Pollyanna (1960)

In this more cynical age, it is irresponsibly easy to run down a film like Pollyanna. The children's classic was first made as a silent picture starring Mary Pickford, but the sumptuous Disney version is surely the best. The production values are unimprovable, with gorgeous costumes and sets. The veteran supporting cast is top notch.

Set circa 1920, orphaned Pollyanna (Hayley Mills) is sent to live with her wealthy aunt (Ronald Reagan ex-wife Jane Wyman), an aging but still beautiful woman whose family has long controlled the small rural community of Herrington. The ever-optimistic and curious Pollyanna quickly expands her circle of friends, winning over first the house servants and then a few key residents of the village.

Oblivious of age and class distinctions, it is hard to tell whether her methods of persuasion are unconscious or pre-considered. Although Pollyanna manages to improve the lot of nearly everyone, her charm fails to win over her own aunt. It takes a tragedy to melt her proud heart, and the ending is surprisingly open for a Disney production.

Those who lack patience, and believe that movies should be edited like MTV videos, may not care for Pollyanna. But if they are too shallow or jaded for her to show them the way, it is only their loss. Perhaps the movie is twenty minutes too long, and perhaps heart string are plucked too bluntly when ingenue Hayley Mills sings "America the Beautiful" in her sweet English accent while draped in the American flag.

But perhaps not. I prefer her version to many more bombastic renditions, and I'm not sure which scenes should have been left on the cutting room floor to create a user-friendly running time.

The costly production was not an initial success for Disney. Aside from a Juvenile Award given to Mills, it was ignored by the Oscars and Golden Globes, where it failed to receive a single nomination, not even for its splendid costumes. The British Academy Awards were more kind, and gave Mills a nod as Best British Actress.