Old Movies and Memories - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Warning! Old Fart rambling about stuff!

I recently started looking at the stack of movies I inherited from my parents. In her last few years mom had gravitated towards either the very familiar, the very lightweight, or both. Among the movies was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Do people watch that one anymore? Other than declining old ladies and their nostalgic offspring?

I dimly recall seeing it on its first release In 1968. Which likely is before a lot of people reading this were born.

The funny thing is, I don’t recall ever seeing it between 1968 and 2010, which is 42 years.

The other funny thing was just how much of it I remembered. I of course remembered the basic outline of the story. I didn’t remember the names of any of the characters other than Truly (whose last name I didn’t remember. That may seem odd, but in 1968 I hadn’t even started first grade, my grasp of puns was quite limited.) A few things I’d totally forgotten, but for quite a bit of the songs I was able to sing the lyrics, apparently from slightly jogged memory. Then again, one reason people have composed songs with lyrics throughout history is to help them remember things like stories, so maybe not so puzzling. I remembered Dick Van Dyke had the male lead, but he was a big star back then (just, thank god, no crappy fake cockney accent in this movie like in Mary Poppins.)

Of course, back then I was a child enchanted by the pretty colors with only a limited ability to follow a plot. It was sort of the end of the movie musical era, when movie sets sometimes resembled a Broadway stage and where it was apparently entirely normal for people going about their everyday lives to burst into song and dance with an invisible orchestra providing accompaniment.

I totally missed the romance thing between Truly and Caractacus. Also totally forgot the name Caractacus (Caractacus Potts being a play on “Crackpot”), which maybe isn’t so puzzling. Who names a kid Caractacus? And I tried not to wince at the girl being named “Jemima”, which just wouldn’t fly in the US these days, even if she is white.

I think this also explains the “first” time I saw The Benny Hill Show in my college years Mr. Hill seemed so damned familiar to me - I knew I’d seen him somewhere before, I just couldn’t remember where. Well, here it is - he was the Toymaker.

I keep finding myself thinking this is a Disney movie. It’s NOT a Disney movie. It’s a James Bond movie. Well, OK, not really, but it WAS written by Ian Fleming who wrote the James Bond novels and produced by Albert Broccoli who produced the James Bond movies until he passed away (apparently, his daughter took over the franchise). It also reminded me a lot of Mary Poppins (thank god thank god no fake cockney accent by Van Dyke…) which is probably because the same two brothers wrote the music for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as for Mary Poppins

Anyhow - it’s a musical (though there’s significant dialogue and non-musical stuff). Here’s something about the music:

The theme song is, of course, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which my father confirms I used to sing (well, just the chorus) at the top of my lungs for several years after my initial viewing of the movie. This may be part of the reason the family did not revisit the movie for several decades, as my singing voice is such that my neighbors once, upon being given a choice between my singing and bagpipes, chose bagpipes. Not a mystery that I’d remember most of this one, as it had a life outside the movie and I’m sure I heard snippets over the years from time to time. There are several variations of it during the movie.

I didn’t remember Me Ol’ Bamboo, at least not the lyrics, though the tune was very familiar. I think I like this number and appreciate it more than I ever did as a kid. It’s proof that group choreography did not start with Michael Jackson. Hey, I just like to see young men moving about with athletic grace. Of course, the first time I saw it I’m sure I didn’t think of any of these guys as young - my goodness, they might have even been as old as dad! (Older, actually - Dick Van Dyke is 4 years older than my dad. I try not to think too hard about stuff like this, that I view the 1968 version of Van Dyke as “cute younger guy” even though in real life he’s old enough to be my father. What makes my head hurt even more is that in 1968 Mr. Van Dyke was younger, at the age of 43, than I am at present.).

But my strongest memory? It wasn’t the flying car! (Yes, amazingly, something trumped the flying car - why I don’t know. Maybe because even at that age it was airplanes that fascinated me, not cars, even flying ones.) It was the girl (Truly) on the music box! For some reason that really really stuck with me. I don’t know why, but it did. I had totally forgotten that that was part of the movie, but when the scene came up it was one of those moments when I leap up from my seat yelling “I remember that! I remember that!” as if it’s some amazing revelation. (Maybe it was - I finally had context again for an image I had carried for four decades). What I didn’t appreciate way back when was that the whole Doll on a Music Box/Truly Scrumptious sequence was the relationship between the two leads in miniature. Got it immediately as an adult, of course, but as a child it blew past me. Nonetheless, somehow it made quite an impression on me.

I think what strikes me now is, first of all, the costumes. The costumes and colors really were wonderful in this movie and entirely appropriate to what is really a kid’s film at heart. The second thing is that Van Dyke has got to be in a wire harness for that marionette routine, there are too many spots he overbalances without going over for there not to be some mechanical support there. Yet you don’t see the wires. Remember, this was 1968 - they didn’t have computer effects. Or perhaps it was edited out when the film was remastered, because no un-remastered print from the 1960’s looks this good. Look for the point when Truly shoves a distracted Caractacus into the mirror to get him back into the act - I think it foreshadows the verbal “shove” she gives him at the end of the movie when he’s saying he’s not good enough for her, but imperfectly, because in the end he does get her hand in marriage.

