Monday, October 4, 2021

The Moon-Spinners: A Disney Film With a Touch of Hitchcock

Hayley Mills as Nikky.
What do you get when you cross an Alfred Hitchcock suspense film with a Disney movie? The answer is something like The Moon-Spinners (1965), an attempt to transition 17-year-old Hayley Mills to more grown-up roles.

The Moon-Spinners opens with musicologist Fran Ferris (Joan Greenwood) and her niece Nikky arriving on the island of Crete. Despite telegraphing ahead to reserve a room, they are initially turned away by The Moon-Spinners Inn. The inn's owner (Irene Pappas) and, more emphatically, her brother Stratos (Eli Wallach) don't want strangers snooping around. However, when a young lad intercedes on behalf of the visitors, they are allowed to stay for a night.

Nikky becomes infatuated with a handsome stranger named Mark (Peter McEnery), who seems to be keeping a watchful eye on Stratos. Later that night, Mark is shot while spying on Stratos and his crony at the Bay of Dolphins. Nikky discovers a wounded Mark in an empty church the next day and agrees to help him--even though he refuses to tell her what he's really doing on the island.

The windmill where Nikky is captive.
It's a familiar Hitchcock plot: a normal person encounters a stranger and gets involved in a tangled adventure with mysterious people (see The 39 Steps, Young and Innocent). Alas, although loosely based on a Mary Stewart novel, The Moon-Spinners' resemblance to a Hitchcock picture ends with the premise. At a length of almost two hours, it moves sluggishly against its colorful backdrop and struggles to manufacture suspense. Indeed, the only scene that generates any legitimate thrills is when Nikky has to escape from a windmill by grabbing hold of one of the arms.

John Le Mesurier.
Eli Wallach makes for a menacing villain, but also a surprisingly tedious one. It's a shame as we know from The Magnificent Seven that he can play a wonderfully despicable baddie. Fortunately, Wallach gets some help in the villain department from John Le Mesurier, who is introduced late in the film as Stratos' boss. His suave English gentleman remains remarkably calm while dealing with his second-rate henchman and his own wife (a delightful Sheila Hancock), whose propensity for liquor results in talking too much.

One wishes that The Moon-Spinners had made better use of Joan Greenwood, Irene Pappas, and former silent film star Pola Negri. These fine actresses are limited to a handful of scenes, though Negri appears to be having fun as an eccentric heiress with a pet cheetah and a penchant for rare jewels.

Hayley Mills never seems to find the right tone as the teenage heroine; her character comes across as too juvenile. Additionally, she and Peter McEnery have little rapport. When he finally kisses her--Hayley's first on-screen smooch!--it comes across as very chaste. Mills followed up The Moon-Spinners with an excellent performance in The Chalk Garden (1964) and later starred in The Trouble With Angels (1966), one of her most beloved films. The handsome McEnery's film career petered out by the end of the decade despite a promising performance in the earlier Victim (1961) and a starring role in Disney's The Fighting Prince of Donegal (1966). 

1 comment:

  1. A little judicious editing and they might have had something more memorable.

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