Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a 1971 musical film produced by Walt Disney Productions, which combines live action and animation; it premiered on October 7, 1971. It is based upon the books The Magic Bed Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons and Bonfires and Broomsticks, by Mary Norton.
|Spoiler warning: The following contains plot details about|
the entire movie.
Set in 1940, in the county of Dorset in the West Country of England, Angela Lansbury plays Miss Eglantine Price, a woman who lives close to Corfe Castle. She is secretly a witch and plans somehow to help the country against the Blitz. There is a local group of volunteers called the Home Guard, but they are mostly elderly gentlemen (as all the young men are already away at war) who really couldn't provide much for a defense should Germany ever decide to invade. So Miss Price is all the more motivated to finding a solution with magic.
To her distaste, however, she is assigned three young siblings from London to protect them from the Blitz bombings. The three, Charlie (Ian Weighill), Carrie (Cindy O'Callaghan) and Paul Rawlins (Roy Snart), discover that Miss Price is a witch when she recklessly takes off into the sky on her new broomstick after they try to escape back to London. The next morning at breakfast, Charlie tries to blackmail Miss Price by threatening to reveal her magic secrets. Miss Price demonstrates her powers by transforming Charlie into a white rabbit, who is subsequently chased about the cottage by Miss Price's black cat, Cosmic Creepers. Rather than be blackmailed Miss Price decides to win over their favor instead by giving the children one of her spells.
Miss Price shows the children her secret room, where she demonstrates the famous travelling spell, via a bedknob which Paul pulled off Miss Price's late father's brass bed. The bed is now able to go anywhere that the spellcaster (Paul) wants. They are interrupted when Miss Price receives a letter from Professor Emilius Browne (David Tomlinson), the headmaster of the College of Witchcraft in London, which explains that the college has closed due to the war, leaving her without the final lesson: the spell for substitutionary locomotion - making inanimate objects move of their own accord.
Miss Price and the children use the bed to fly to London, to find Mr. Browne and get the spell. They discover that Mr. Browne is only a conman and a common non-magical illusionist. Miss Price tells Mr. Browne her problems and he takes her and the children to "his" town house 8 Winchfield Rd, Lewisham...via the bed. The house is in fact in an abandoned part of bombed-out London. The area has been cleared out due to an undetonated German bomb. After the local residents cleared out, Mr. Browne moved in.
The children explore the house and come across a nursery, in which Paul finds a children's picture book about the Lost Isle of Naboombu. He likes it so much that he takes it with him. In the library, Miss Price searches for the old book from which Mr. Browne got his spells, but when he distracts her with his plans to open up a magic show with her as his fabulous assistant, she changes him into a rabbit and makes him get the book for her, which is torn in half.
They go to Portobello Road's marketplace, where Mr. Browne last saw the other half of the book. After the market closes, Miss Price and Mr. Browne meet a knife-wielding thug named Swinburne (Bruce Forsyth) and his boss, The Bookman, who has the other half of the book. Unfortunately, the spell is not in either of the parts: the paragraph, when completed, only tells the spell's legend, not the spell itself.
The Bookman explains to Miss Price that the book once belonged to Astoroth, a legendary wizard who used his magic to make animals he had to emulate human-like qualities and behaviors. But they revolted, killed Astoroth, stole much of his magical spells & items, and escaped to the Isle of Naboombu. An island the Bookman says cannot be found on any map- that is until Paul shows him the children's book he kept from the nursery. The Bookman tries to grab Paul's book, but they escape on the bed, and to the mystical island.
They crash land in the nearby lagoon and find an animated realm where fish can talk, and they can breathe under the water. Miss Price and Mr. Browne compete in an underwater dance contest, singing the film's most famous song "Bobbing Along On the Bottom of the Beautiful Briny Sea". They win first prize, but suddenly partying turns to peril when fish hooks come down and grab the bed, taking it and the children for a ride. Miss Price and Mr. Browne grab hold and follow after.
On shore, a bear in a sailor suit is fishing and pulls the bed to shore. He is about to throw the humans back into the water, when Paul interrupts, showing him the book and demanding to see the king, as it's the law. The land is called the Island of Naboombu. The bear reluctantly takes them to meet the king's secretary, a Secretary Bird. The bird leads Mr. Browne into the king's tent after he reveals the king likes football, but lacks a referee. Mr. Browne emerges with the king, who turns out to be a lion. The group soon notice that the king is wearing a medallion: the Star of Astoroth, which has the words to the sought after spell engraved upon it.
