem out of place with the look of the "Horned King" and his kingdom.
There was a clue as to how the final picture would be received early on. The rough-cut was screened at the private theater on the Walt Disney Studio for some of the employees families. During the screening, when the story reached the climatic "Cauldron Born" sequence, the children in the audience actually ran out of the theater screaming. They were so frightened and a revised cut was made.
However, that revised cut of "The Black Cauldron" was met by "The Motion Picture Association's" rating system and was given a PG-13 designation. Which meant "Some material may not be appropriate for Children under 13 years of age". The Disney Company was able to talk it down to a PG rating "Some material may not be suitable for children". Either way this was a first for the Walt Disney organization.
While the Disney Executives claimed that "The Black Cauldron" cost $25 million dollars to make. Later, in his 2009 documentary, "Waking Sleeping Beauty", Disney Animation Production Manager Don Hahn claimed the actual final cost was closer to $44 million dollars. Either way the film only grossed $21.3 million dollars domestically. As a result of the poor box office even worldwide. The Disney Company pulled the motion picture and didn't release it on VHS until 12 years later in 1997.
From a technical point of view the picture was a critical success. As was the musical score by composer Elmer Bernstein, but the story was panned as too confusing and frightening for younger audiences.
SCIENCE FICTION 1954 TO 1979
Returning to Merriam-Webster, Science Fiction deals with the impact of either real, or imaginary science on society or an individual.
In 1902 Marie-George-Jean Melies made the first Science Fiction motion picture "Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon)". The short picture was based upon Jules Verne's 1865 novel "From the Earth to the Moon". The choice of Verne is of interest to this article, because it was a story Jules Verne serialized between March 1869 and June 1970 that became Walt Disney's first Science Fiction feature film:
20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA released December 23, 1954
The Four Leading Roles:
Kirk Douglas portrayed "Ned Land". In this film the audience gets to hear Douglas sing and play a guitar. In 1953 the actor was seen as "The Juggler" playing a Nazi Concentration Camp survivor coming to Israel with his own psychological problems. Right after this picture, Kirk Douglas starred as "Ulysses" in an Italian motion picture based upon Homer's "The Odyssey".
James Mason portrayed "Captain Nemo". Also in 1954, Mason had just been seen as "Sir Brack" in "Prince Valiant" co-starring Robert Wagner and after this Disney film. The actor would be seen in 1954's "A Star is Born" co-starring with Judy Garland. My article "A STAR IS BORN X 4: Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand and Lady Gaga" may be read at:
Paul Lukas portrayed "Professor Pierre Aronnax". Lukas had been acting in motion pictures since 1915 and among his films are 1935's "The Three Musketeers", Alfred Hitchcock's 1938 "The Lady Vanishes" and the Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard Comedy from 1940 "The Ghost Breakers. In 1949 Paul Lukas started appearing in television drama's.
Peter Lorre portrayed "Conseil". In 1953 Lorre was seen in director John Huston's Adventure-Comedy "Beat the Devil" starring Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida. On October 21, 1954, Peter Lorre portrayed "Le Ciffre", on the "Climax" television anthology series production of Ian Fleming's "Casino Royale". The real first "James Bond" appearance. My article: "PETER LORRE: Overlooked, or Forgotten Performances" can be read at:
The basic story has shipping being sunk by a "Monster" and all commercial shipping stopped worldwide. "Professor Aronnex" and his assistant "Conseil" are offered passage on an American warship.
They accept and one of the crew is "Ned Land". The monster is sighted and cripples the warship and the "Professor", "Conseil" and "Ned" are tossed into the sea. The three discover the "Nautilus", the submarine built by "Captain Nemo", and their adventure begins.
The "Nautilus" makes it to "Nemo's" base, "Vulcania", only to find it surrounded by foreign warships. "Nemo" destroys the base, but is shot and dying. He takes the submarine down with all his crew for the last time, but "Ned" and "Conseil" get the "Professor" and the three manage to escape. As the island blows up in an atomic blast. As the audience sees the "Nautilus" sink for its last time, the voice of James Mason is heard saying:
There is hope for the future. And when the world is ready for a new and better life, all this will someday come to pass...in God's good time.
The budget was $5 million dollars and the worldwide box office was $28.2 million dollars on the film's initial release.
