Friday, September 22, 2017

James MacArthur and Janet Munro - A Disney Duo

Every once in a while when you are watching a film you probably find yourself proclaiming, "Hey! These two actors also played together in [fill in the blank]!" 
Well, like you, the bloggers behind The Flapper Dame and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies experienced this, too, and so they decided to launch The Duo Double Feature Blogathon giving us clever film buffs a chance to compare the different characters and films of a duo of our choice. I chose James MacArthur and Janet Munro. They were an adorable young couple who starred together in only two Walt Disney films: Third Man on the Mountain ( 1959 ) and Swiss Family Robinson ( 1960 ), and then went on their own separate acting paths, with MacArthur focusing on television work and Monro attempting to alter her wholesome image with spicier British dramas. 

James MacArthur, the son of screenwriter Charles MacArthur and actress Helen Hayes, made his Disney debut in Light in the Forest ( 1958 ), opposite Carol Lynley, and he proved himself to be a talented and very personable actor. Walt Disney liked his honest face and natural acting ability, and young girls liked his rugged good looks and shy demeanor. He was an ideal hero for Disney's live-action features. 

Third Man on the Mountain was his second feature for the studio and Janet Munro was selected to portray his sweetheart Lizbeth in the film. Munro caught the eye of Disney when she came to audition among 300 other actresses for the part of Katie O'Gill, the green-eyed winsome Irish lass in Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1959 ). She had an appealing spunky nature and was quickly signed to a five-picture contract for the studio.

Third Man on the Mountain tells the story of a boy who joins a famous mountaineer's climbing expedition in the hopes of discovering a route to reach the top of the Matterhorn, which was long deemed insurmountable. His mother and uncle aim to curtail the boy's desire to become a mountain guide but he is encouraged to pursue his passion by two dear friends, hotel owner Theo ( Laurence Naismith ) and Lizbeth ( Munro ). 

MacArthur's character, Rudi, is a bright lad who has a love for mountaineering ingrained in his heart. His father died attempting to find a path to the Matterhorn's pinnacle, and so he understands his family's fear for him when he takes off climbing but, at the same time, he knows that this is his passion and what he was meant to do in life. He is brave enough to stand up against the other mountain guides who ridicule him as a "mere boy" but he finds he must curb his impetuousness during his climbs, especially when it endangers the lives of those whom he is guiding. 
Munro's character, Lizbeth, is only happy when Rudi is happy. Together with Theo, she helps Rudi train for his climb up the Matterhorn, keeps him focused on climbing, and also strengthens his confidence. She is a sweet girl who always has a smile on her face. She is also frank and fearless. She tells Rudi exactly what she thinks of him if he fails in any way to live up to the hero she believes him to be. 

MacArthur and Monro's second film together came just a year later. Swiss Family Robinson was an adventurous re-working of Johann Wyss' famous 1812 novel about a family ( John Mills, Dorothy McGuire, Tommy Kirk, MacArthur, and Kevin Corcoran ) who get shipwrecked on an uncharted island. Janet Munro's character, Roberta, shows up unexpectedly when she and her father arrive on the island as prisoners of pirates.  

MacArthur's character, Fritz, is quite a different fellow compared to Rudi. He is practically a grown man; he displays admirable leadership qualities, is willing to work hard with his family to make the island a decent home, and demonstrates good judgment in difficult situations. Roberta admires these qualities, but at times he seems too proud and cock-sure of himself, and so she amuses herself with his younger brother Ernst ( Kirk ), sparking jealous feelings between the brothers. 

Roberta isn't the carefree country girl of Third Man in the Mountain. She is a well-bred young lady from London's society. To her the prospect of choosing to live in seclusion on a deserted island is preposterous. But Fritz's pioneering spirit and his hard-working ways eventually win her over and, at the end of the time, we are to suppose that they wed. 

A wedding between MacArthur and Monro is something that I for one would have liked to have seen happen in real life because they made such a lovely couple onscreen. Offscreen, there was no spark of romance between them ( Munro was actually married at the time of filming Third Man on the Mountain ), but had Munro or MacArthur pursued their careers with Walt Disney studios I'm sure they would have been teamed up again.

9 comments:

  1. I really have to try and give old fashioned live action Disney films a try- I mean I adore their animated films- but I really have no classic live action on my resume except for parent trap and mary poppins!!

    If they are as cute as you say they are )that pic of them in the rain- adorable!!!!) I'm gonna have to seek them out- and I totally get the whole "WHy not in real life" thing- So many couples I wish were together in real life- I get the feeling!!!

    Thanks for sharing this couple and for choosing to write in this blogathon!! See you round!!! Soon I hope!! Emily- aka the Flapper Dame

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    1. You certainly do have to try the Disney live-action films, they're great fun! Between the two, I'd recommend starting with Swiss Family Robinson. Otherwise good intro Disney film is The Shaggy Dog ( one of the biggest box-office hits of the 1950s ) and That Darn Cat, fun caper with Hayley Mills.

      Thanks for hosting the blogathon, it was a great idea!

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  2. I am a big Janet Munro fan; she could play tomboy or sexy equally well (for an example of the latter, check out her tasteful bedroom scene with Edward Judd in THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE). I quite like both films you reviewed. SWISS FAMILY is one of my favorite Disney adventures, while THIRD MAN is an enjoyable excursion (although it has played on TCM, it was relegated to late night, I think). I agree that Janet and James MacArthur made an engaging on-screen couple.

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    1. I remember seeing her in The Day the Earth Caught Fire, but at the time I hadn't warmed up to the idea of Munro playing sultry. She was also in The Horsemasters so I guess that makes her a 4-time Disney player, right up there with the best of them.

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  3. I like this article. You are an excellent writer. You chose a charming topic for this blogathon. I hope to read more of your articles in the future.

    By the way, I would like to invite you to join my blogathon, "The Great Breening Blogathon:" https://pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com/2017/09/07/extra-the-great-breening-blogathon/. It is celebrating the life and work of Joseph Breen, the enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code between 1934 and 1954. As we honor his birthday, which is on October 14, we will be discussing and analyzing the Code era, breening films from other eras, and writing about our own ideas for classic movies. One doesn't have to agree with the Code and Mr. Breen to enjoy that! I hope you will do me the honor of joining. We could really use your talent! One possible topic would be to write about another film which Mr. MacArthur and Miss Munro could have made together. They had a very wholesome, Codish image, and Disney kept up Code standards in the Shurlock era.

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

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    1. Sounds good! We'll just need a little time to think up a topic. Glad you enjoyed our article. :-)

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  4. Dear Diana and Connie,

    Thank you very much for joining. I'll put you on the roster as to be announced for now. If you need any help thinking of a topic, I'll be happy to give you some suggestions. We have something in common! PEPS was started by my sister, Rebekah, and me, so we are both film-loving sisters!

    Yours Hopefully,

    Tiffany Brannan

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  5. We just rewatched The Swiss Family Robinson yesterday -- I'm so happy it's a favorite with my kids, because I love it too :-) I haven't seen Third Man on the Mountain yet, but only because I just haven't had time -- I got it for my birthday and will watch it one of these days!

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  6. "young girls liked his rugged good looks and shy demeanor" - this definitely describes me lol. I had a crush on him in Swiss Family Robinson. I recently saw him in Spencer's Mountain (1963). I had no idea he was Helen Hayes son! All I can say is, Munro was very lucky to act opposite him twice. I'll have to check out their other film together.

    Thanks for bringing a Disney duo to the blogathon!!

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