The king takes the group to the island's football stadium, where the humans sit in his private box with the secretary bird. The king makes Mr. Browne the referee, while he himself participates in the match, doffing his cloak to reveal a football kit. The Royal Cup match between the True Blues and the King's club called the Dirty Yellows then kicks off.
After a lot of cartoon rough play, of which Mr. Browne is the biggest recipient, the game finally ends when a rhino accidentally bursts the ball with his horn and sends it spinning into the air. The king roars angrily, and sends all of the animals flying into the opposing team's goal. The ball floats down and the king blows it into the goal, winning the match.
The humans steal the star medallion from the king, turning him into a rabbit. They read the magic words and wrap it up in a handkerchief. The group use the bed to return home, only to discover that the medallion has disappeared; items cannot be taken from one world to another.
It turns out however the words had been in Paul's book (which somehow WAS able to travel between worlds - possibly because it was real and belonged in the real world to begin with, whereas the medallion was from the fantasy world) all along, allowing Miss Price to attempt the spell. She is unable to control it however; many objects inside her house come to life, including her nightgown (which Mr. Browne dances with), a pair of gloves (that punches him for dancing with the nightgown), and Charlie's Sunday trousers.
Later that night, Miss Price laments her inability to control the spell and is finally cheered up when, while juggling apples, Mr. Browne drops one and splatters his face with gravy at the dinner table. After dinner, Mr. Browne is awkwardly confronted by the children as being their "Dad", whereupon he hurriedly leaves for the train station.
During the night, the Germans launch a secret raid on England, taking over Miss Price's house and using it as their headquarters. Annoyed with her, they hold her captive in the village castle.
At the train station, Browne sees two Germans cutting the phone lines and successfully wards them off. He then sneaks back to the house to find it overrun with Germans. Upon discovering that Miss Price and the children are no longer there, he is chased into Miss Price's workship by two Germans. Browne is able to turn himself into a rabbit just as they corner him and escapes.
Presumably following Miss Price's scent trail, Mr. Browne finds her at the castle. He urges her to use the substitutionary locomotion spell to bring all the suits of armor and medieval weapons in the castle to life to attack the Germans. This time, Miss Price is able to control the spell and weapons from ancient Viking times to British imperial redcoats come to life, overpowering the guards outside the door, and marching in full force against the Germans.
Miss Price leads the ensuing battle while riding a broom found in the castle. The Germans are dismayed to find that no matter how many bullets they fire, it has little effect on the magical army, only slowing them down long enough to empty out bullets from inside their armor.
Eventually, the Germans flee in panic. The German colonel, who earlier had scoffed at Miss Price's magic, now tells his men to retreat, stopping only long enough to plant charges to blow up what they have to leave behind. The explosion destroys Miss Price's workshop causing her to immediately fall from the sky and the magical army of knights to fall where they stood. At this point, the Home Guard, hearing the gunfire, arrives at the beach to drive the Germans into the sea.
Miss Price admits upon inspection of her ruined workshop that she believed she could never have really been a proper witch, declaring that if anyone felt the way she did about "poison dragon's liver" (one of her necessary magic ingredients), they had no business being a witch.
A newspaper later reports the events of that day vaguely and unclear, speaking only of "mysterious happenings" that are largely ignored and anecdotal.
Mr. Browne enlists to join the British Army, promising to return. As he departs down the road, Charlie complains that they won't have any more fun, to which Paul replies "we still have this, don't we?", pulling out the magical glittering bedknob.
Differences between the movie and the book
In the book:
- The children go to their mother's and the police station instead of Portobello Road.
- The children stay with their aunt in the first part instead of Ms. Price, with whom they stay in the second part. The aunt is the one with the bed.
- There were cannibals, not animals, on the island, which is named Ueepe, not Naboombu.
- The children go back in time to fetch Emelius Jones, whereas in the movie, Emelius Browne is a contemporary and no time travel is necessary.
- There is no reference to World War II at all.
- Emelius Jones is a necromancer.
- Carrie, spelt "Carey" in the book, is the eldest child.
- Eglantine Price remains with Emelius Jones in the past at the end of the second book, where they wed.
