Thursday, February 21, 2019

In Search of the Castaways...and an Escaped Tiger!

Hayley Mills, her castmates, and some spotty special effects.
If asked to name the three biggest boxoffice hits of 1962, would one of your responses be In Search of the Castaways? Yet, it ranked right behind Lawrence of Arabia and The Longest Day with U.S. moviegoers. That's not surprising when you consider Hayley Mills was at the peak of her stardom and the Disney studio was a well-oiled machine cranking out hit after hit.

Set in the late 19th century, Castaways features Hayley as Mary Grant, an adventurous teenager who sets out with her young brother and a French professor to find her shipwrecked father and his mates. The professor believes he knows the father's location based on a note found in a bottle inside a dead shark. The ever-charming Mary convinces her father's employer, a shipping magnate, to finance the search. Of course, it helps that the gentleman has a son who takes an immediate interest in Mary.

Maurice Chevalier with Hayley.
The quintet's search takes them from England to South America to Australia and New Zealand. Along the way, they cope with an earthquake, a giant condor, a flood, a hungry jaguar, cannibals, an avalanche, an erupting volcano, and George Sanders as a villain. Whew! It's an action-packed 98 minutes, to say the least.

Like Disney's earlier classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Castaways was based on a Jules Verne novel, albeit a less famous one. In tone, though, this family adventure shares more with Disney's Swiss Family Robinson (1960), which starred Hayley's father John. 

Don't set your sights too high and you'll likely enjoy In Search of the Castaways. Despite the many dangers encountered during the expedition, there's never any doubt that Hayley and Co. will always emerge unscathed and the climatic reunion is a given. An added bonus is the presence of screen veterans like Maurice Chevalier, Wilfrid Hyde-White, and a scene-stealing Wilfrid Brambell as a prisoner plotting an escape from the cannibals. Brambell later starred in the British TV comedy Steptoe and Son, which inspired the U.S. series Sanford and Son.

The poster looks a little scary....
Released two years later, Walt Disney's A Tiger Walks did not experience the boxoffice success of Castaways. In many ways, it is a superior film, though it has faded into obscurity (fortunately,  it pops up on YouTube from time to time).

It's a surprisingly engrossing story of a tiger that escapes from its cage when a circus truck stops in a small town for a tire repair. One of the big cat's handlers, who has mistreated the animal, tries to track it down--and ends up mauled to death by the frightened tiger. 

Despite the efforts of the local sheriff (Brian Keith), politicians and journalists try to exploit the tiger for their own means. Even the sheriff's daughter gets unwittingly involved when she makes a plea for the animal's life during an on-location TV appearance. Her involvement leads to a nation-wide campaign fueled by school children to "Save the Tiger."

Pamela Franklin and Kevin Corcoran.
It may seem odd to compare a Disney film to Billy Wilder's cynical Ace in the Hole (1951), but both pictures focus on the theme of journalistic exploitation. And A Tiger Walks sneaks in some dark humor, too, such as when hotel keeper Una Merkel keeps raising her room rates as more and more people flock into the small town in search of a news angle.

The cast is uniformly fine with Keith, Vera Miles, and Pamela Franklin (The Nanny) as the family at the center of the incident. It was the last film appearance for Sabu, who plays a kind-hearted tiger trainer.


  1. Prolific Disney screenwriter Lowell Hawley wrote both of these screenplays. You never know where work will take you.

    As a younger generation becomes more cynical about media/journalism I think a new appreciation for A Tiger Walks is due.

    1. Agreed. Movies with a cynical view of the media are often more relevant now than when they were first released.

  2. Oh... I've always adored Hayley Mills' movies! Unfortunately, I'm too young to have ever seen her movies in the theater, but I've enjoyed many on TV/DVD through the years. No wonder she was such a star back then and drew in such a big audience with her family movies for Disney. She was the Shirley Temple of her era! Thank you for sharing this!

  3. Its interesting to me that the first movie starred Hayley Mills and the second one starred Brian Keith. Hayley played the twin daughters of Brian in the earlier Disney hit movie THE PARENT TRAP. Also Vera Miles worked with Brian three times. First in a Disney movie THOSE CALLOWAYS and then A TIGER WALKS. Then for a change of pace, one could say, they were in the first episode of THE FUGITIVE starring David Janssen, where Brian played the abusive husband of Veras character that was a singer. I just realized I got the order wrong. The Fugitive episode came first. Maybe A Tiger Walks came next.

  4. Thank you for jogging my memory. I saw THE TIGER WALKS in the theater when I was 10 years old. I had completely forgotten about this movie , but the "save the tiger" campaign brought it all back to me. As I recall I enjoyed this movie very much. Thanks again.

  5. I love In Search of the Castaways! It never fails to entertain. And when times are tough, Maurice Chevalier and Hayley Mills singing "Enjoy It!" always comes to my mind. Those Sherman Brothers were such a great song-writing team! Thanks for reminding me of A Tiger Walks, too, it's been years since I have seen that one...and Pamela Franklin is always a treat.

  6. I remember "A Tiger Walks" too, at least I remember seeing it but I don't remember much of the plot. Did they use the "Tiger Rag" tune in their Save the Tiger Campaign?

    1. Yes, but instead of "Hold that Tiger", they were chanting "Save the Tiger". It's amazing how all this is coming back to me. I going to have to look this film up on YouTube, and revisit it.

  7. Hayley Mills was lucky in that she got to work with a lot of great actors-Karl Malden, Richard Egan, Donald Crisp, Adolph Menjou, Jane Wyman, and Agnes Moorehead. That was just her first Disney movie! She also had one of the finest bosses anyone could have-MR. WALT DISNEY!

  8. In Search of the Castaways was my favorite movie when I was a kid and I watched it recently and it's still good!