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A Gift for Heidi (1958)

Approved | | Family, Drama
This movie is about one summer holiday in the life of the famous children's book character Heidi, the orphan girl who lives with her grandfather (whom Heidi, like everybody else including ... See full summary »



(original story), (screenplay) | 3 more credits »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
... Heidi
... Alm Uncle
... Peter
... Doc.
Erik Jelde ... Ernst
... Mr. Binder
Oswald Ursteins ... Carlo
Susan Salnio ... Clara (as Susan Saino)
Karin Rose ... Louise
Harold Benedict ... Don
... Dr. Roth
Paul McClintock ... Gen. Manby
Hap Hanson ... Col. Porter (as 'Hap' Hanson)
C. Fowler ... Capt. McBee
Edwin Anderson ... Lt. Williams


This movie is about one summer holiday in the life of the famous children's book character Heidi, the orphan girl who lives with her grandfather (whom Heidi, like everybody else including the cast list, calls "Alm Uncle") on the outskirts of a small village in the Alps. Heidi has a gift of three carved wooden figures made by a craftsman neighbour: Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. However, rather than gold, frankincense, and myrrh, her grandfather and the village doctor gradually teach Heidi the idea that the gifts they bring are faith, charity and hope. Adventures include Heidi entering her friend Peter for a singing competition without telling him; befriending a rich but lonely man from the big city who is an associate of the father of Heidi's little girl friend who comes to stay for the holidays; and joining Peter on an expedition up the highest mountain in the neighbourhood, in a bid to rescue a soldier and his bride who on their honeymoon decide (against the advice of the children ... Written by IPH

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Family | Drama


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1.37 : 1
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Ye Olde Merrie Switzerlande
25 May 2013 | by See all my reviews

We Brits sometimes complain that Hollywood tends to give a simplistic, sentimentalised picture of our country, painting it as Ye Olde Merrie Englande where everyone is either an aristocrat living in a stately home or a contented peasant living in an idyllic thatched cottage with roses round the door, and to ignore the complexities of real British society. "A Gift for Heidi", however, shows that we are not the only European country to suffer such cinematic misrepresentation. Johanna Spyri's children's novel "Heidi" was originally published in 1880, but this film takes her characters and transfers them to the Switzerland of the 1950s.

Or ostensibly it does. We are supposed to tell it is the 1950s from such modern inventions as motor buses and helicopters, but most of the characters seem to be living in Ye Olde Merrie Switzerlande, a land where everyone seems to be a contented peasant living in an idyllic mountain chalet and never wearing anything but traditional folk costume, a land of yodelling, of village woodcarvers, of ox-drawn wagons in the streets, of cows and goats wearing bells around their necks, of Saint Bernard dogs rescuing people from avalanches. About the only Swiss clich├ęs missing from this film are alpenhorns, cuckoo clocks and dodgy bank accounts. Oh, and those Saint Bernards do not actually carry barrels of brandy around their necks, possibly because references to alcohol were discouraged in films aimed at a family audience.

Although the film is a short one, only just over an hour in length, it tells three separate stories. It begins with Heidi receiving three wooden statues of the Three Wise Men, Melchior, Caspar and I Forget, as a birthday present from a friend. (This would have seemed more appropriate as a Christmas present, but the film-makers doubtless preferred to be in the Alps in summer rather than in December). In the first of the three stories which follow, Heidi's friend Peter enters a singing contest. In the second Heidi and her grandfather receive a visit from her friend Clara and her strict guardian. (Heidi's grandfather is, rather confusingly, always referred to as "Alm Uncle", even though he is not actually her uncle). In the third an American soldier and his new bride, spending their honeymoon in the mountains, get trapped by an avalanche when a climbing expedition goes wrong.

The point of the film is to teach improving moral lessons to children, the same lessons that Heidi is seen learning. The three carved statues are associated with the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Heidi concludes that Melchior has brought her the gift of faith, Caspar the gift of charity and I Forget (by now someone has remembered that his real name is Balthazar) the gift of hope. Despite the religious associations of the Magi and the phrase "faith, hope and charity", these three virtues are here given a secular interpretation rather than a Christian one. "Faith", for example, is interpreted to mean "faith in oneself" rather than "faith in God".

The trouble with "improving" films like this one is that they date very quickly. The film's impact is not improved by the fact that its star, Sandy Descher, was one of the most brattish and least talented child stars of all time. In something like "The Opposite Sex", in which her character is supposed to be a prize little brat, her lack of charm does not matter so much, but playing Heidi, the epitome of juvenile innocence, she seems horribly miscast.

In the late fifties there may still have been children who would have loved a film like this (although I rather doubt it), but by the time of my own childhood in the sixties and seventies I and my contemporaries- girls as much as boys- would, if confronted with something as morally worthy as this, have either died of boredom, burst into peals of mocking laughter or reached for the nearest sick-bag. Today it comes across as even more sickly and sentimental than it would have done then. This is the sort of film which has long since been left behind by events and today would be better quietly forgotten. 3/10 .

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