Settle in, children—here, near the fire. (Not that near, little Timmy—whoops, there he goes.) I’m going to tell you all the story of what it was like to have the Disney Channel as a premium channel in the mid-1980s, in the days before ubiquitous original programming. Would someone please pour some water on Timmy?
I suppose that characterization is a little off, both because I have yet to roast a small child and because, in addition to things like their aerobics show Mousercise, technically EVERYTHING on Disney at the time was original programming in the sense of being Disney. It’s just that it was original programming of old Disney movies and even older cartoons, many in heavy rotation. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Ichabod and Mr. Toad more than I have seen The Thin Man, one of my favorite movies ever.
And so one summer I came into near-constant contact with The Moon-Spinners, the caper film with a nearly grown-up Hayley Mills and Peter McEnery, who seems to have been told “Just do your best Connery Bond swagger: it’ll be fine.” (And it is.)
Why Found-Again? The simple answer is that I took a few decades off between viewings of The Moon-Spinners until tracking down the DVD a few years ago. The honest answer is that, between Blue Labyrinth coming out this week and my local library’s complete dearth of books I may well hate rereading (though seriously, who checked out ‘Salem’s Lot?), none of us are quite getting the F-AF post we deserve.
The Premise: Nikky Ferris (Mills) is a young English girl traveling Greece with her musicologist aunt. While on Crete, she meets a nice young man named Mark who’s being stalked by their innkeeper’s crooked brother (Eli Wallach, who in an unintentional bit of hilarity resembles nothing so much as an evil Walt Disney). Mark is eventually shot, and Nikky’s attempts to help eventually start the caper in motion: can she find out what’s going on and get them both out of this alive?
In case it wasn’t clear from my post on Hart to Hart, I grew up so steeped in the mystery genre that my 10-year-old self watched The Moon-Spinners—the romantic setting, the danger, the bronzed young Englishman—and essentially decided this was a suitable life plan. (If that didn’t work out, late in the movie Pola Negri appears as a fabulously wealthy woman with a yacht and a pet cheetah, which to this day seems like a decent fallback position.) When I rewatched it, I fully expected to be cynical about all those things, but in my opinion The Moon-Spinners still holds up, even now that I can recognize all the unflattering English-tourist-abroad stereotypes.
The movie is based on Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novel of the same name, and as always, I marvel at the instinct Disney movies of this era had for adaptation. Clearly some of the things in the novel—a dead child, a religious conflict—weren’t likely to stay in the script for a Hayley Mills vehicle, but it would never occur to me to move the pieces around the way Disney did and still come up with a coherent heist movie.
The Verdict: Even now, from the moment the weary travelers open the shutters and the sparkling water stretches before us, I am a goner for The Moon-Spinners.
Might go well with: Greek food, early Bond films…and possibly earplugs, because that song is going to be stuck in your brain for a while.
Next time: Hack (of some definition) and slash.