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When one thinks of Ian Fleming, one name usually pops to mind: Bond. James Bond. But in 1968, another of Fleming's creations made the leap to the big screen - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This curiously titled film is based on a children's book by Fleming and stars Dick Van Dyke (who previously appeared in the highly successful 1964 fantasy film, Mary Poppins) as Caractacus Potts, an inventor who spins a remarkable tale for his two children about a magical flying car.
Roald Dahl brought the novel to the screen and was quite experienced in this genre, having written such books as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. Dahl had worked with Fleming's material before; he also wrote the screenplay for You Only Live Twice (1967). But the Bond connection doesn't end there; director Ken Hughes helmed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang one year after Fleming's Bond spoof, Casino Royale (1967), and the producer for Chitty was none other than Albert Broccoli, who produced 16 films in the Bond franchise. The supporting cast for Chitty included German actor Gert Frobe, best known as the Bond villain Goldfinger (1964), and Desmond Llewelyn, who played Q in all the Bond flicks but one (Live and Let Die, 1973) until his death in 1999. English television and film actress Anna Quayle also has a featured role in Chitty and was featured in a bit part in Casino Royale.
Other cast members include Sally Ann Howes, a popular stage actress on Broadway and London's West End, and Lionel Jeffries, who plays Van Dyke's father despite being younger than the actor in real life. Robert Helpmann played The Child Catcher, a character voted as one of the most frightening onscreen by an English magazine survey poll. Helpmann himself was a renowned ballet dancer from Australia who trained with Anna Pavlova's touring company. English comedian Benny Hill has a small part in the film as the kindly toymaker; he was first brought onto the project to rewrite some scenes at the request of Van Dyke. During down times on the set, Hill and Van Dyke would have lengthy conversations about their favorite actors, Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, and Buster Keaton. Van Dyke would later recall in an interview, "We both thought that we were born in the wrong era."
The real star of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, however, was the car itself which was based on three real racecars of the same name. The aero-engined cars were owned by auto enthusiast Count Louis Zboroswki, who raced them on the Brooklands track in the English countryside. It was the third Chitty that was used as a model for the car in the film. The producers wanted it to look as realistic as possible so an actual car was designed and built for the production, not merely a prop version. In all, 3 prop cars would be built in addition to the main vehicle. Over seventeen feet in length and weighing over two tons, the car used in the film is street legal and fully licensed to drive. As in the movie, she is called the GEN 11 per her license plate: the closest the UK licensing office could get to "Genie." The car is currently owned by Pierre Picton, who was also involved with the production of Chitty; he maintained the car during production and drove in some film sequences. Picton now rents out the car for use in special functions. The prop versions of GEN 11 were used for studio shots or the water sequences.
The American film composing team of Richard and Robert Sherman wrote twelve original songs for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The Sherman brothers had just won two Oscars for Mary Poppins for Best Song and Best Score, and their career had been almost exclusively tied to Disney up until this point. In their memoir Walt's Time: From Before to Beyond, they recalled, "As we were under contract with Disney, we were allowed to accept one outside project. When producer Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli asked us to join the team. . .we went straight to Walt, who gave us his blessing. . ." The Shermans were nominated for another Oscar for Best Song with "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", but lost the award to "The Windmills of Your Mind," from The Thomas Crown Affair (1968).
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opened to mixed reviews with many critics unfavorably comparing it to previous children's films like Mary Poppins. Time wrote that the film "is a picture for the ages - the ages between five and twelve. After that, interest is bound to slacken into hostility or slumber." But there were positive reviews too and The New York Times proclaimed it, "...a fast, dense, friendly children's musical, with something of the joys of singing together on a team bus on the way to a game." Strangely enough, The Love Bug (1968), a similar themed movie from Walt Disney about a car with an unpredictable personality, opened the following year and quickly eclipsed the modest success of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Some critics theorized that one reason for the huge success of The Love Bug was its contemporary setting whereas Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was set in the past circa 1910. Ironically, Ian Fleming's original story was set in the present era and Chitty might have reached a wider audience if the filmmakers had not altered the original premise.
Producer: Albert R. Broccoli
Director: Ken Hughes
Screenplay: Ken Hughes, Roald Dahl
Based on the novel by Ian FlemingArt Direction: Harry Pottle
Cinematography: Christopher G. Challis
Editing: John Shirley
Music: Irwin Kostal, Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman
Cast: Dick Van Dyke (Caractacus Potts), Sally Ann Howes (Truly Scrumptious), Lionel Jeffries (Grandpa Potts), Gert Frobe (Baron Bomburst), Anna Quayle (Baroness Bomburst), Benny Hill (toymaker), James Robertson Justice (Lord Scrumptious).
C-146m. Closed captioning. Letterboxed.
by Eleanor Quin