Back in 1955, at Disneyland Park, there was a walk-thru of the sets from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea". A visitor walked inside the "Nautilus", saw the diving chamber, "Captain Nemo's" quarters with his organ, the "Giant Squid" and models and props used in the motion picture. It was my favorite attraction until it was removed.
That's ridiculous—my son is not a werewolf! He's nothing more than just a big, baggy, stupid-looking shaggy dog!
THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR released March 16, 1961
Nancy Olson portrayed "Betsy Carlisle". Olson co-starred with William Holden in 1951's "Submarine Command", co-starred with John Wayne and James Arness in 1952's "Big Jim McLain" and immediately before this picture. Nancy Olson was in Walt Disney's 1960 "Pollyanna" starring Hayley Mills, Jane Wyman and Richard Egan.
Keenan Wynn portrayed "Alonzo P. Hawk". Wynn was appearing mostly on television when Walt Disney cast him in this Comedy. The villainous "Hawk" would become a recurring character in several of Disney's Comedies.
Tommy Kirk portrayed "Biff Hawk". Kirk had just been seen with John Mills, Dorothy McGuire and James MacArthur in Walt Disney's 1960 "Swiss Family Robinson" and would follow this picture with Disney's 1961 version of Victor Herbert's "Babes in Toyland" starring Tommy Sands and Annette Funicello.
There are several subplots in the story. One involves "Alonzo P. Hawks" attempting to get "Flubber" to make money off of it. Another involves the star basketball player, "Biff Hawks", failing "Brainard's" chemistry class and not being eligible for the big game. A third has another suitor for "Betsy's" hand, "Professor Shelby Ashton" of Medfield's competing college, attempting to take her away from "The Absent-Minded Professor".
"Brainard" helps the "Medfield" basketball team against "Professor Ashton's" college. He puts "Flubber" on the soles of their basketball shoes in a great bit with players jumping over their opponents.
This forgotten Science Fiction film from Walt Disney was a mix of Comedy and Romance with a Science Fiction theme. My reader must remember the picture was made during the Presidency of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and America's dream of going to the moon.
Tom Tryon portrayed "Captain Richmond Talbot". Television actor Tryon had appeared as "Texas John Slaughter" on "The Magical World of Disney" between 1958 and 1961. Also in 1958, he was the groom aka: space alien in "I Married a Monster from Outer Space". In 1963 Tryon portrayed the title character in director Otto Preminger's "The Cardinal".
Edmond O'Brien portrayed "McClosky aka: Mac". O'Brien was doing a lot of television work at the time, but had been seen in the Tony Curtis movie "The Great Imposter" in 1960 and would follow this picture with director John Ford's classic 1962 Western, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance", starring John Wayne and James Stewart.
In reality the foreign spy is actually a friendly alien from the planet "Beta Lyrae". She wants to offer "Richmond" a special paint formula that applied to the spacecraft will protect him on the mission. As they sit on a park bench a little boy approaches the two and a conversation takes place.
When the boy leaves, "Captain Richmond Talbot" makes a comment as to who his parents might be? "Lyrae" responds that he's their son from the future.
In short the two fall in love and "Lyrae" appears in the space craft after its launched. As mission control becomes confused over hearing "Lyrae" singing to "Richmond", but not to worry. They two will live happily ever after in true Walt Disney family film fashion.
SON OF FLUBBER released January 16, 1963
From "The Absent-Minded Professor" cast, Fred MacMurray and Nancy Olson are back, but this time married. Keenan Wynn was back as conniving "Alonzo P. Hawk" and Tommy Kirk was still "Biff Hawk". Elliott Reed returned as "Professor Ashton" now attempting to get "Betsy" to leave "Ned".
Things haven't gone well for "Professor Brainard", because the Pentagon locked "Flubber" away and marked it "Top Secret". While, the IRS has billed "Brainard" for the money has yet to see over his discovery.
However, "Professor Brainard" thinks he's found a solution to his financial problems and that's with the creation of "Flubber Gas", or the titles "Son of". The story is pretty much a reworking of the first film which the audience was expecting. The "Flubber Gas" causes it to rain inside all the houses in Medfield and can make any object, or person light as air. Which will, of course, lead to a football game instead of a basketball game with predictable results.
The first Science Fiction feature after Walt's death was different from the Fred MacMurray entries, but still was definitely family fare.
ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN released March 21, 1975
The motion picture was directed by previously mentioned director John Hough.
