Loosely based on Ian Fleming’s children’s story of the same name and scripted by Roald Dahl, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was produced by long term James Bond franchise mogul Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and released in time for Christmas 1968 in between You Only Live Twice and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The film stars Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts, a Heath Robinsonesque crackpot inventor and widowed father of two young children for whom he builds a “Fantasmagorical Motorcar” in which they have fairytale style adventures.
The James Bond connections don’t end there; weapons expert “Q” (Desmond Llewelyn) has a cameo as Mr. Coggins the scrap merchant whom the Potts children implore their father to save the wrecked car from and arch-villain Auric Goldfinger played by German actor Gert Frobe gets a chance to use his circus training in the physical role of Baron Bomburst ruler of the kingdom of Vulgaria where all children are banished and are forced into hiding in underground caves. Legendary production designer Ken Adam provides the stunning set interiors and also was the draughtsman for the car’s unique special features.
Whilst playing truant the Potts children have a near miss car accident, the driver is Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes) the daughter of a sweet factory tycoon (James Robertson Justice) concerned for their education and general well-being she takes them home to their father and despite acknowledging an attraction to her he dismisses her as a do-gooding busy-body. They meet again when Potts take his accidental ‘Toot’ sweets (dog-whistle like candy) for evaluation by Truly’s father, providing one the movie’s outstanding set pieces culminating with 100s of canines rampaging through the set.
The children invite Truly out for the car’s maiden voyage, a trip to the beach and this allows a genuine love-interest to develop between her and Caractacus when the four of them are cut off when the tide comes in. From here on the film embarks on a massive fantasy subplot involving Bomburst’s attempt to capture the car and the Potts family’s efforts to liberate the children of Vulgaria. The car has been equipped with the ability to drive on water and fly through the air (not unlike some of the trademark Bond vehicles) and this allows for some frenetic chase sequences.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is peppered with good supporting performances with Lionel Jeffries on hand as the children’s eccentric Grandfather and Benny Hill convincing in his understated performance as the Royal Toymaker. However, its ballet dancer Robert Helpmann’s utterly terrifying turn as the exceedingly creepy Child Catcher that will leave an indelible mark on younger viewers and still manages to make me feel uncomfortable over 30 years on!
The film makes great use of the exterior of Schloss Neuschwanstein which Walt Disney based the Sleeping Beauty castle on and became their prominent company logo; it also benefits from a marvellous musical score from the Sherman Brothers who are also associated with Walt Disney Pictures providing the songs for Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The title song, along with Toot Sweets, Truly Scrumptious and Hushabye Mountain have all become popular favourites and continue to expose lyricist Richard Sherman’s penchant for convoluted wordplay.
I’m disappointed that so many critics dismiss Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as overlong, shoddy and forgettable and can only assume they were adults when they first saw it and therefore were unaffected by its magic, which perhaps can only really be enjoyed when viewed through the eyes of a child as I had done and now my son has. One thing for sure the film is far from shoddy as this Blu-ray edition demonstrates with a glorious 1080p video transfer and 7.1 DTS-HD soundtrack, I am confident that this high definition remastering will preserve the film long enough to be enjoyed by my grandchildren.