Mary Poppins, by Albert W. Vogt III

Perhaps I reviewed them backwards, having done Saving Mr. Banks (2013) first. Oh well. I blame it on all of you, though I mean that in an entirely humorous fashion. I appreciate your suggestions, even if I do not always enjoy them as much as you do. But, as the old saying goes, there is no accounting for taste. As for today’s movie, Mary Poppins (1964), since it is a musical my enjoyment of it is a bit diminished. I have documented my distaste for musicals in other reviews, but in short I find the constant song interludes distracting, nor do I particularly like them. Even so, there are other reasons to watch this bit of classic cinema, as we shall see.

In Mary Poppins, Mr. George W. Banks (David Tomlinson) is an employee of a respectable London bank, lives in a respectable part of the city, and has a respectable wife, Winnifred (Glynis Johns). The one thing missing is the title nanny (Julie Andrews). The reason she becomes necessary is because, while dad is laboring away in the world of finance and mom is busy agitating for women’s suffrage, daughter Jane (Karen Dotrice) and son Michael (Matthew Garber) seem to be the fly in the respectable ointment. As the film opens, with Winnifred getting home from a rally, the Banks children are nowhere to be found and their current nanny is quitting. George steps into this chaotic situation, with the police arriving soon after with his kids in tow. As such, they must find a new caretaker for the Banks progeny. Things were different in 1910. George writes up his own employment advertisement, emphasizing the need for rigor and order. Jane and Michael have their own as well, but George dismisses it out of hand, tears it up, and tosses it into the fireplace. This is where we learn that there is a kind of magic to Mary Poppins (opening credits where she is riding a cloud excepting), as the shredded letter floats up the chimney and out into the night air of London. The next day, the long line of suitors for the position with the Banks is blown aside as Mary Poppins gently lands from the heavens with her umbrella buoying her, coming in on the east wind. In interviewing with George, Mary reads out loud the listing she received magically, which was the children’s, much to the patriarch’s confusion. Still, with assurances to also be strict, Mary’s business-like demeanor wins George over for the moment and she promptly marches upstairs to look after the children. With some more singing and sorcery, the nursery is put in order and Mary takes Jane and Michael for an outing. There is a certain pattern to this where they go somewhere, usually meet up with Bert (Dick Van Dyke), and something supernatural happens with music accompanying it. This results in much happier children, but an increasingly suspicious George, who views any kind of fun as needless frivolity. George is concerned that Mary is not molding his daughter and son properly, but when he confronts her about the situation she deftly convinces him to take them with him to work the next day. While there, an absurd situation occurs where the bank’s various employees try to take Michael’s tuppence (basically, two cents) to start an account, only to have the boy loudly snatch his money back and trigger a run on accounts by the various customers gathered within the financial institution’s walls. Needless to say, George’s bosses are not happy, and they decide to fire him. While facing the bank’s board, George realizes that he had been placing more emphasis on social achievement rather than genuinely loving his family. Though he lost his job, he returns home with a renewed sense of the treasure that they are. Seeing the change, Mary senses it is time to go. Thus, with the wind turning, she unfurls her umbrella and leaves as she arrived.

The changing wind at the end of Mary Poppins also works its magic on George’s employers, who agree to not only give him his job back but to promote him to being a partner. If you do not understand what has really happened here, or have not seen Saving Mr. Banks, the real point of the movie is to have George undergo this transformation. This works on a number of levels, from the meteorological metaphors of changing winds, to learning to take pleasure in the things that truly matter, there is much that this Catholic can appreciate. I can do without most of the music (some of the songs are okay, I guess), but that is another issue entirely. One part that I would like to take to task, though, is Winnifred. Now, I suppose I cannot be too fussed about her pursuits, as she is involved in the noble cause that was women’s suffrage. Still, her demonstrations are treated as comic relief, and as such I could not help but wonder why she could not stay home with the children instead of hiring another nanny. Then again, there would not have been a movie had that happened. Look, as I mentioned above, there was a different thought process in 1910. For those in the upper strata of society, your job as an adult was to maintain a respectable standing. Your offspring, given the unruliness of young people, were kept safely behind closed doors to be observed and interacted with when it was convenient. One can hardly imagine the Holy Family practicing this method of child rearing.

This is an extremely minor point in Mary Poppins. Overall, it is a fine movie, even though I do not care for the music. I do not even mind Mary, which is made all the more improbable given that she borders on being an insufferable know-it-all. She is “practically perfect in every way” and seems to know it, but handles it with a grace that is charming. The Bible does tells us to be perfect as the Lord is perfect. It is an impossible goal, of course, but it is instead a lifelong process that hopefully makes us better people in general. This is what Mary brings to the Banks family, and thus it gets my recommendation for your family. Maybe you will enjoy the music more than I do.


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