The Main Cast:
Eddie Albert portrayed "Jason O'Day". Television fans knew Albert for playing opposite Eva Gabor on "Green Acres" from 1965 through 1971. However, his film work included the 1930's and 1940's "Brother Rat" Military Comedy series with Ronald Reagan and Wayne Morris. Co-starring with Humphrey Bogart in 1941's "The Wagons Roll at Night", co-starring with Lucille Ball in the 1950 Comedy "The Fuller Brush Girl" and co-starring with Susan Hayward in the 1955 drama "I'll Cry Tomorrow". In 1956 he portrayed the cowardly WW2 officer in director Robert Aldrich's classic "Attack" co-starring with Jack Palance and Lee Marvin.
Ray Milland portrayed "Aristotle Bolt". Milland had become a major 1940's star with films such as the classic ghost story "The Uninvited" in 1944. From director Fritz Lang, 1944's "The Ministry of Fear", and his Academy Award winning performance in director Billy Wilder's 1945's "The Lost Weekend" as an alcoholic. Ray Milland was the man plotting his wife's murder in Alfred Hitchcock's only 3-D motion picture, 1954's "Dial M for Murder" co-starring Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings. In 1962 he starred in both director Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe feature "The Premature Burial" and "X-The Man with the X-Ray Eyes". Milland also, in 1962, starred and directed the very chilling Nuclear War thriller "Panic in the Year Zero" featuring Jean Hagen and Frankie Avalon.
Donald Pleasence portrayed "Lucas Deranian". In 1956 Pleasence had been in the motion picture "1984" based upon George Orwell's novel and starring Edmond O'Brien, Sir Michael Redgrave and Jan Sterling. He had portrayed "Prince John" on Richard Greene's television series "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and was the blind forger in 1963's "The Great Escape". Three years after this picture Donald Pleasence portrayed "Dr. Loomis", for the first time, in director John Carpenter's original "Halloween".
Above the evil twosome of Donald Pleasence and his employer Ray Milland
Ike Eisenmann portrayed "Tony Malone". Like Kim, Ike is mostly associated with television shows. Although he was in the cast of 1982's "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan". In "Race to Witch Mountain" look for the character of "Sheriff Anthony".
Above Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann
This picture has more of a back story-set up than the 1995 made for television remake, or the 2009 entry. The screenplay was by Robert Malcolm Young, a television drama screenplay writer, from the novel by Alexander H. Key.
Adoptive children "Tia" and "Tony Malone" are placed in an orphanage. By using his harmonica "Tony" is able to move objects and "Tia" can communicate telepathically.
"Tia" has been having fragmented dreams of some type of accident, a boat crash on the ocean, and an "Uncle Bene". "Tia" has in her possessions something she calls a "Star Case", but how she got it and why she calls it by that name are part of her fragmented dreams.
With the other orphans "Tia" and "Tony" go on a field trip to see a motion picture. There, "Tia" has a premonition and warns wealthy lawyer "Lucas Deranian" of a potential accident. "Deranian" goes to his client "Aristotle Bolt" and they investigate the two children's background. "Deranian" returns to the orphanage and poses as "Tia" and "Tony's" missing Uncle, but he is not using the name "Bene". After the two are released to him. The lawyer takes them to "Bolt's" mansion".
The brother and sister soon realize "Bolt's" real plans for them and run-away by using their powers. "Bolt" sends "Deranian" and a hired thug named "Ubermann", played by Lawrence Montague, after the children. "Tia" and "Tony" hide out in a Winnebago motor home owned by an embittered widower named "Jason O'Day". Who initially doesn't believe their story, but as things progress he comes to believe the brother and sister and sees their powers in use.
"Jason" now agrees to take "Tia" and "Tony" to the ocean at the location shown on a map that has appeared in the "Star Case".
RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN released March 10, 1978
John Hough was back directing "Return From Witch Mountain", but the screenplay was from Malcolm Marmorstein. Between 1966 and 1967 Marmorstein wrote 79 episodes of Dan Curtis' television Horror Soap Opera "Dark Shadows". In 1968 he wrote 15 episodes of another television Soap Opera "Peyton Places".
The Main Cast:
Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann were back as "Tia" and "Tony Malone".
Bette Davis portrayed "Letha Wedge".
