Synopsis of Movie

“If you search for the evil in man expecting to find it, you certainly will.”

Where have you gone, Pollyanna? If the world ever needed a good round of “the glad game,” it’s now. Maybe the power of positive thinking wouldn’t be enough to cure all social, economic and political ills, but for a few brief hours, Walt Disney’s Pollyanna sure made us believe it could.

Disney’s 1960 adaptation of Eleanor H. Porter’s story was not the first (a 1920 version starred silent film icon Mary Pickford) nor the last, but this will always be the best-remembered. Much of the credit must go to young Hayley Mills, making her American film debut in the title role. Pollyanna made the girl an instant star, beginning a string of memorable Disney roles for young Mills in films like The Parent Trap and That Darn Cat!

Like the novel, Pollyanna is set in early 20th century New England, where young Pollyanna is sent to live with her wealthy, but dour Aunt Polly. The girl’s unceasingly cheerful attitude makes her a bit of a nuisance around the stuffy household, so the girl goes into town to find playmates.

Her first find is an orphaned boy named Jimmy Bean, a kindred spirit and fast friend. The girl next visits a self-absorbed hypochondriac named Mrs. Snow, who first loathes, then comes to appreciate Pollyanna’s refusal to let her stay down in the dumps. Pollyanna’s next case is local curmudgeon Mr. Pendergast, who yells at her and Jimmy for trespassing on his property. Again, youthful innocence wins the day, and Pendergast strikes a bond with the children over his collection of glass prisms. Still later, Pollyanna helps the fire-and-brimstone preacher Reverend Ford find something more joyful on which to base his sermons.

Her work still incomplete, Pollyanna returns home to play matchmaker with her bitter Aunt Polly and old flame Dr. Chilton. The two ex-sweeties rekindle the spark, but clash over Chilton’s plan to stage a fundraising bazaar to build a new orphanage. Polly opposes the bazaar, but Pollyanna sneaks out to attend anyway. It’s a wonderful night, but on the way back in, the girl slips and falls, paralyzing her legs. The injury sends Pollyanna into previously uncharted territory: depression. “The glad game” doesn’t seem to cut it, but with a little help from her new friends, there just might be a way to pull out of her funk.

If you think this all sounds a bit too syrupy sweet, you’re not alone. Pollyanna wasn’t the big success Disney had hoped for, mostly because men and boys refused to accompany the womenfolk to what they perceived as a “chick flick.” They missed out, as the film’s subsequent popularity has proven.

If the material was overly saccharine, the performances were completely genuine. Hayley Mills was the obvious anchor, but the top-notch cast included Jane Wyman, Richard Egan, Agnes Moorehead, Karl Malden and—in his final screen performance—Adolphe Menjou. Walt Disney invested special care in making the film, and he was disappointed by the lukewarm audience reception. Thankfully, time has redeemed Pollyanna, as decades of television airings have brought well-deserved fame to this moving classic.

Movie Release History

1960 - Pollyanna

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Pollyanna Hayley Mills
Aunt Polly Jane Wyman
Dr. Edmond Chilton Richard Egan
Mrs. Snow Agnes Moorehead
Reverend Paul Ford Karl Malden
Nancy Furman Nancy Olson
Mr. Pendergast Adolphe Menjou
Mayor Karl Warren Donald Crisp
Jimmy Bean Kevin Corcoran
George Dodds James Drury
Tillie Lagerlof Reta Shaw
Mrs. Paul Ford Leora Dana
Mrs. Amelia Tarbell Anne Seymour
Ben Tarbell Edward Platt
Angelica Mary Grace Canfield

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