Oh my God! I saw this when it hit the screens in 1961. It’s Disney’s major foray into sitcom TV for the big screen. It’s pure corn syrup and out of this world cute. People with a family history of type 2 diabetes should not watch this movie. It’s The Parent Trap, starring Haley Mills and also Haley Mills. That’s two roles for Mills. I did not investigate whether Mills got paid two salaries, but that’s water under the bridge by now. As I write, this is streaming on Hulu, where I’m getting the screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.
Don’t believe this is way too cute? Then check out this from the title sequence. Yes, way too cute.
So, let’s get to the plot. Here we see way too cute Sharon McKendrick (Mills) arriving at summer camp (Camp Inch), delivered by the family chauffeur. She’s proper Bostonian, all of 13, and residing at 18 Belgrave Square. Is she ever in for the shock of her life.
Wham! The action starts early. Sharon runs head on into Susan Evers (Mills), an exact look-alike. Naturally the two girls take an instant like to each other.
Of course not. These are 13-year-old girls, the perfect formula for a teenage cat fight. And the war begins. Rival cliques are formed and nuclear war quickly escalates. The Sharon clique draws first blood, dumping the Susan clique in the lake by tumping over their canoe. In retaliation, the Susan clique sabotages the Sharon clique’s tent, creating mass chaos. Finally, the Sharon clique, now barred from the inter-camp dance for a failed tent inspection, sabotages Susan’s dance dress, unbeknownst to Susan until she steps onto the dance floor with her butt showing.
That’s final straw. The cat fight turns physical, and the dance turns into a shambles, complete with all the standard dance party fight gags, including punch bowl sliding down the capsized table into the face of the boy’s camp counselor and also the cake falling onto the face of Miss Inch, the girl’s camp counselor.
At this moment pause to appreciate the exquisite camera work by the Disney crew. Many scenes show Mills doubling up in the same frame with the aid of some industrial magic:
The film originally called for only a few trick photography shots of Hayley Mills in scenes with herself; the bulk of the film was to be shot using a body double. The film used Disney’s proprietary sodium vapor process for compositing rather than the usual chroma key technique. When Walt Disney saw how seamless the processed shots were, he ordered the script reconfigured to include more of the special effect. Disney also wanted Mills to appear on camera as much as possible, knowing that she was having growth spurts during filming
Yes, that does it. The girls are sentenced to quarantine for the remainder of the summer, required to live together in a remote tent. At this point the plot crystallizes. The girls get to talking to each other, and details come out. Not only do they look alike, but they share a common birth date. Also, each lives with just one parent. Sharon lives with her mother in Boston, and Susan lives with her father in Carmel, California. Then Sharon shows Susan a photo of her mother. Not only does it turn out to be Susan’s mother, as well, but it’s Maureen O’Hara for Christ sake!
The girls figure they were separated when their parents split up 12 years previous, and they initiate a scheme to get their parents reunited. Hence the title of the movie. Each wants to meet her other parent, so they switch identities, which requires Susan clip Sharon’s golden locks. They share sufficient details to facilitate the ruse, and at the end of summer each returns to the other’s home. Susan is enraptured by her glamorous mother. On the other hand, her grandmother is a bit on the stuffy side.
Out in California, Sharon meets her hunk of a father at the airport. He turns out to be Brian Keith, with the squarest jaw west of the Pecos.
There’s a fly in the soup, however. Mitch Evers is making plans to marry gold-digging Vicky Robinson (Joanna Barnes). Mitch is loaded.
Sharon sees right through the plot, and in private encounters Vicky reveals her true nature. The girls figure they need to act quickly.
So, Susan unravels the situation to her Boston family, and Margaret “Maggie” McKendrick travels out to California with Susan. Mitch is surprise to find his ex-wife in his house wearing only a bathrobe.
So, yes, the girls gang up on Vicky and, employing tactics they learned in summer camp, they sabotage her. Only they call it “submarining,” by which they probably meant “torpedoing.” Vicky’s true character comes out for all to see, including Mitch, and Vicky departs stage left.
As the movie draws to a close Mitch turns around in the kitchen and realizes what he saw in Maggie from the get-go. The final scene is a too-sweet wedding ceremony.
The twins were raised separately. There are differences. Sharon has learned to play the piano, which her father notices. That’s about right. But Sharon is also an accomplished horse rider, as evidenced by a beach riding scene with her father. Did she learn to ride a horse somewhere back in Boston? If so, then what’s she doing getting off the wrong side of the horse?
The girls scheme to get their parents back together. They stage a bit of entertainment, emphasizing “let’s get together.” Sharon, wearing a neat dress, plays a two bars from Beethoven on the piano. Susan, in jeans and a tee-shirt responds with a few riffs from a guitar. The dissonance is manifest. Then the two harmonize on a smarmy tune with the refrain, “Let’s get together, yeh yeh yeh.” I had to remind myself this was three years before the Beatles hit the big time, and it was two years before Bob Dylan advised, ““Tell Your Ma. Tell Your Pa. Our Love’s A-gonna Grow Ooh-wah, Ooh-wah.”
Hey, Leo G. Carroll plays the Reverend Dr. Mosby, always around to officiate at the wedding, no matter which bride, and also adding a ton of class as he always did in his roles.
And by now you too recognize this as too sweet for words, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.
Haley Mills is, of course, daughter of Sir John Mills, famous for a number of stellar roles, including the village idiot in Ryan’s Daughter, where he won an Oscar.
Brian Keith had a long and successful career, starting in 1924 and ending with Rough Riders in 1997, the year of his death.
O’Hara made a splash as the gypsy girl in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1939. She also starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn that same year. She paired with Keith again in 1961 in The Deadly Companions. Her last dramatic film role came in 1991 with Only the Lonely. She died in 2015.