Christopher Lee portrayed "Dr. Victor Gannon". Lee had just been seen in three episodes of the 1978 television series "How the West Was Won". Prior to this Christopher Lee was in the low budget Canadian 1977 "Starship Invasions" with Robert Vaughn. The actor would follow this feature with 1978's "Circle of Iron" starring David Carradine.
"Tony" and his sister "Tia" are in need of a vacation and "Uncle Bene", Denver Pyle, drops them off in his flying saucer at the Pasadena Rose Bowl.
"Dr. Gannon" uses a mind-control technology he has developed to put "Tony" completely in his control. Meanwhile, "Tia" meets a would-be group of tough boys calling themselves the "Earthquake Gang". They're being chased by another gang called the "Golden Goons" and "Tia" uses her powers to chase the "Goons" away and is accepted into the "Earthquake Gang".
They let her sleep at their secret hideout and she starts dreaming of "Tony" and knows there's a chip in his head that must be removed.
Now the search for "Tony" begins in earnest.
Using her telepathy "Tia" locates "Tony" and goes to "Dr. Gannon's", but is captured by "Sickle" using chloroform.
However, "Tia" is able to telepathically contact a goat, named "Alfred", the "Earthquake Gang" has as a pet. She instructs the goat to bring help. While, "Dr. Gannon, "Wedge", "Sickle" and "Tony" go to a plutonium plant to steal some of the material a rescue is attempted.
This will lead to rescuing "Tony", defeating "Dr. Gannon", "Wedge" and "Sickle" and the boys and "Mr. Yokomoto" seeing "Uncle Bene" and the flying saucer at the Rose Bowl. The picture ends with "Tony" and "Tia" returning to "Witch Mountain".
If a goat can save the day in "Return From Witch Mountain". Then of course you need---
THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE released June 30, 1978
An "Unidentified Flying Object (UFO)" makes an emergency landing on Earth. It's occupant is a Cat named "Zunar-J-5/9 Doric-4-7" that needs to repair his space ship and uses his telekinetic and telepathic abilities through its collar to get assistance.
The Five Main Humans are:
Ken Berry portrays "Franklin 'Frank' Wilson". Ken Berry was a television comedic actor known for 65 episodes of the series "F-Troop", "The Andy Griffith Show" and Berry's own spin off "Mayberry R.F.D." for 78 episodes and Walt Disney's 1974 "Herbie Rides Again".
Sandy Duncan portrayed "Elizabeth 'Liz' Bartlett". Duncan was a television comedic actress who had two failed television shows, each at 13 episodes, 1971's "Funny Face" and 1972's "The Sandy Duncan Show", but also appeared on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In". For Disney she had starred with Dean Jones in 1971's "The Million Dollar Duck" and in 1981 was part of the voice cast for the animated "The Fox and the Hound".
Harry Morgan portrayed "Army General Stilton". Morgan had portrayed "Colonel Sherman T. Potter" from 1975 through 1983 on television's "M.A.S.H.". However, his film acting career includes director William A. Wellman's 1942 "The Ox-Bow Incident", director Fred Zinnemann's 1952 "High Noon" and director Stanley Kramer's 1960 "Inherit the Wind".
Above, that's Hans Conried with the glasses on his head as "Chief Doctor Heffel" looking at Harry Morgan.
McLean Stevenson portrayed "Norman Link". Stevenson proceeded Morgan on "M.A.S.H." from 1972 through 1978 as "Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake". Stevenson had been a regular cast member on "The Doris Day Show" from 1969 through 1971 and in 1970 had been a regular on "The Tim Conway Show".
The story has "Zunar-J-5/9 Doric-4-7" making contact with "Frank Wilson" and being renamed "Jake". The military are after an industrial spy and the usual mix-ups over who it is occur. Especially after the cat's arrival, but in the end it is "Jake" who captures the spy "Mr. Stallwood" and becomes an American citizen.
Immediately following "The Cat from Outer Space". What is called a Disney Science Fiction motion picture was released. However, it only uses the Science Fiction theme to update Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" for the "Star Wars" generation. The picture was the forgotten "Unidentified Flying Oddball" released in London, England, on July 1979. The gimmick is instead of being hit on the head, as in Twain's novel, we have a "NASA Astronaut", played by Dennis Dugan, accidently traveling beyond the speed of light and ending up at King Arthur's Camelot. Then the screenplay follows the Twain novel with some updates.
