This is another one of those movies we never somehow got to, when I was a kid. I don’t know why. It seems like the kind of thing that would really appeal to my family. It’s got Hayley Mills, Dean Jones, and a cat. Why wouldn’t we watch that? Still, we didn’t. I’m left to wonder if I would like it better if I had fond childhood memories of seeing it rather than coming to it as an adult. Some of the Disney movies I love, I’m aware that my love is not for their quality but for my memories. Maybe this would be one of them if I had the memories.
There has been a Daring Daylight Robbery. Iggy (Frank Gorshin) has been laying clues to convince the police that the people who did it have escaped north, but he and Dan (Neville Brand) are in fact holing up in town—with kidnapped bank teller Margaret Miller (Grayson Hall). She manages to scratch most of “help” onto the back of her watch and slip it onto the neck of a stray cat that has followed Iggy back to the boarding house where they’re staying. The cat slips out into the night.
He is DC, short for “darn cat,” who lives with Patti (Mills) and Ingrid (Dorothy Provine) Ingrid Randall. Patti sees the watch and takes it; Ingrid makes her promise not to call the police, so she calls the FBI. Special Agent Zeke Kelso (Jones) is sent out, despite his allergy to cats, to track DC and see if he can find the bank robbers. All kinds of zaniness ensues, not least because of the Randall sisters’ attempted suitors, Canoe (Tom Lowell) and Gregory (Roddy McDowall), and their nosy neighbour Mrs. MacDougall (Elsa Lanchester).
The attempted suitors are, frankly, the worst part of the movie. I can see that Canoe would be interested in Patti, and I could definitely see that he’d always be hanging around the house. Also that he’d always be eating the Randalls’ food. But he’s got this obnoxious little affectation where he carries a pipe, and at one point he tries physically pushing his way into the house when she clearly doesn’t want him there. He never improves. Maybe he’s jealous of Kelso, but one rather suspects it’s as much because he might miss out on sandwiches as because he’s losing Patti.
Meanwhile, Gregory is clearly trying to shove Ingrid into a relationship she doesn’t want. Before the movie started, he used to carpool with several others on the block, but he traded in his sedan for a sports car, and, gosh, there was only room for one, and he chose Ingrid. He takes her to the movies, and he’s bringing her to dinner with his mother. He even tries to get her to wear yellow, a colour she looks awful in, because it’s his mother’s favourite colour. He never really shows affection for Ingrid, just possession.
At the time, Hayley Mills was nineteen. Dean Jones was 34. Dorothy Provine was thirty. And, yes, you wonder a bit at the family dynamic, with sisters eleven years apart who seem to be one another’s only siblings. But it does happen; I have a friend who’s nineteen years older than her only half-sibling. And, yes, fifteen years is quite the gap. There’s a four-year gap between Mills and Lowell, and I guess they decided it meant they should keep the pair together. So it seems for about half the script that Patti is wooing Kelso, but possibly we’re intended to think that it’s for her sister?
One of the things Canoe does is take Patti to surfing movies, which is possibly a snide reference to what Annette Funicello (who we’re actually getting to tomorrow, if you’re so inclined) was doing at the time. Likewise, the movie Patti and Canoe go to midway through, Night of the Surfer, is clearly intended to be a reference to Night of the Hunter, directed by Lanchester’s husband Charles Laughton. In a better movie, these could be clever, but there’s not enough in the script to make you think about it if someone else doesn’t point it out. It just comes across as mocking a current trend—poorly.
I guess the other big problem with the movie is that it’s simultaneously high stakes and not high enough stakes. We’re reminded, over and over again, that it’s a matter of life and death. The FBI is looking for a hostage, after all. But there’s all that folderol with Gregory breaking into their house with a shotgun to search for the intruder he saw, with both Randalls trying to push him out again. Combing Canoe’s breaking and entering with the horrible gun safety that seems to characterize Disney.
It’s not just the eternal “this is two different movies” problem, though honestly, the crime movie would be a lot more interesting. It’s that I dislike about half the characters. Even some of the ones I’m clearly supposed to. I keep wanting to tell Patti to tell Canoe where he can go, and a carpool is not enough reason for Ingrid to have anything to do with Gregory. Sure, he has a nice car—but it was Walt’s own, and he felt so guilty at having bought such an expensive car that he rented it back to the studio for the film at $100 a day. Now, that is a daring daylight robbery.