Directed by David Swift
Based on the novel “Pollyanna” by Eleanor H. Porter
Screenplay by David Swift
Starring: Hayley Mills, Jane Wyman, Karl Malden, Kevin Corcoran
When her parents die, Pollyanna (Mills) is sent to live with her aunt Polly (Wyman) in a town rife with contention. Now she’s using her own brand of happiness to try to bring change to the townspeople.
This 1960 film is based on the 1913 novel of the same name, written by Eleanor H. Porter (Has Anybody Seen My Gal?). The story was adapted by David Swift (Under the Yum Yum Tree), who would also direct the film. The cast features big names like Jane Wyman (The Lost Weekend) and Karl Malden (On the Waterfront). Disney alum Kevin Corcoran (Old Yeller) is also part of the cast. He was frequently featured in Disney films throughout his childhood. Hayley Mills (The Parent Trap) plays the title role in this movie. At the time this film was released she had only been in one film (Tiger Bay) which had earned her critical acclaim. This movie would start a five-year contract with Walt Disney Studios which would bring her some of the most successful roles of her career. Interestingly enough, this story first came to the movies in 1920. That version became a major success for silent film star Mary Pickford.
It’s only fair to acknowledge that this story is Disney all the way. The melodrama is built into a film that eventually seeks out the charm in every character. The story is centered around a small town with all of the usual quirky characters drifting closer and further away from the young Pollyanna. This allows the title role to really play off of a number of unique people. The tension within the story comes from a number of people as well, but it all comes back to a central figure. This is where the film really saves itself since it helps to maintain the theme and the focus of the main story arc. Overall, this might be a bit schmaltzy for some viewers, but it has a lot of nice things to say.
The acting in this movie is really good. Having people like Jane Wyman and Karl Malden on board really gives this a boost. These two talents keep the film from coming across like a bad television movie. Instead there are a number of powerful moments that bring a more serious tone to an otherwise lighthearted film. Kevin Corcoran is one of the many actors who bring out the lighter moments of the story. His particular brand of childish charm has made him one of the familiar faces of classic Disney movies. All of these actors and many others do just the right thing with their roles.
Perhaps the brightest star in this one was the young Hayley Mills. Despite being relatively unknown, she was given the title role by Walt Disney. Her efforts result in a performance that’s both innocent and mature at the same time. She’s able to hold her own opposite some big names and really add something special to the film. Her performance was good enough to earn her an Oscar for Best Performance by a Juvenile in 1960. Her cheery performance is one of the main reasons that the theme of this film stands out so well.
This movie brings a forgotten era to life with the same sentimentality that brings a special charm to Disneyland’s Main Street. The setting allows the story to feel right at home, and the actors do their part wonderfully. Like all of these early live-action films from Disney, this one isn’t for everyone. I would imagine that the window people this appeals to is growing smaller every year. It’s a family film with a cheerful story that adds just enough drama. If you’re a fan of the other early Disney films, this is one to check out. I would also suggest this one to anyone who hasn’t seen any of those movies. I give this one 3 out of 5 stars.