ANIMATION SPIN
June 26, 2018 posted by Greg Ehrbar

Flying with Disney’s “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” Soundtrack

Here’s a look at some LP’s that Disney spun around their 1971 live-action/animated fantasy reuniting the Sherman brothers with other Mary Poppins creative talents.

Walt Disney Productions’ BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS
Original Cast Sound Track

Buena Vista Records STER-5003 (Stereo) (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo)
CD Reissue: Walt Disney Records 60784-7

Released in May, 1971. Producer: Irwin Kostal. Music Supervisor/Arranger/Conductor: Irwin Kostal. Running Time: 31 minutes (CD Reissue: 39 minutes).
Performers: Angela Lansbury (Eglantine Price); David Tomlinson (Emelius Browne); Cindy O’Callaghan (Carrie Rawlins); Ian Weighill (Charles Rawlins); Roy Snart (Paul Rawlins); Robie Lester, Thurl Ravenscroft, Bill Lee, (Portobello Road Citizens).

Songs: “The Old Home Guard,” “The Age of Not Believing,” “With a Flair,” “A Step in the Right Direction,” “Eglantine,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “Portobello Road,” “Portobello Road Street Dance,” “The Beautiful Briny,” “Substitutiary Locomotion” by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman
Instrumental: Overture.
Additional Songs (CD only): “Nobody’s Problems,” “Solid Citizen (Demo),” “The Fundamental Element” by Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman.

Mary Poppins was a hard act to follow. So was Walt Disney, for that matter. Bedknobs and Broomsticks was in an unenviable position of topping the crown jewel in an already sparkling career. The studio had changed, decisions were made by committee and often with the presumptive second guessing of an invisible Walt. Popular culture had taken a 180-degree turn after a decade of extreme contrasts in taste and style. Would even Mary Poppins have done as well in 1971 as it did in 1964?

Musical movies were few and far between. The few that were released were of a grittier nature. Even the other family musical of 1971, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, had a satirical bite (and was not a box office success in its original run). All things considered, Bedknobs and Broomsticks was a respectable success (even more so in the U.K. than in the U.S.), though nowhere near the earth-shaking phenomenon of Poppins.

Perhaps it was fitting for its time of release that Bedknobs was a fairly serious film with a highly focused story line about displaced orphans, houses with bombs in front of them, sooty London streets concealing thugs, and gun-toting Nazis (the kind that shoot to kill, not the Hogan’s Heroes type). Even the animated Naboombu island characters are of the Alice in Wonderland nature, either aggressive or neurotic (but as in Alice, whimsically so, as in the Warner Brothers way).

Jimmy Johnson was still running the Disneyland and Buena Vista Records divisions when Bedknobs was released, but the Walt Disney Studios’ circumstances—along with the economy and music business of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s–were very different than in the more optomistic Poppins days. Though Disney was certainly the leader in the exclusively children’s record area, there was more crossover than ever with enitities like The Partridge Family and The Archies competing against The Jungle Book and Winnie the Pooh.

As he had done with Poppins, Johnson sent out a promotional record album for Bedknobs. This time, he did not create a special “Music of” collection with various artists interpreting songs from the score (see last week’s Spin). There may not have been time, budget and resources for such a thing for Bedknobs. Instead, he enclosed the version performed by The Mike Sammes Singers conducted by Tutti Camarata. This is the same “second cast” album that was released by Disneyland Records (with the “secret” track by “Eglantine” hopeful Judy Carne), which we covered in this Spin. The cover of this promo album mentions neither Camarata nor Sammes, which makes one wonder if there was a chance that he might have packed the actual soundtrack in the cover had it been ready in time.

Much has been written about the issues that affected Bedknobs and Broomsticks regarding its running time and the merciless chopping of songs. The Sherman brothers and the cast experienced much disappointment as 26 minutes was removed to suit the demands of Radio City Music Hall playing schedules. (In 1979, an even more dreadful cut was made when more music was taken out for a “revised” theatrical release).

The soundtrack album contains songs that did not appear in the 1971 release: “With a Flair,” “A Step in the Right Direction,” “Don’t Let Me Down” and a reprise of “Eglantine.” It took years, but all the songs (except the lost “Step in the Right Direction”) were restored and can be seen in the 2009 DVD version. Cover versions of the Bedknobs and Broomsticks score–including albums by the Living Voices and Beryl Reid–also have these songs because they were produced before the Radio City editing decision.

The superb song, “Nobody’s Problems,” was cut from the film before the Buena Vista album was produced. But it was filmed, so Angela Lansbury recorded it with a basic music track and it can now be seen as well.

Recently, a stage musical based on the film was announced. It will be interesting to see how all the pieces come together in a new interpretation, and how many of the missing elements will be reincorporated.

The three child young actors from Bedknobs and Broomsticks recently reunited and appear in this video, all grown up:

One final anecdote: Shortly after the publication of Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records (co-written with Tim Hollis), “Disneyland Story Reader” Robie Lester had a question about Bedknobs and Broomsticks one day. Robie (who has recorded more individual Disney records than any other artist to date) wondered why she still received Bedknobs residual checks but didn’t recall working on the film. Your author (and most Disneyland Records fans) figured out that she was the voice of Emelius’ two lady friends who meet all their “chums in the Por-to, bel-lo Road.”

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN

Excerpt from the Bedknobs and Broomsticks Radio Special

This is a 90-second edited clip from a radio special that was distributed on LP records to various stations. It presented the story through dialogue from the film (which the Disneyland Storyteller did not) with narration from the wonderful Pete Renoudet, who we talked about here. The story stopped just before the end to tease listeners to see the film when it played in their theaters.

3 Comments

  • I’d love to see a Legacy Collection CD release of this soundtrack. It should have all the songs, Irwin Kostal’s instrumentals and demos.

  • I remember Ron Moody being announced as the star of “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, recently being a hit in the movie version of “Oliver!”. This was before the female lead — the real central character — was cast. One wonders how the movie might have been reshaped with the flamboyant Moody and a costar with perhaps less star wattage.

    Glynis Johns must have been considered at some point. Before playing opposite David Tomlinson in “Mary Poppins”, she was a flirtatious mermaid in the still-engaging “Miranda” and Tomlinson was one of the men under her spell. Maybe the studio felt they’d be perceived as the supporting couple from “Poppins” — It was already a little risky to invite comparisons by casting Tomlinson. Johns still had her biggest star turn ahead of her: “A Little Night Music”.

    • Perhaps more than any other post-Walt film, this one has the strongest feeling of existing in a parallel universe where the circumstances might have been different. Judy Carne, Lynn Redgrave and Julie Andrews we’re all under discussion for Eglantine. The animated sequence might have have had a music hall stage set piece instead of a soccer game.

      The Disney studio at the time was Dealing with internal viewpoints, growth outside of films (theme parks) and an adherence to sticking to what worked, which shows in the films that surround Bedknobs. Angela Lansbury, while expressing positivity about the film, called it “acting by numbers,” meaning that it was rigidly planned with little room beyond established direction. Ron Moody might have reacted to that differently than Tomlinson, who had made two Disney films already. Moody did appear later in Unidentified Flying Oddball, but it was filmed in London years later.

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