Lost and gone, lost and gone, as the spectral “jury of the damned” intone in THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER. And so it is with THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM, directed by George Pal and Henry Levin. While the other Cinerama feature,
AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS and HOW THE WEST WAS WON have enjoyed restorations and blu ray releases, this one may never be seen in the form intended or any digital approximation thereof, since the elements have not shown up anywhere. Collectors gathered bits and pieces from around the world and were able to screen a patched-together, Frankenstein’s monster print, with the three different panels of the giant Cinerama frame consisting of different bits in different conditions, varying from near-pristine to lamentable — and a couple of seconds of the thing got destroyed in that screening.
It’s not the tragedy it would be if the film was as good as Pal’s THE TIME MACHINE, which still holds up beautifully. Pal’s weakness for flat, TV lighting, and his uncertainty with script and gags, hold this one back considerably. The plot in the framing structure consists of a wearisome romance between one Grimm Brother and Barbara Eden, and the financial woes and employment troubles of the pair of them. This is a startlingly dull premise for a roadshow family picture, and the last half hour, when a happy ending has been all but guaranteed, is a life-sapping ordeal.
Also, the elves are horrible, charmless things. Worse than Oompa-loompas.
But here are some flaws that don’t matter: one brother is German (Karlheinz Boehm from PEEPING TOM, prompting me to cry “Tell us the one about your magic camera!”) and the other is Lithuanian with an English accent (Laurence Harvey, very good in a role which requires warmth and a childlike quality, both of which you might think are entirely outside his range but NO); two directors, but in fact Levin, brought in to handle the serious parts, is no better at drama or extreme-wide-screen decoupage than Pal, so their virtues and inadequacies blend seamlessly; European and American actors generally mingled randomly — it’s a melting pot, so what?; the stop start of a framing narrative continually interrupted by fantasy fairy tale sequences – since the framework is mainly a drag, the interruptions are ALWAYS WELCOME.
And here are the virtues ~
A great stop-motion dragon, more cartoony than anything Harryhausen would dream of presenting, but perfect for the tone of this show. He breathes cartoon flames, too.
The whole Russ Tamblyn section, which makes exhilarating use of the star’s athleticism and only makes you wish somebody had cast him in a Keatonesque thrill comedy at feature length. Fun perf from Jim Backus as a kind of King Magoo (“You’re just a princess, whereas I’m a king, which is better.”) And we finally discover a reason for Yvette Mimieux: she dances beautifully.
The singing bone. It has a spooky, vocoder voice and it sings about being dead. And it once belonged to Buddy Hacket’s shin.
Some effective use of the wide frame, for rushing movements, and dance, and spectacle. And some very weird uses, like fast pans which make the screen ripple as if it were being projected on Miles Mander’s ribcage. Peculiar shots where each character is in a different part of the cine-triptych, acting in his own little world, and doesn’t seem to be looking at the others, due to the fisheye type distortion of the three lenses looking at the action from different directions. See here for delirious examples from other films.
Fever dream with fantasy characters, genuinely trippy. Best fever hallucination feeling outside of THE TENANT. Although see also the Mirkwood scenes in HOBBIT II.
The sad thing is that people demand perfection from their restorations. I have no doubt that a version of TWWOTBG could be assembled with much tidier joins between the panels, but there would still be visible flaws, some of them glaring, and so there’s no will to embark on such a project.