Ever since I saw "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" as a child, sometime during the 70s, I have loved it and is one of those movies which if appears on the TV schedule I always try to make time to watch. But the thing about "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and my love for it is that the actual storylines don't do much for me but the inventiveness, the casting, the musical productions and the songs by the Sherman brothers are what I really love. In truth at nearly two and a half hours "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" is too long because of all the little storylines rather than the musical productions and humorous scenes.
Jemima (Heather Ripley) and Jeremy Potts (Adrian Hall) love nothing more than playing in the broke down car outside Mr Coggin's Garage and when the scrap man says he will take it away in the morning they rush home to persuade their father, inventor Caractacus Potts (Dick Van Dyke - Mary Poppins) to buy it. It is on the way home they meet Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes - The Admirable Crichton) the daughter of sweet factory owner Lord Scrumptious (James Robertson Justice) who Caractacus visits when he accidentally invents whistling candy which he names Toot Sweets. After a mishap at a fairground where Caractacus tries to raise money to buy the old car he finally does and sets about turning the old wreck into the most phantasmagorical car which they name Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. With the car fixed and Truly Scrumptious joining them they all go to the beach for a picnic and a wonderful adventure story about the Baron of Vulgaria and the Child Catcher (Robert Helpmann).
So as I already said I don't really care much for the actual storylines which go on in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" which is kind of a lie because I love the episode about the toot sweets, the fixing the car, the music box scene in Vulgaria and the Child Catcher but there are so many little episodes that "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" does feel like it goes on and on. Now the daft thing is that I wouldn't want to cut any of these episodes from the movie because they all serve their purpose and lead in to the next yet each one feels so drawn out and sometimes a little pointless. It makes me wonder how it got this way and I would imagine that between Roald Dahl adapting Ian Fleming's story, director Ken Hughes putting his own touches in and producer Cubby Broccoli wanting to out Disney Disney it grew and grew to something which is simply too long.
But as I said whilst as a collective the storylines don't do anything for me each one has a most wonderful pay-off usually with an absolutely brilliant musical number. The scene in the Scrumptious sweet factory is spectacular with wonderful choreography but then so is the music box scene with Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes pretending to be dolls. And I could go on because every musical number be it a huge production, a comical song or a quiet little number is simply brilliant and the Sherman brothers wrote some unforgettable songs for the movie such as "Hushabye Mountain", "Toot Sweets" and the wonderful "Doll On a Music Box".
And you have to add to this the whole inventiveness which is not really a surprise considering the original story is by Ian Fleming. There is firstly the creating of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang itself, the car which flies, does vertical take offs and can go on water. But there is also the wacky inventor side to Caractacus Potts with his inventions from an automatic kitchen to his haircut contraption which deliver some wonderful laughs and in the case of the haircut contraption a small part for Barbara Windsor.
Then there is of course the stars and Dick Van Dyke without a fake accent is brilliant from start to finish with his comic ability, from face pulling to the whole physicality of dance routines. As for Sally Ann Howes well she is quite simply Truly Scrumptious and to be honest I fell in love with Sally Ann Howes because of the music box scene, how she didn't crack up during that scene with Dick Van Dyke pulling faces at her is beyond me. But Van Dyke and Howes are not the only ones who make "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" so much fun, there is Lionel Jeffries as eccentric Grandpa, James Robertson Justice as Lord Scrumptious, Heather Ripley and Adrian Hall who play the children Jemima and Jeremy. But there is also one of the most creepy performances and characters ever thanks to Robert Helpmann as the Child Catcher who as a child watching this really unsettled me.
What this all boils down to is that I loved "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" the first time I watched it and still love it now in my 40s. It is by no means perfect, it certainly goes on too long but the performances from Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes, the creativity, the cars, the musical numbers and the memorable songs by the Sherman brothers are all why it is still a great movie.