The Moon-Spinners DVD Review
Theatrical Release: July 8, 1964 / Running Time: 119 Minutes / Rating: PG
Director: James Neilson
Cast: Hayley Mills (Nikky Ferris), Eli Wallach (Uncle Stratos), Peter McEnery (Mark Camford), Pola Negri (Madame Habib), Joan Greenwood (Aunt Francis Ferris), Irene Papas (Sophia), John Le Mesurier (Anthony Gamble), Paul Stassino (Lambis), Michael Davis (Alexis)
The film opens with the two ladies trying to cope on a bus with a dead fish swinging above them. You might expect a wacky tale of misadventures, the type Disney was fond of in the 1960s. But, in fact, The Moon-Spinners is a mostly dramatic and suspenseful story, though not without a sense of humor.
The Ferrises find the owners of The Moon-Spinners hotel, where they plan on staying, noticeably short on hospitality. The owner Stratos is particularly reluctant to have unexpected visitors. Aunt Francis and Nikky then come across a young Englishman named Mark Camford, who also seems to be a part of the strange goings-on.
When Mark doesn't meet Nikky to go swimming as planned, she goes off to see where he is, and what's going on. Mark has been injured, but he won't enlighten Nikky. With the suspicious Stratos on their trail, Nikky and Mark run off and solve a mystery involving stolen emeralds, while simply trying to stay alive.
At the center of the film, Hayley Mills is delightful as always. She's a few years older than Pollyanna and The Parent Trap, but no less charismatic. She does a commendable job as a teen protagonist by neither taking the role too seriously nor forcing out-of-character comedy.
As her counterpart, Peter McEnery's performance is less praiseworthy. His character is not likeable as he should be, and he does not give Mark personality. Hayley can and should do better than this.
Eli Wallach, who made this film between starring in two of cinema's greatest westerns, brings color to his role as the menacing Stratos. Silent film star Pola Negri shows up late in the film as the offbeat Madame Habib. It is the last film of the actress, who in her time was romantically linked to Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, and even Adolf Hitler.
But the star supporting performance of the film belongs to Michael Davis, who plays Alexis, a funny local boy who happens to be Stratos' nephew. Alexis is fond of expressions like "For crying out loud!" (Though it sometimes comes out as "For crying loud out!") This boy is a potent source of comedy, without feeling like a forced element or hindering the plot.
Caricature can work, Alexis proves. It's just amusing when after he rescues Nikky, she goes to hug him and he says "No time make love." Or when he tells Nikky before they attempt a dangerous stunt, "You not fall if you don't be stupid girl. Watch me. I show you how."
If there's one fault to find with the film (besides the unlikable character of Mark), it's that it unnecessarily goes a bit heavy on PG-rated mano-a-mano fighting. This serves no purpose thematically, as its clunky nature belies the suspense it is trying to build.
A bit of a departure from Disney's formula comedies of the '60s, The Moon-Spinners is an exciting and enjoyable adventure. With its scenic photography, mostly strong performances, and intriguing plotting, the film has a great deal of appeal.
VIDEO and AUDIO
The Moon-Spinners is presented in 1.33:1. This is almost certainly NOT its original aspect ratio, which would have been widescreen for theatrical exhibition in the mid-'60s. Nonetheless, framing issues were hard to spot, so it's either an open matte transfer, or a mild cropping of a not very wide film.
Compared to the two Hayley Mills films Disney remastered for Vault Disney release, The Moon-Spinners does look a lot worse. Picture quality is a bit dark and not very clean or sharp. It's not awful, but it is rawther disappointing, all the same. Exterior landscape shots look especially troublesome. The film could use some cleanup, and would benefit from an anamorphic widescreen transfer, matching the original ratio.
Presented in a 2.0 Mono track, The Moon-Spinners does seem to have a pretty lively soundtrack. The suspenseful score doesn't sound dated or flat, like some other live action film's audio presentations. All dialogue is clearly understandable, too.
The disc opens with a 1-minute trailer promoting live action films on DVD, highlighting Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco, Hocus Pocus, Muppet Treasure Island, and The Journey of Natty Gann. More time and effort probably went into making this preview than it did into some of these DVDs advertised. That is the only extra.
Hayley Mills fans, spoiled by the wonderful 2-disc Vault Disney releases bestowed to her first two films for the studio, are sure to be disappointed by this no-frills disc of The Moon-Spinners. The film could use serious remastering work, and the absence of supplemental material is disappointing, especially knowing Hayley's willingness to discuss her Disney films on the Pollyanna and Parent Trap DVDs.
As a film, The Moon-Spinners is easy to recommend as a lively and engrossing '60s production. As a DVD, though, this basic catalogue release from Disney is quite a letdown.
UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Old Live Action (Pre-1980) Films Page
Also starring Hayley Mills: Pollyanna (1960) | The Parent Trap (1961)
Also directed by James Neilson: Bon Voyage! (1962)
Other '60s Disney Films:
Follow Me, Boys! (1966) | Monkeys, Go Home! (1967)
The Misadventures of Merlin Jones (1964) | The Love Bug (1969)
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