Although the split-screen technique had been around for a decade or so,
it was usually more noted for its failures than its success, and the
actor required to play dual roles usually took tremendous heat for
their failure to create two physically identical but distinctly
different characterizations on screen. But with THE PARENT TRAP, with
the difficult dual role resting on the shoulders of an extremely young
star, Walt Disney struck gold. It would be the single highest grossing
film the studio had released up to that time, and even some forty years
later the baby-boomers who flocked to see it in 1961 regard it as one
of their favorite movie experiences.
But THE PARENT TRAP has a lot more going for it than mere nostalgia.
The cast is really, really good, featuring the ever-likable Maureen
O'Hara and Brian Keith in leading roles and a host of great character
actors (including Leo G. Carroll and Nancy Kulp) in minor roles. And
then there is Haley Mills. The daughter and sister of noted English
actors, Mills was no newcomer to the screen when THE PARENT TRAP went
before the cameras--she had even picked up an Oscar for her earlier
Disney film POLLYANNA. Even so, this was no guarantee that she could
pull off the feat of double roles, something that had daunted even the
legendary Bette Davis. But she did.
The story has been told so often that surely every one knows it by now.
A wife delivers twin daughters--but shortly afterward divorces her
husband, and each wins custody of one child. The children are raised
without any knowledge of each other's existence... until they
unexpectedly bump into each other at summer camp, put two and two
together, and devise a scheme to get their parents back together again.
Even today, and in spite of its familiarity, it's an amusing idea, and
while the actual script is weak in spots the cast, and especially Haley
Mills, makes the most of it. There's plenty of slapstick, lots of
laugh-out-loud scenes, and enough charm to beguile all but the most
cynical viewers. And Haley Mills clearly demonstrates why she was
regarded as the single most gifted child actor of her era: although she
plays both Susan and Sharon with the same edge of mischievous fun, they
do indeed come off as completely different personalities.
Of course, digital technology has left the old split-screen technique
in the dust, and today its easy to see the flaws in the technique that
weren't so obvious at the time. And the quality of the film transfer is
not the best: while this isn't the worst transfer I've seen, it is full
of artifacts nonetheless. Even so, the appeal of the story, the cast,
and most particularly Haley Mills make up for a lot, and this Disney
double DVD comes complete with a host of bonuses (including a making-of
documentary and an audio commentary track by director David Swift and
Haley Mills) that fans will enjoy quite a bit.
If you were a fan of the film then, you'll remain a fan of it now. And
if you want to introduce your family to a truly charming movie
experience, you couldn't make a better choice.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer