I attended the same New York City screening of 'Hans Brinker' as IMDb reviewer "tentender", which in fact was at the Paley Center for Media (they haven't called it the Museum of Broadcasting for several years now). The screening was attended by two of the original cast members, singer Peggy King and skater Ellie Sommers (still impressively beautiful a half century later!), and they kindly offered their memories of the production. 'Hans Brinker' was filmed live in a Brooklyn studio filled with 50,000 pounds of ice! It melted quickly under the hot lights necessary for colour filming.
Tentender's review of 'Hans Brinker' is mostly accurate. The camera work, colour photography and production values are remarkable. Hallmark clearly spent a lot of money on this ice-skating musical. (No cheap skates, they.) I was disappointed that cast members Basil Rathbone and John Fiedler were given so little to do. In the post-screening discussion, Peggy King recalled that the entire production was done quickly, with almost no rehearsal time ... and, since she had no prior skating experience, this was especially unsettling for her.
I've never taken Tab Hunter seriously, but in the title role here he skates very impressively. In the discussion afterwards, Ellie Sommers revealed that Hunter had been California regional skating champion during his high-school years.
I wish that I could praise this musical's score. The songs by Hugh Martin are lacklustre. Martin wrote some excellent songs elsewhere in collaboration with Ralph Blane, but as a solo songwriter he doesn't cut any ice (sorry!). Peggy King recalled for us that Martin had prepared for this project by taking a research trip to Holland. I'm no expert on Netherlands music, but Martin's score sounds like some Hollywood tunesmith's version of Dutch folksongs. Which I wouldn't mind if his songs were catchier. Peggy King's songs were written and arranged in operetta-style, which I feel was a poor decision.
The Paley Center's staffer Rebecca Paller told us that 'Hans Brinker' had 60 million viewers for its original 1958 transmission, and that this was the biggest audience for a 'Hallmark Hall of Fame' special for the next 14 years. So then why has this programme been locked away for half a century? 'Hans Brinker' could've done with a bit less glitz and a better score. Despite my quibbles, the cast is excellent and the skating is certainly impressive by any standard. I hope that this recording becomes available for home viewing. Too bad that the sexy ice-skater Belita wasn't in the cast ... or even Sonja Henie. My rating for this one is 7 out of 10.
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