Release and later restoration
Though originally intended to be a large-scale epic holiday release, similar to the original release of Mary Poppins, after its original premiere it was decided instead to cut the film down from its near 2 and one half-hour length (while the liner notes on the soundtrack CD reissue in 2002 claims it was closer to 3 hours) to a more manageable (to movie theaters) 2 hours. Several songs were removed entirely, as was a minor subplot involving Roddy MacDowall's character, and the central dance number, "Portobello Road", was cut down by more than 6 minutes. Upon rediscovering a cut song, "Step in the Right Direction," on the original soundtrack album, it was decided to attempt to reconstruct the original running length. Most of the film material was found, but some segments of "Portobello Road" had to be reconstructed from work prints with digital re-coloration to attempt to match the film quality of the main content, and the footage for "Step" was never located (as of 2005, it presumably remains lost). The new edit included several newly discovered songs, including an Angela Lansbury solo performance, "Nobody's Problems". The number had been cut before the premier of the film. Angela only made a demo recording, singing with a solo piano as the orchestrations would be added when the picture was scored. When the song was cut the orchestrations had not yet been added therefore it was finally orchestrated and put together when it was placed back into the film.
In assembling the new edit, the soundtrack for some of the spoken tracks were unrecoverable. Therefore, Angela Lansbury and Roddy McDowell were brought back in to re-dub their parts while ADR dubs were made by other actors for those who were unavailable. Even though David Tomlinson was still alive when the film was being reconstructed, he was unavailable to provide ADR for Emilius Browne. Some sound-alikes were criticized for not closely matching the original actors. Elements of the underscoring were either moved or extended when it was necessary to benefit the "new" material. The extended version of the film was released on DVD in 2001 for the 30th anniversary of the film. When the film was screened for the Academy after its restoration, the crowd gave a standing ovation after the song "Nobody's Problems" was featured.
The reconstruction also marks the first time the film was presented in stereophonic sound. Though the musical score was recorded in stereo and the soundtrack album was presented that way, the film was released in mono sound.
- Angela Lansbury — Eglantine Price
- David Tomlinson — Mr. Emelius Browne
- Roddy McDowall — Mr. Jelk
- Sam Jaffe — Bookman
- John Ericson — Colonel Heller
- Bruce Forsyth — Swinburne
- Cindy O'Callaghan — Carrie Rawlins
- Roy Snart — Paul Rawlins
- Ian Weighill — Charlie Rawlins
- Tessie O'Shea — Mrs. Hobday
- Arthur Gould-Porter — Captain Ainsley Greer (as Arthur E. Gould-Porter)
- Ben Wrigley — Portobello Road Workman
- Reginald Owen — General Sir Brian Teagler
- Cyril Delevanti — Elderly Farmer
- Rick Traeger — German Sergeant
Note: Although the film is in mono sound recording, the soundtrack for the film was recorded in stereo. These songs include:
- "The Old Home Guard" also known as the Home Guard Song.
- "The Age of Not Believing"
- "With a Flair" (only in the 1996 reconstruction)
- "Don't Let Me Down"
- "Portobello Road" (see Portobello Road)
- "The Beautiful Briny" (originally written for, but not used in, Mary Poppins)
- "Substitutiary Locomotion"
- "A Step In The Right Direction"
- "Nobody's Problems"* (only in the 1996 reconstruction)
- "Solid Citizen"* (written for the film but only demos of the song exist on bootlegs)
- "Fundamental Element" * (written for the film but only demos of the song exist on bootlegs)
A song not in any current version of the film but intended to be so, as it was on the soundtrack album, was "A Step In The Right Direction" Ironically, it was this presence that was instrumental in the studio's decision to reconstruct the longer cut. Nevertheless, several moments in the film include underscoring of the song.
Selected foreign titles
- Dutch: Heksen en Bezemstelen
- French: L'Apprentie Sorcière (The Apprentice Witch)
- German: Die tollkühne Hexe in ihrem fliegenden Bett
- Hebrew: המיטה המעופפת (The Flying Bed)
- Italian: Pomi d'ottone e manici di scopa
- Maltese: Is-Sodda Ttir
- Portuguese (Brazil): Se Minha Cama Voasse (If My Bed Could Fly)
- Spanish (Latin America): Travesuras de una Bruja (Mischiefs of a Witch)
- Spanish (Spain): La Bruja Novata (The Newbie Witch)
- Swedish: Sängknoppar och kvastskaft
- Bedknobs and Broomsticks at the Internet Movie Database
- Bedknobs and Broomsticks 30th Anniversary Edition DVD Review at UltimateDisney.com