Thursday, November 29, 2018

Two Disney Rareties: Rob Roy and Emil

Richard Todd as Rob Roy.
Richard Todd made three British-filmed historical adventures for Walt Disney in the 1950s: The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (!952); The Sword and the Rose (1953); and Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue (1953). James Robertson Justice co-starred in all three and Glynis Johns, one of my favorite actresses, appeared in the last two. Our subject today, Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue, was loosely based on the life of Scottish folk hero Robert Roy MacGregor.

It opens with Rob Roy (Todd) leading an attack in the Highlands against the much larger army of King George I. Taken prisoner by the sympathetic Duke of Argyll (Justice), Rob Roy later escapes with the help of his comrades--and his mother. He marries his sweetheart Helen Mary (Johns), but is arrested again on his wedding night.

Glynis Johns as Helen Mary.
Having replaced Argyll, the despicable Duke of Montrose (Michael Gough) promises amnesty to all the Scotsmen except for the MacGregors. But if Montrose thinks he can keep Rob Roy as a prisoner, he is mistaken....

Colorful and passionate, Rob Roy is a likable tale of derring-do. Todd, in full beard, and Johns make an appealing pair and there are plenty of fights for action fans. Except for Kidnapped and The Fighting Prince of Donegal, Disney moved away from these costume pictures--and it's really a shame. Incidentally, the soldiers depicted in the film--to include the sweeping opening scene--were real-life Scottish warriors who had returned home from the Korean War.

Made just over a decade later, Emil and the Detectives (1964) is a more traditional Walt Disney family film. It's based on a 1929 children's novel by Erich Kästner. Bryan Russell stars as Emil (we're shown it's pronounced a-mill), who sets off by bus to visit his aunt in Berlin. During the trip, a pickpocket steals an envelope of money intended for Emil's aunt. When Emil realizes the money has been stolen, he's too embarrassed to report the crime.

Gustav advises the younger Emil.
Fortunately, he runs into Gustav, an industrious lad of many professions--one of which turns out to be detective work.With Emil as a client, Gustav and his operatives track the pickpocket to a hotel where he meets with two other criminals--whom the boys call "the Skrinks." They quickly learn that the Skrinks are up to no good, but just what is it?

Two of the three Skrinks.
Released after Mary Poppins, Emil and the Detectives is an unusual Disney film in that it features a no-name cast (except for villain Walter Slezak). It did, however, play a major part in turning young Roger Mobley into a TV star. As the charismatic Gustav, Mobley is easily the most talented of the young cast in Emil and Walt Disney took notice. One year later, he cast Mobley in the lead role in "The Adventures of Gallegher," which aired on The Wonderful World of Color. This two-part mystery about an aspiring teenage newspaper reporter in the Old West was immensely popular and generated several sequels.

As for Emil and the Detectives, it's an enjoyable outing with some unexpected quirky touches. Slezak has a grand time as a cultured criminal who stops to have caviar and wine in the middle of executing a crime. The young actors acquit themselves well, too, especially Cindy Cassell as Emil's cousin Pony, who publishes her own column and wants a scoop in return for her silence.

Emil and the Detectives was not a hit and faded into obscurity quickly, although it was serialized in 1977 on The Mickey Mouse Club under the title The Three Skrinks.

Kästner's novel has been filmed multiple times. Many critics consider the 1931 German version, written by Billy Wilder, to be the best adaptation. Alas, I have not seen it.


  1. The Todd trio for Disney and I are old friends. However, I don't remember Emil and the Detectives at all. I shall have to seek it out.

  2. It's always surprising to me to see how many films Disney made. Their output is truly impressive.

  3. Disney made quite a few films in England at this time because the country had a law prohibiting American studios from taking home box office receipts from any U.S. film that played in their theaters. It was typical of American studios to then take that money and spend it in England by filming productions there, utilizing many fine actors and craftsmen. A lot of nice little movies came about this way. "Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow" is another good Disney example that comes to mind.

  4. The old German version is the best. It is worth hunting down. Among other things it is a visual scrapbook of pre-war Berlin locations.