Among the things I totally didn’t remember: “Posh”, “Lovely Lonely Man”, “Choo Chi Face” (that one I’m trying to forget again) and “Roses of Success”.

Anyhow - it’s odd how memory works. Some things I still recalled after more than 40 years - but was that because of reminders from time to time, or because I really did hang onto memories that long? Some things were totally forgotten. I didn’t remember the visuals very well - which is not surprising as at that point no one had noticed how poor my vision was. No doubt that is partly why it’s the music I remembered. Memories so old are a funny thing - I really am a different person than back then, with very different priorities, yet I have that person’s memories. It also makes me wonder how things will look in another 40 years, and if I could have hung on to those 1968 memories for that long without a refresher. It’s also odd in that memories are connected to one another, sometimes in strange ways, and seeing the movie again has jarred loose a lot of other memories from years past that I hadn’t thought of in, well, decades.

And the last page of the book has a fudge recipe …

I always enjoyed the movie when I was a kid - I remembered best the part about the King and Queen trying to kill each other, and the inventors’ song (“Up from the Ashes”). Caractacus is a real name, by the way; an historical British warchief was named that Caratacus - Wikipedia (and Caractacus is also mentioned in the “Major General Song” (“and tell you all the details of Caractacus’s battles”)

Eh, for me, CCBB is too long and the ChildSnatcher (or whatever he was called) scared the living shit out of me as a kid.

Who thinks that group choreography started with Michael Jackson? :confused: Any musical (movie or otherwise) worth anything has group choreography and most musicals predate Jacko significantly.

I did have a similar experience to yours when I watched Jungle Book (Disney animated feature) as an adult. I felt the hair rise on the back of my neck and I can now trace my fear of snakes to that film. It was the coils falling and restacking themselves that freaked me out–still do (to a much lesser extent). :slight_smile:

Child Catcher apparently scared the crap out of a LOT of people.

In my area? Everyone under 25 or 30 - but then, I do live in Jackson’s home town.

My kids (ages 5 and 8) just watched this for the first time and loved it. I watched it many times myself as a kid on VHS tape.

I had forgotten the scene with Truly on the music box, but as soon as I heard the music I remembered the words. Such a pretty song.

And yes Child Catcher was horrifyingly scary. On par with the Wicked Witch of the West.

This seems to be the main memory of the film among all my friends. I remember an interview in a magazine with the late Sir Robert Helpmann in which he commented on how many people had told him over the years that they’d been terrified by his portrayal of the Child Catcher.

Liked the book. Absolutely DETESTED the movie.

The movie needed to be more about the car. It had to make you believe in the car. They didn’t come close. Cars don’t float through the air supported bylittle slow-rotating helicopter-esque propellers popping up from the candy-ass colored mudguards. (Admittedly they also don’t roar through the air propelled by the cooling fan extending out in front of the cowl, either — even with the mudguards swung out to act like wings — but somehow you could suspend disbelief somewhat if they worked on it a bit. The movie CCBB was a freaking carnival float, it wasn’t even convincing as a hi-performance motorcar)

And casting Dick Van Dyke as Cmmdr Pott was akin to casting Pee Wee Herman as Conan the Barbarian.

I loved it as a child, and it was one of a handful of movies on television that showed yearly that were spurs to academic achievement: "If your grades aren’t good enough, you can’t watch Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!’ <or Sound of Music, or Wizard of Oz; as an adult, I don’t care for musicals, But I sure love the ones I grew up with>

Yes, child-catcher was scary; the music-box scene was my hair-standing-on-end scene, though. Just loved it.

Funny thing, the thing I remembered most was the grandfather in the flying outhouse or “Posh”. Maybe that was because toilet humor was big at my house.

Lionel Jefferies, who played Grandpa, died just recently. And he was a few years younger than Dick Van Dyke who played his son.

I’m pretty sure that was his house.

This was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. It was probably one of the first movies my parents took me to see (I would have been 3). Being car-crazy as a little kid, that was what it was mostly about for me.

I also remember seeing it on TV when I was around 10…I suspect it was something that the local TV station ran, rather than it being a network showing.

The fact that Ian Fleming wrote it helps to explain some of the names…Truly Scrumptious surely is a Bond Girl name, isn’t it? :smiley:

I actually watched it two days ago or so.

I couldn’t believe all the stuff I forgot. The cat and mouse of it all, the fact that the car could fly / go into a blimp … totally forgot , that I totally forgot all of that .

I wanted to watch it to find the “child catcher” character that everyone talks about, and, I either missed it, or it comes later, after I gave up.

Truly Scrumptious, Pussy Galore, it seems so obvious now.

C’mon, who could look at that thing and not think outhouse?

Sure, during “Posh” you can see it doesn’t have a toilet, but then neither did the Brady bathroom.

Besides, if that was Grandpa’s house, I’m pretty sure social services would get on Caractacus Potts’ ass about elder abuse pretty quick.

Never the less, it became a cultural touchstone.

I just saw “the incredible Mr. Limpet” for sale on DVD at the grocery store. Almost bought it but my nephews are too old to appreciate it.

Say it once again!

G&S nitpick:

The film’s been on Christmas TV once or twice in the last decade, but less so than many others.

Also a cultural touchstone.