Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Starring: Jane Wyman, Hayley Mills, Richard Egan, Karl Malden, Nancy Olson | Director/Writer: David Swift | Producers: Walt Disney, George Golitzen
This is a fine family film, set in the early 20th century. Even without Hayley Mills and Kevin Corcoran, it would be an excellent story.
After the deaths of her parents, young Pollyanna (Mills) is sent to live with her rich aunt Polly Harrington (Jane Wyman). The senior Polly is an unhappy and frustrated woman who tries to control the entire town and to win people’s affection and gratitude with her so-called charity work. Young Pollyanna doesn’t worry about class distinctions, making friends with and going on adventures with an orphan boy (Corcoran). She also manages to set the local pastor free from aunt Polly’s grip by simply noting how her father, who was also a minister, found good things in the Bible to preach from rather than constantly preaching negative things. The pastor (Karl Malden) has (at aunt Polly’s suggestion) been using a preaching style and choice of subject matter which controls people by guilt and fear and sends a message of salvation by works. After being exposed to Pollyanna’s positive attitude, he changes his ways, to the relief of everyone (except aunt Polly). Eventually, Pollyanna’s optimism “infects” the entire town. Then the town decides to do some cooperative fundraising for a need, rather than to let aunt Polly be in charge of everything. The conflict over this results in something that no one could have foreseen. I won’t give away more than that.
There’s a rear view of little boys skinny-dipping at the beginning of the film. No coarse language. Some scary moments when the children trespass on a mean man’s property and get caught. Some adult conflict between aunt Polly and the townspeople who are slipping out of her grasp, and between her and her old boyfriend. The ending is both happy and sad and it leaves the story not quite told; even aunt Polly has been transformed, but at great cost. Overall, one of Disney’s best live-action films.
Year of Release—1960