What followed might be called either a Dark Science Fiction Motion Picture, or Walt Disney Meets Sigmund Freud.
THE BLACK HOLE released December 18, 1979
It is believed that Disney's "The Black Hole" was an answer to George Lucas' 1977 "Star Wars". However, that's incorrect! The following is the troubled journey the Disney Company film took to the motion picture screen.
The early 1970's was disaster movie heaven and that started out calmly with 1970's All-Star "Airport". Followed by 1971's "The Andromeda Strain" and 1972's "Skyjacked". Then it started to expand in form with 1972 's "The Poseidon Adventure". 1974 was a big year with "The Towering Infernal", "Earthquake" and "Juggernaut".
It was in 1974 that television writers Bob Barash and Richard Landau pitched an outer space disaster movie entitled "Space Station 1" to the Walt Disney Studio executive story editor Frank Paris. Paris took their story with preliminary sketches to Executive Disney Producer Ron Miller,. Who, among other films and television programs was behind "Zorro", "Moon Pilot", "Son of Flubber" and from 1959 through 1980 the television anthology "The Magic World of Disney". Which was initially just called "Disneyland".
Miller in turn assigned the idea to long time studio producer and writer Winston Hibler, 1950's "Cinderella", 1951's "Alice in Wonderland", 1953's "Peter Pan" and 1959's "Sleeping Beauty" and 1970's "The Aristocats", who now oversaw the screenplay. Hibler wasn't satisfied with what he saw and assigned television writer William Wood, "Mission Impossible", "The Mod Squad" and the James Darren, Pamela Tiffin and Doug McClure 1964 movie "The Lively Set", to the project to do rewrites. In the end after Hibler retired from Disney the screenplay was shelved.
In late 1975 Ron Miller decided to revive the project, now retitled "Space Probe 1", but who to assign it too? Coming back to the Disney Studios after a short retirement was Winston Hibler. At the start of 1976, Miller gave back to Hibler the project to complete. Winston Hibler convinced Miller to hire conceptual artist Robert McCall, "2001: A Space Odyssey" and while on this project "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", to redo the art work. McCall came up with the idea of incorporating a "Black Hole" into the story.
Winston Hibler now brought matte designer Peter Ellenshaw, assistant matte artist on director William Cameron Menzies 1936 "Things to Come" that had a screenplay written by H.G. Wells, matte artist for Disney's 1950 "Treasure Island" and visual effects for "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", special effects for "Mary Poppins" and matte artist for 1960's "Spartacus", out of retirement to work on the project.
Ron Miller now assigned director John Hough to direct, but Hough still didn't like the screenplay. So he added Summer Arthur Long, a playwright and television writer, to do more rewrites Summer Arthur Long was let go, because by now, mid-1976, the production team, especially Ron Miller, still didn't like what they were seeing. Additionally, the disaster movie genre was disappearing.
Sadly, adding to the film's problems, was that on August 8, 1976, the 66 years old, Winston Hibler passed away. Now, Ron Miller, personally took over the project, which had cost the Walt Disney Company a large amount of money and was the reason to complete the picture.
In October, Miller added Ed Coffey, future visual effects animator on "Tron", "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "The Black Cauldron", onto the project as a screenplay writer. Neither Coffey, or Long's names are listed in the film's writing credits. By February 1977, Miller had added Jeb Rosebrook, 1972's "Junior Bonner", 1975's "I Will Fight No More Forever", to the writing team for a complete rewrite once again.
Meanwhile, John Hough left the project to film 1978's "The Brass Target" starring George Kennedy as "General George S. Patton". Ron Miller now hired Gary Nelson, a television director, "Have Gun Will Travel", "Gilligan's Island", "Get Smart" and "The Doris Day Show", as director. This was his first feature film.
In March 1978, Rosebrook completed his final draft, but the Disney executives were still not satisfied with what they saw and hired Gerry Day, another television writer, to work on rewrites.
Also, during 1978, Disney Director of Marketing Research, Martin Rabinovitch, selected the final title for the film, "The Black Hole", because it conveys both power and added a mystique to the story.
