Today it often seems difficult to appreciate the fondness for musicals that the movie business (and the audience, logically) had in times gone by. I think, by the 1980s, they were quickly going out of fashion, but musicals were still going strong in the ’70s. Perhaps Western culture was at the stage then that India, with its overwhelming love for song-and-dance movies, is at now? Whatever the case, the story of Cinderella has been a perennial favorite since Disney did their animated version in 1950. That over-romanticized version probably stands as the definitive version in most people’s minds, despite being rather diluted in comparison with the Grimm Brothers’ original text. Disney’s Cinderella has certainly informed and influenced most subsequent versions, including this British musical from 1976, starring Richard Chamberlain as the prince of Euphrania and Michael Hordern as his father, the king.
The story is well-known: The prince needs to find a wife, and has a hard time choosing from the eligible princesses. Cinderella is a beautiful and virtuous daughter of the nobility, but an evil trickster of a step-mother has reduced her to being a service maid, while promoting her own two undeserving daughters. Hence, Cinderella is helped by a goodly fairy godmother and various animals to make a lasting impression on the prince. The 1950 Disney version, unsurprisingly, is, to a great extent, a horrifically elitist piece of conservative claptrap, espousing the old-fashioned and unbearably aristocratic view that the nobility is inherently worthy and virtuous, while the common people are anything but. Still, in most versions of the tale there are elements and opportunities of symbolical reversals. The once-popular idea that the poor kid is really a son or daughter of the nobility, and therefore deserving of wealth and happiness, can also symbolize that even the lowliest people have value and deserve to be affluent.
This 1976 version is of course in and of its time, and also reverses some of the conservative themes from earlier versions. The prince talks and sings of the silliness of his aristocratic duties, and wants most of all to put them behind him and be a common citizen. It is certainly a spin that is acutely aware of class differences and social injustices. But, most of the story in this version continues from there in its classical form, never really breaking its traditional mold in any significant way. To be sure, the tale is a classic, if glossy, one, and it deserves its fairy-tale fame; the symbolism is open to a wide range of interpretations.
Then there are the songs. This being a musical, the characters frequently break out in song. And the songs are really quite catchy and full of puns (such as “a proper princess primed to propagate”), recalling in my mind snippets from both My Fair Lady and HMS Pinafore. As fate would have it, one of the composers, Robert B. Sherman, died just the other day (March 7). The problem with this particular musical is that the songs are actually too good to be properly carried by the story, which seems awfully thin and unoriginal in comparison. The songs, while good, are not all perfect; there is, in particular, a hymn to protocol that goes on for rather too long. But overall it is an enjoyable if somewhat too glitter-filled production which will please most fans of fairy-tales.
The DVD does not have subtitles (a shame, if one wants to note the song lyrics), but it does have a half-hour behind-the-scenes featurette. However, one might have expected more; for instance, where is the directorial commentary track from the rare 2000 DVD release? And the trailer that fans want to see? They are not here. Still, this transfer is almost certainly an improvement, image quality-wise, over the 2000 release, as DVD technology has increased significantly over the past dozen years.
Director: Bryan Forbes
Cast: Richard Chamberlain, Gemma Craven, Annette Crosbie, Michael Hordern, Margaret Lockwood and others.
Runtime: 137 min.