Haley Mills and Haley Mills in… the Parent Trap!
I was channel surfing a few weeks ago and stopped when I ran across the old Disney classic, The Parent Trap, starring Miss Haley Mills. As I watched I was reminded of what a peculiar movie it is. Everything about it is strange. First and foremost Hayley’s strikingly bad haircut. Then there’s Mitch’s (Brian Keith) ugly, labyrinth of a house/bachelor pad, and last but not least why do children of American parents have British accents? Even as a kid I thought it was odd. The bizarre styles and colors all clash and fight in brilliant Technicolor. I suppose all this weirdness accounts for some of its status as a perennial favorite. Still it doesn’t look or act like a typical Disney film of its time. It’s not set in the suburbs, or small town America, it doesn’t revolve around a darn cat or professor who transforms into a sheep dog at night. Instead it deals with divorce and the results. Not exactly the family friendly faire for the 1960’s, or today for that matter. Dig a little deeper and you find out that The Parent Trap is based on the 1949 children’s novel by Erich Kastner, Das doppelte Lottchen, The Double Lottie. In a concession to space and time I’ll just say Mr. Kasner was German, and the book was published 1949. You do the math.
If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll know the plot, it’s so deeply ingrained in the American psyche.Twins, separated at birth, are reunited at summer camp (Camp Inch) where they join forces to patch up their parents broken marriage. There’s the ‘good twin,’ Sharon. She’s feminine, has long blonde hair, is well-behaved, and passive. As opposed to tomboy Susan, who with her bowl cut and assertiveness is not match for sweet-natured Sharon. The power struggle is on! (This was my favorite part as a kid, the only part I could relate to.) The rivalry culminates in a formal dance at Camp Inch, where Annette Funicello croons cryptically, Let’s Get Together. And of course they do.
Now with the twins reunited, and both with cropped hair, they are transformed/united into one force, and the real story can begin.
Contrary to Disney’s publicity machine the star of the PT is not Hayley Mills, but the peculiar house that Mitch lives in. This house is so significant that Susan brings a picture of it with her to camp, as if it was a member of the family?! And proudly shows it to Sharon. It’s clear from the beginning that the house represents Mitch’s wealth, and prestige that his gold-digging fiancée, Vicki, is so desperate to get her hands on. ‘Canyon Home,’ was reportedly the name the Disney crew labeled the house. In the film the house, really a fabulous estate, is never given a name. This is because the house is so closely identified with Mitch, that naming it is not necessary, and would be redundant.
External shots of the Canyon Home are deceptive. It’s rather dull and suburban-looking,but inside is quite a different story. The product of Disney set builders it is a never-ending series of corridors, balconies, lattice-work, stained glass, Spanish tile, patios…it wanders aimlessly without structure or purpose. Reminding me of the infamous Winchester house of Southern California, a home literally built on guilt. According to Wikipedia Disney receives requests for the floor plan of the Canyon Home to this day. The public is fascinated with the weird Canyon Home because it is more than just a physical place, it is the reflection of Mitch’s tortured psyche. The house is not an it, but a him. Upon seeing the house for the first time Mitch’s future mother-in-law marvels at its beauty, and then ominously quips, “Mitch, it needs a woman’s touch.”
Truth be told the film should have been entitled, ‘The Sex Trap.’ Not as Disneyesque but accurate. That is because Mitch, the charming Brian Keith, as modern man, is discovering and embracing the new social order of 1960’s America. (Something Erich Kastner had experienced some twenty years earlier in Europe.) He has cast off the traditions of the past (marriage and child rearing) in exchange for a sexy, and much younger girlfriend, Vicki. (A sin he is continuously upbraided for by the women in his life.) I say girlfriend because though Vicki is referred to as Mitch’s fiancée, fiancée is just a word. As we shall see Mitch has no real intention of marrying Vicki. The unintended consequence of his choice of Vicki over Maggie, the new vs the old, the trap of sex, is that Mitch is now ruled by women.
Naturally Mitch is confused and amazed by this turn of events. This confusion is reflected in his bizarrely decorated home. Mitch’s short-term strategy to survive this unpleasantness is to adapt to each woman’s needs and demands. He attempts to blend in, chameleon-like with the jarring colors and shifting alliances of the household. His strategy, like his home decor, is a miserable failure, where he loses his identity as well as his authority.