The Main Cast:
Maximillian Schell portrayed "Dr. Hans Reinhardt". German born Schell was anti-Nazi, but played a German Captain in 1958's "The Young Lions" starring Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin in his first dramatic role. Schell won the Academy Award for Best Actor for director Stanley Kramer's 1960 "Judgement at Nuremberg". That same year he appeared in the title role of "Hamlet" on television and in 1964 showed off his comic skills in American director Jules Dassin's "Topkapi". The film starred Dassin's Greek wife actress Melina Mercouri and Peter Ustinov.
Anthony Perkins portrayed "Dr. Alex Durrant". The is of course the star of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960's "Psycho". Perkin's co-starred in director William Wyler's 1956 "The Friendly Persuasion" with Gary Cooper and Dorothy McGuire, 1957's "The Tin Star" with Henry Fonda and director Stanley Kramer's 1959 nuclear war picture "On the Beach" with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire.
Robert Forster portrayed "Captain Dan Holland". In 1969 Forster starred in cinematographer and director Haskell Wexler's "Medium Cool". That turned into a documentary of sorts of the 1968 Democratic convention. Forster starred in the two short lived television series "Banyon" and "Nakia".
Joseph Bottoms portrayed "Lieutenant Charles Pizer". Up until the motion picture, Bottoms was seen basically on television programs in small to medium size roles.
Yvette Mimieux portrayed "Dr. Kate McCrae". In 1960 Mimieux was seen in two feature films. The first was about juvenile delinquents in the forgotten "Platinum High School", but the second was the actress portraying "Weena" in producer George Pal's classic version of H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" starring Rod Taylor. Yvette Mimieux co-starred with Dolores Hart, George Hamilton and popular singer Connie Francis.
Ernest Borgnine portrayed "Harry Booth". The Best Actor Oscar winner for 1955's "Marty", started his on-screen career on the television series 1951's "Captain Video and his Video Rangers". Borgnine was the sadistic "Sergeant 'Fatso' Judson" in director Fred Zinnemann's 1953 "From Here to Eternity". He was in the Hollywood biography of 1920's music composers De Silva, Henderson and Brown 1956's "The Best Things in Life Are Free".
Above Ernest Borgnine and 'V.I.C.E.N.T. (Vital Information Necessary CENTralized)
Above these two robots "V.I.C.E.N.T." and "Old Bob (BiO-sanitation Battllion" voiced by Slim Pickens. The look of the two are considered by many critics and viewers as an attempt by the Disney Company to make their own "R2-D2". Leading to many claiming the movie was a rip-off of George Lucas' "Star Wars".
Other Robots additionally play a major role in the picture and below are "Reinhardt's" Sentry Robots:
Above the leader of the "Sentry Robots" was "Captain S.T.A.R. (Special Troops Arms Regiment)" portrayed by Tom McLoughlin.
Then there is "Maximillian".
Nearing the ending of a very long mission the space craft "USS Palomino" is returning to Earth. On board are "Captain Dan Holland", "First Officer Lieutenant Charlie Pizer", journalist "Harry Booth", ESP-sensitive scientist "Dr. Kate McCrae" and the "Palomino's" civilian leader "Dr. Alex Durant" and their robot "V.I.N.C.E.N.T.".
Unexpectedly, the "Palomino" comes across a large "Black Hole", but even more amazing is that apparently defying the Black Hole's gravity is what appears to be the missing exploration space craft the "USS Cygnus".
"Kate" can't believe that this is the "USS Cygnus", because her father was part of the crew. It is decided to investigate and as the "Palomino" closes on the other space craft. The ship encounters a "Null Gravity Field" surrounding the "Cygnus". If you're not sure of the definition of a "Null Gravity Field" used in this motion picture's screenplay. You can ask Albert Einstein to explain its relationship to a "Black Hole".
The "Palomino" is deflected by the field from the "Cygnus" toward the "Black Hole" and is damaged. A second attempt is made and docking is completed. The crew of the "Palomino" now enter the "Cygnus" and take one of their internal cars. They find the ship apparently empty of all life and a floating derelict, but if so? How is it remaining outside the pull of the "Black Hole"?
Part of the mystery is solved when the "Palomino's" crew encounter "Dr. Hans Reinhardt".
However, after discussion between themselves, the crew wanted to return to Earth. According to "Reinhardt", he wished the crew well and told them that he would stay and not miss this once in a lifetime chance. The crew still wanted "Dr. Reinhardt" to accompany them, but he refused. Adding, that "Kate's" father decided to join him. "Reinhardt" next ordered the other crew members to return to the Earth, as they wished, by using the emergency escape ship.
