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A strange little girl finds peace for her troubled heart
confronting the mystery of THE SECRET GARDEN.
Based on the classic novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, this family film is a perennial favorite, in no whit dimmed by more recent, flashier versions. The excellent production values by MGM allow the viewer to experience the weird atmosphere of Misselthwaite Manor and the joyous fecundity of the Garden.
The movie can be enjoyed for the plot alone, but there are other, deeper, levels which can be appreciated as well. Most of the main characters are desperately unhappy when the film begins, but the spontaneous love of life exhibited by the Sowerby family - which leads directly to the discovery of the Garden - ultimately brings about the redemption of several (but not all) of the others. This Joy is not altogether of our world. If the viewer senses the unseen Presence of Something Bright & Beautiful in the Garden, so be it.
The film's main drawback - and this is a small quibble - is the intent to increase tension by adding a possible murder mystery to the plot (How did Colin's mother really die? Did Archibald Craven kill her?). This is quite unnecessary, the story has enough conflict already. But the desire to add additional menace to the Dark Old House theme probably proved irresistible - as well as giving the excellent British actor, Herbert Marshall, more dramatic gristle on which to chew.
The plot revolves, as it should, around the experiences of three children, each peculiar in their own way. Margaret O'Brien, Dean Stockwell & Brian Roper flesh out their roles most agreeably. The adult roles are so well cast that one tends to forget that they are mostly caricatures: Dame Gladys Cooper as the wicked, frustrated housekeeper; Elsa Lanchester as the irrepressibly happy maid; dour Reginald Owen as the elemental gardener. Even the small cameo performances sparkle: Billy Bevan as an overheated British soldier in India; Dennis Hoey as Marshall's stern valet; Aubrey Mather & George Zucco as young Stockwell's doctors; and Norma Varden as his wise nurse.
Movie mavens should recognize Elspeth Dudgeon in the tiny role of Dickon's mother & the wonderful Marni Nixon as the dubbed singing voice of Miss O'Brien - both uncredited.
The film makes very judicious use of Technicolor to heighten appreciation of the distinctive nature of the Garden.
Going in I was not familiar with the enormously popular children's book upon
which it was based, but I have to believe the folks behind this version did
a wonderful job condensing the material and preserving all the elements
which helped make the book such a success. It's even a little hard to
believe it was derived from a book targeted at children as the film deals
with some fairly mature subject matter and has rather an adult, realistic
edge. It's very impressive, certainly a meticulously crafted, heartfelt
production that builds nicely to a moving conclusion. (Plus, the scenes shot
in color are breathtaking.) The very visual director, Fred Wilcox, is
remarkably adept at establishing mood and atmosphere through the ominous use
of sets and lighting. Margaret O'Brien (repeatedly and inaccurately told in
the movie how unattractive she is) who was soon to kiss childhood and
stardom goodbye, is given a great part to play and is extremely appealing.
(As is a very young Dean Stockwell, playing a difficult character who all
too easily could've been unsympathetic.)
Also, I have to quarrel with the other post, where someone asserts that the movie is badly dated. Quite the contrary, the story zips along at a refreshingly swift pace and never lags. The movie should hardly be faulted (and in fact should be commended) for not having flashy MTV style edits every five seconds or a bombastic score. It's a very rewarding experience for both children and adults alike.
Wonderful performances, and beautiful set design, make this film a
definite must-see. No studio could match MGM's lush approach, and the
stylized sets seen in "The Secret Garden" bring the script alive, in a
fashion no "location" filming could have accomplished.
Utilizing a "partial" Technicolor application seen in "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Women," MGM manages to provide an emotional punch when it is most needed.
O'Brien is perfect in the lead, and minor supporting roles are cast to perfection.
A few of the scenes are surprisingly creepy.
Although, today, the film is labeled as "family," it can be surprisingly harsh, with none of the treacle that sinks many a movie intended for a general audience.
This film's sweet imagery and quiet pace made me long for my own secret
garden. It's hard to imagine there ever was a time when people could live
this sort of peaceful solitude, with no telephones, radios or any of modern
life's other annoying distractions. I strongly recommend this movie for
anyone who needs a brief respite from their hectic life.
It will serve as a much needed reminder of the joys of a simpler time,
whether that time ever really existed or not. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm
off to check on available cottage rentals on the moors.
P.S. While this film was originally intended for children, I doubt that any but the brightest and most thoughtful of today's kids will enjoy it, due to it's slow, deliberate pacing and complete lack of comic-book action, though the tantrum scene between Margaret O'Brien and Dean Stockwell will probably grab their attention.
I saw this movie as a little girl almost Margaret's age. The impact of this delightful and moving performance forever remains in my memory. It has been unequaled by other Secret Garden performances...not even coming close! Margaret O'Brien needs to be invited to appear on talk shows, Larry King Live, to give us a chance to see her again.
This is an excellent adaptation of the famous children's book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Margaret O'Brien shines as Mary Lennox, a British girl orphaned in India and sent to live with her nearest relative, a gruff reclusive uncle (Herbert Marshall). A very young Dean Stockwell is quite good as Mary's cousin Colin. The interaction between these children and a third, a local boy named Dickon (Brian Roper) is handled well. The story, told in a straightforward manner is warm and touching, with a number of humorous moments. Highly recommended.
A terrific picture which features some excellent direction!
The film is about a girl from India who moves to England and discovers
her new home habours many secrets.
The thespians are stunning! The acting by O'Brien is amazing, it blew me away, it was that good!!!
The screenplay is excellent, well written!
The direction features a mix of fun and creepy moments, both blending to give an interesting take on a wonderful story!
Overall, a great film for the family!
The Secret Garden was a wonderful story with really great characters. I just saw this one yesterday morning for the first time. Was interested as it listed Dean Stockwell in it and I have enjoyed many things he has done as an adult actor. Especially the character he played in Quantum Leap. I did not realize he played one of the children until the end of the movie and was just blown away. I loved him as Colin Craven. I just did not have a clue that was him. It's amazing how evident his talent shows through at such a young age. And all the others in the film portrayed their characters just as wonderfully as he. This is definitely a movie people of all ages can enjoy.
If you're into life metaphors, or you would just like to see a
wonderfully life affirming film, rent "The Secret Garden" with Margaret
O'Brien, Herbert Marshall, Dean Stockwell, and a marvelous supporting
The book (which I understood was a "girls" book when growing up) and the film have escaped me all these years, until today when I watched it via television off of the Turner Classic Movies screen.
It is fable, metaphor and dark tale all wrapped up into a story that promises tears and heart thumping wonderment that truth can be told. This film fulfills a contract with the viewer that while life may seem to be all falsehood, lies and deceit, that is not so. It is verity that courses through the veins and sometimes it is only a secret undone, or a truth revealed that can redeem life and restore happiness.
This movie is one of the best movies of all time. As the older version of The Secret Garden, you know that it must be the best! Margaret O'Brien is great as Mary- a girl that is spoiled but kind. I especially how they used the color only for the Garden, Just like in The Wizard Of Oz, but this movie is better. I found it a lot better than the 70's, 80's, and 90's versions. This movie is great!
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