The first good adaptation of Pippi Longstocking, and historically important, too!
This episode of THE SHIRLEY TEMPLE SHOW (AKA: SHIRLEY TEMPLE'S STORYBOOK), the first episode of 1961, was the 2nd movie/TV adaptation of Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking books, but is also very historically important; it was the first American adaptation, the first Pippi done in color, and the very first adaptation where Pippi is played by a child actress, as opposed to an adult (as was the case with the very first adaptation, the 1949 B&W Swedish film PIPPI LONGSTOCKING, which starred then 26 year old Viveca Serlachius in the title role). One could even say that this teleplay would set the pace for the more well-known Swedish TV series starring Inger Nilsson 8 years later! Shirley Temple hosts the story, about a little girl named Susan Scholfield, who, along with her little sister Betsy, is frustrated about having to go to bed so early, and wants to imagine a wonderful little girl, identical in appearance to herself, who's free from all grown-up rules, so she tells Betsy about the girl she imagined named Pippi Longstocking! And the story proper begins from there.
Pippi, her pet monkey Mr. Nilsson, and her friends Tommy and Annika are all accounted for. Pippi's horse, unnamed in the books, is called Horatio here. The teacher, Ms. Lindquist, is a combination of the unnamed schoolteacher (from the first two Pippi books) and the cruel teacher Ms. Rosenblom (from PIPPI IN THE SOUTH SEAS). As in the book, the two policemen who confront Pippi are unnamed. The two sibling robbers, "Scarface" Seymour and "Mad Dog" Jerome, are actually renamed versions of Thunder-Karlsson and Bloom (only the former has an added scar on his face, as per his new name).
The story is very close to the books, as is Pippi's very appearance (minus the freckles!), but there are some liberties taken with the story. The setting, of course, is changed from Sweden to the US, and still works pretty well. However, Pippi's house, Villa Villekulla, is not referred to by name (despite its somewhat faithful appearance), and neither is the island, Kurrekurredutt Island, which her father Captain Efraim Longstocking ended up living on. This version of Pippi is shown to be extremely intelligent, answering Mrs. Lindquist's questions flawlessly; a far cry from the Pippi we all know! (She attributes this intelligence to staying away from school and learning everything from her world travels firsthand.) Pippi can also fly, Peter Pan style (at least land very softly onto the ground). And in the climax, Captain Longstocking appears in his cannibal king clothing straight away, and comes along in an offscreen jungle-made zeppelin (as opposed to his ship, the Hoppetosa/Hoptoad, from the books). Even more than the 1988 film with Tami Erin did, they cut right to the chase with Pippi sadly having to leave Villa Villekulla with her pappa on the spot, but a little twist is added to the ending to keep things from being *too* sad! (The Susan Scholfield portion of the story has a funny conclusion, too!) Veteran Mousketeer Gina Gillespie did a great job in the title role, as well as playing her aforementioned alter-ego, Susan Scholfield. (Aptly, Gina's younger sister Jennifer played Susan's younger sister Betsy.) Also of note is Swedish wrestler/actor Tor Johnson (BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, etc.), diversifying into more family-friendly territory in one of his last roles as the circus strongman, the Mighty Adolf (a character from the books), and he speaks a lot in this role, too! Tor gets my vote for the best portrayal of that character in any adaptation, hands down. (I can only imagine him squaring off with Inger Nilsson's Pippi, considering they're both Swedish!) The rest of the cast is good, too! Gregory Irvin and Kelly Smith were very good as Tommy and Annika, and looked very accurate to their appearance from the books, rare for an adaptation. (Tommy was dark-haired, and Annika was blonde.) Willard Waterman plays Pippi's father Captain Longstocking, and does a pretty good job with the role. (He also plays Susan's father, along with Barbara Eiler as the mother.) Renie Riano played Ms. Lindquist as comically strict but very well-meaning. Ted DeCorsia and William Edmondson are the two police officers who set out to take Pippi to the children's home, and Bernard Kates and James Horan play the two robbers "Scar Face" and "Mad Dog".
This TV episode is readily available on DVD (double-featured with an adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's KIM), so I recommend this to Pippi fans. Despite the aforementioned liberties to the story, this is a very worthy adaptation! Especially for its historical importance.
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