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Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Moon-Spinners ( 1964 )

In 1963, Hayley Mills, one of the most popular child stars of the decade, set off for Greece to star in Walt Disney's family-friendly adaptation of Mary Stewart's thrilling novel "The Moon-Spinners".

Mills stars as Nikky Ferris, a young girl who is traveling throughout Europe with her Aunt Frances ( Joan Greenwood ) to record folk songs for the BBC. They arrive at The Moon-Spinners Inn on the island of Crete where they stumble into a dangerous web of intrigue involving a handsome young Englishman ( Peter McEnery ) and a desperate jewel smuggler named Stratos ( Eli Wallach ).

The Moon-Spinners is a delightful mystery-adventure that combines an exciting plot with marvelous Cretian atmosphere. In fact, it is the location filming and exotic setting of The Moon-Spinners that truly lends the film its appeal. 

"They cannot have lied. The stars cannot lie." - Stratos
"Everybody lies when it serves their purpose, even the stars." - Madame Habib
Mary Stewart was a prolific British novelist who developed the romantic-mystery genre. Her books, most of which took place in exotic locations throughout Europe, always featured a young heroine who would find romance in the midst of a dangerous situation. 

Hayley Mills was quickly growing out of her childhood film roles and this was an ideal production that helped transition her into more mature teen roles. Her character Nikki is head-strong and capable, yet vulnerable enough to need to be rescued by the handsome tourist Mark, portrayed by Peter McEnery. This young English actor was making his American film debut in The Moon-Spinners and - while he didn't have the charm of James MacArthur or Kurt Russell - he was perfect for this role. Disney liked this affable young gentleman so much that he starred him in another feature the following year: The Fighting Prince of Donegal. 

Like most Disney films, The Moon-Spinners features an excellent cast of supporting players. Eli Wallach, with his dark glaring eyes, is ideal as Uncle Stratos, a "much lousy man" who would willingly commit murder in his desperation for wealth. The beautiful Grecian actress Irene Papas is given a small but memorable role as Stratos' sister, the owner of The Moon-Spinners Inn. 

Joan Greenwood, with her delicious purring voice, is Nikki's aunt. She spends most of her vacation worrying about Nikki's whereabouts, not even knowing that there is a crime being committed right before her eyes. Also in the cast is Greenwood's husband Andre Morrell in a brief part as the captain of The Minotaur, the fabulous yacht owned by Madame Habib, a role that was portrayed by the great silent film star Pola Negri. Walt Disney personally coaxed her out of retirement to make an appearance in the film and she delivers a grand performance.
John Le Mesurier is perfect as the English consulate who lives in a palatial manor overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with his discontented wife, the tipsy "Angel of Eastbourne" portrayed by Sheila Hancock. Paul Stassino ( Thunderball ) is once again playing a villain but most entertaining of all the secondary roles in that of Alexis, delightfully portrayed by Michael Davis. The young Greek lad who aids Nikki and Mark in their escape is actually an American boy! Fancy that. 

The Moon-Spinners is a family favorite in our household, a film that we always seem to watch shortly after New Year's Day. It is unlike other Disney films of the era because it doesn't feature much humor or any musical interludes but it does feature plenty of adventure ( the windmill escape and the fantastic ride through the King Minos parade in a hearst are highlights ) and a memorable musical score by Ron Grainer. “The Moon-Spinners Song” is especially lovely, evoking the sounds of a traditional Greek folk melody. It was written by Terry Gilkyson and is beautifully performed over the title credits by Gilkyson, Carson and Van Dyke Parks and other members of the folk group The Easy Riders. 

3 comments:

  1. I hadn't seen The Moonspinners in years when TCM took it out of their Disney vault last year. Oh, what a wonderful time I had. I was a kid again, only this time I knew who Pola Negri was!

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  2. As you know, I'm a Hayley Mills fan so I even own a copy of THE MOON-SPINNERS. As you noted, it's a fun story, great location, and a grand cast. My only complaint is with Peter McEnery, who seems too lightweight and not worthy of Hayley. Maybe I was just jealous--he also got to star with another one of my favorite actresses, Susan Hampshire, in THE FIGHTING PRINCE OF DONEGAL.

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    1. It is indeed a fun film....and I, too, thought McEnery was out of place when I first saw the film but then his portrayal of the character grew on me after multiple viewings. James MacArthur ( my favorite ) would have made the film much more fun while McEnery lent the film its more serious tone.

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