Friday, October 10, 2014

The Five Best Hayley Mills Performances

1. Pollyanna. The penultimate Hayley Mills film features her as a young orphaned girl—an optimist if there ever was one—coming to live with her wealthy, spinster aunt circa 1913. Pollyanna pretty much shakes up the whole town, bringing lonely people together and reminding everyone that there are unexpected joys to be found in the most unlikely places. It’s a charming, uplifting tale, surprisingly devoid of schmaltz--and I think that's the secret to Hayley's appeal in the title role. Unlike many other child stars, she never tries to "play cute." Instead, she finds the appeal in her character and lets it come out naturally.

Hayley Mills and Deborah Kerr.
2. The Chalk Garden. Deborah Kerr headlines this offbeat, poignant tale about a governess hired by a dowager to care for the elderly lady’s out-of-control teenage granddaughter (Hayley Mills). The girl has a fondness for setting fires and delights in threatening to burn down the gloomy mansion set among the isolated cliffs. Hayley combines brattiness with vulnerability and repressed anger with youthful innocence. Best of all, she's content to concede the film's big scenes to the marvelous Deborah Kerr and deliver a first-rate supporting performance.

Hayley with Alan Bates.
3. Whistle Down the Wind. In rural England, three children discover a fugitive in their barn and come to believe that he is Jesus. This unique film works as both a religious allegory and an intelligent look into the world of children. Hayley Mills (as the children's leader) and Alan Bates (as the convict) give powerful performances. It was based on the novel by Hayley's mother, Mary Hayley Bell, who also wrote the screenplay. Andrew Lloyd Webber transformed it into a stage musical that never made it to Broadway.

Hayley playing twins.
4. The Parent Trap. In one of her most famous films, Hayley plays 13-year-olds Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick, who meet at camp and discover they’re twins separated at an early age when their parents divorced. It's a ridiculous premise when you think about it, but that doesn't stop The Parent Trap from being one of my favorite Disney movies. Hayley differentiates between the twins nicely, sings a duet, and once again defers to the grown-up stars (Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara) when the plot shifts to their renewed romance.

In Sky West and Crooked.
5. Sky West and Crooked and The Trouble With Angels. Yes, it's a tie for the final spot so we can squeeze in a sixth film. The little-seen Sky West and Crooked (1965) casts Hayley as Brydie White, a seventeen-year-old girl who has mentally blocked out a childhood tragedy. Her widowed, alcoholic mother possesses no parenting skills--leaving Brydie to fend for herself. The townsfolk think the girl is a bit daft (the meaning of the title), but she still finds romance with a gypsy lad (Ian McShane). In the the popular 1966 comedy, The Trouble With Angels, Hayley plays a rebellious girl who clashes with the Mother Superior (Rosalind Russell) at a boarding school run by nuns. It's an amusing film, with Hayley's character constantly getting into trouble for her "scathingly brilliant ideas." However, Hayley brings depth to her character as she quietly watches the nuns and tries to understand their faith and dedication. It's a serious final scene that gives this frothy film its depth--and makes it stand out from similar confections (including its Hayley-less sequel Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows).

Honorable Mentions: The Truth About Spring (if I was listing my five favorite HM movies, this would be one of them); Tiger Bay (I recall Hayley being very good in this, but I haven't seen it in ages); and The Moon-Spinners (sort of a juvenile Hitchcock film--just not as good).

9 comments:

  1. It has been so long since I have seen them that "Tiger Bay" and "Whistle Down the Wind" have smushed together in my memory. I do know that both movies gave me chills and your list is a great reminder of Hayley's talent.

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  2. Rick, you have selected five wonderful performances of a very talented young Hayley Mills. Each one leaves a remarkable imprint on its viewers. I truly enjoyed each selection, for different reasons. I hope this post will encourage many to seek out these films. I think many will not be familiar with the phenomenal "Whistle Down the Wind" and I especially hope they will seek it out. It is quite thought provoking.

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    1. Toto, several folks on Twitter have commented on how much they liked WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND. I've love to see the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical adaptation--which never made it to Broadway.

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  3. Loved the Moon Spinners, but I have real soft spot for Summer Magic. For years I wished my name was Hayley!

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    1. Your comment makes me want to attend the Ugly Bug Ball!

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  4. Great list! Two of these I haven't seen are "Whistle Down the Wind" and "Sky West and Crooked". She certainly showed a lot of talent, and made studio executives a lot of money.

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  5. This seems like a good time to put in a kind word for The Family Way (1966). Hayley plays a newlywed who, along with her new husband (Hywel Bennett) is forced to move in with his parents (John Mills and Marjorie Rhodes); the close quarters prevent them from consummating their marriage. Hayley is as good as ever, though I can't say I'd displace any of the fine performances you cite to make room for this one. I mention it only because the picture is criminally forgotten, and because it contains Hayley's dad Sir John's absolute best-ever performance (and his own personal favorite).

    Great piece, Rick!

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    1. Jim, I agree it's a very underrated film and also notable in that Paul McCartney composed the soundtrack.

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  6. These are spot-on top choices Rick. We have yet to see Sky West and Crooked ( ordering that one today! ) but The Trouble with Angels certainly deserves to be in the top 5 so we're glad you squeezed it in.

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