A Touch of Fairy Dust
DIRECTED BY HERBERT BRENON/1924
STREET DATE: JULY 9, 2019/KINO CLASSSICS
Growing up, I had two versions of Peter Pan that I saw and loved: the 1953 Disney version and the 1960 color NBC version with Mary Martin that my grandmother taped from TV, likely sometime in the early 1990s. Both productions owed much in terms of aesthetic to this very first film version which was, itself, based on the original 1904 stage production, written by James M. Barrie.
Kino presents this 2K restoration on Blu-ray with an orchestral score by Philip Carli, audio clips with actress Esther, and a thorough, enjoyable essay written by film historian Frederick Szebin. The most recent home video release (also by Kino) was 20 years ago, so I was excited to learn of this new presentation.
The commentary track is recorded by film historian Kat Ellinger and is very insightful to the background of both the production and the background of J. M. Barrie.
The film itself is a strong presentation of the material. Using beautiful sets and costumes to depict the source material, the acting and pacing/editing is wonderful. When the Lost Boys shoot the Wendy-Bird, their dejection is palpable. This is likely a testament to both the acting of the boys and the direction of Herbert Brennan. The photography by James Wong Howe is beautiful, especially the lighting of the scene in which Peter stabs a couple of the pirates in the hold of the ship, with a full-length portrait of the captain in the background. The model work of the Jolly Roger is actually delightful as it sails and then flies around.
Betty Bronson is a wonderfully androgynous portrayal of the boy who won’t grow up. Her innocent mastery of the role is excellent and, within the confines of the story, believable. Ernest Torrence is a delightful Captain Hook who is appropriately over-the-top in the role. Anna May Wong is a great actress, but is unfortunately miscast as Tiger Lily (given that not just any person of color can portray any other person of color).
Mr. Darling (Cyril Chadwick) and Mrs. Darling (Esther Ralston) are the somewhat detached parents; I say “somewhat” due to the fact that I find Ms. Ralston’s portrayal to be very emotionally present despite a modest amount of time on-screen. Mr. Chadwick is precisely as detached as one would would expect Mr. Darling to be: no more, no less. He does seem a bit odd in basically drugging Nana before chaining her outside for reasons which (again) are unclear to me…but I could charitably chalk this up to the fact that to a child, the actions of adults are often inscrutable. Virginia Brown Faire is good as Tinker Bell and the visual effects are quite good, with the exception of when Tink pulls Wendy’s hair in the first scene (many wires are visible on the print as it exists on this blu-ray). Mary Brian (as Wendy) is adequate but not terribly well-directed.
George Ali gives a wonderful performance as Nana: a performance which ought to be seen to be appreciated. The complexity of acting while in a part-mechanical, part-cloth costume is captured in a wonderfully sympathetic way.
Fairy stories play into our inner children, if indeed we have them and have access to them. While preparing this review, a friend brought her three year-old to the house. He was glued to the screen as Capt. Hook and the pirates sword-fought with the Lost Boys and Peter got the clock from the crocodile so that the crock might have a fighting chance to sneak up on the captain. This is a boy who watches YouTube and PBS with his older brothers and he still saw enough that he connected with to be glued to the screen. I’d recommend this Blu-ray for anyone who enjoys fairy stories, regardless of whether or not they have children.
All images in this review were sourced from https://silentology.wordpress.com/2018/12/06/thoughts-on-peter-pan-1924/. They are not reflective of the quality of the Blu-ray itself, but the quality of the Blu-ray is top-notch.