Then turning to "Kate", he mentions her father passed away many years later and "Hans Reinhardt" has been alone studying the "Black Hole" for 20 years. Then he shocks the "Palomino's' crew by announcing that he is now ready to take the "Cygnus" into, through and out of the "Black Hole" and has sent a "Probe Ship" into it already. "Dr. Durant" wants to accompany him.
"Kate McCrae's" ESP is picking up something almost human coming from the drones and she tells the others. Then "Booth" sees a drone limping and "Holland" witnesses a drone funeral. What's going on? When "V.I.N.C.E.N.T." speaking to "B.O.B.", who has been a target of "S.T.A.R." and upset the "Sentry" leader by winning a shooting match, finds out the truth about the drones.
"Alex" and "Kate" now attempt to leave the area and "Dr. Alex Durant" is killed by "Maximillian".
"Hans Reinhardt" tells the "Sentry Robots" to take "Kate McCrae" to the ships hospital to be lobotomized. The process is about to begin, but "Dan Holland", "V.I.N.C.E.N.T." and "B.O.B." rescue her.
While this is all occurring, "Harry Booth", decides to save his own life, goes to the "Palomino" and takes the space craft off of the "Cygnus". However, "Reinhardt" orders the "Palomino" shot down, but the weapons fire causes "Booth" and the "Palomino" to crash into the larger ship damaging the port-side anti-gravity force field generator, besides killing "Harry Booth".
Another meteor storm takes place destroying the starboard gravity generator. With both gravity generators destroyed the "USS Cygnus" starts to break apart. "Reinhardt" orders "Maximillian" to prepare the "Probe Ship", that had returned, for his escape. Then a large view screen falls on "Dr. Hans Reinhardt" pinning him down.
"Dan Holland", "Charlie Pizer", "Kate McCrae" and "V.I.N.C.E.N.T." head for the "Probe Ship". "Maximillian" confronts the group and fatally damages "B.O.B.". "V.I.N.C.E.N.T." attacks the larger robot and sends it into outer space toward the "Black Hole" as the "Cygnus" keeps breaking apart.
As "Reinhardt" calls for help, the only people around him are his lobotomized crew going about their programmed jobs oblivious to his presence. The "Probe Ship" is launched and "Holland", "McCrae", "Pizer" and "V.I.N.C.E.N.T." discover that the "Probe Ship" is still locked into entering the "Black Hole".
Suddenly, the screenplay takes a weird twist that could be explained in two ways, but both have the audience asking what is happening to the story at this point?
The website "verywellmind" has this explanation of Freud's "ID".
The id is the only part of the personality that is present at birth, according to Freud. He also suggested that this primitive component of personality existed wholly within the unconscious. The id acts as the driving force of personality. It not only strives to fulfill the most basic urges that people have, many of which are tied directly to survival, it also provides all of the energy necessary to drive personality.
In this screenplay the "Black Hole" becomes both "Hell and Heaven".First it is "Hell" to the dying "Dr. Hans Reinhardt". Entering "Reinhardt's" mind the audience sees his robot "Maximillian" become his own alter ego, or, if you will, "Reinhardt's" " Monster from the ID".
Then the images of "Reinhart's Hell", becomes a "Heavenly Corridor". As those inside the "Probe Ship" enter the corridor.
The second possibility to explain the strange ending to "The Black Hole". Is that somewhere within the multiple changing of writers and ideas. One decided to pay homage to Walt Disney's 1940 "Fantasia" and the previously mentioned "Night on Bald Mountain". The "Hans Reinhardt" hell could be seen as that opening section of that musical piece as drawn by the Disney animators and the "Probe Ship" as the "Ave Maria" section.
takes us all the way to the rim of space only to bog us down in a talky melodrama whipped up out of mad scientists and haunted houses.
it takes much too long to get its less than grand finale, in which a space villain and some good guys face being swallowed by a collapsed star with enormous gravitational pull
"Walt Disney Presents: 'The Saga of Andy Burnett', 'The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca', 'Texas John Slaughter', 'The Swamp Fox' and 'Daniel Boone" can be read at:
"Walt Disney's 'Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier" may be found at:
"Walt Disney's Four British Tax Feature Films (1950 to 1954)" is located at: