The Slipper and the Rose (1976): A Different Kind of Cinderella Story

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To view The Slipper and the Rose click here.

For some movies, finding a receptive audience is all a matter of timing, Upon its initial release, The Slipper and the Rose (1976), a sterling reinterpretation of the Cinderella story, missed its window of opportunity because it came out after a string of box office disasters had nearly buried the musical forever. And make no mistake; this is a musical through and through courtesy of intricate, tongue-twisting and enchanting songs written by the unbeatable team of Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman. Distanced from its musical cohorts, let’s reexamine the merits of this film and give it a fair shake.

The incredibly prolific Sherman Brothers had first caught the eye of Walt Disney in the early 1960s with their catchy single, “Tall Paul,” which led to a string of gigs including writing a little ditty called “It’s a Small World” for a certain theme park ride born at the 1964 World’s Fair. However, it was Mary Poppins (1964) that made them immortal in the movie world as they racked up a pair of Oscars for both the score and and one of their original songs; Disney kept them around for numerous other films, perhaps most famously The Jungle Book (1967), but by the mid-1970s well after Walt’s death the duo had permanently gone to independent pastures.

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That’s where we arrive at this film, a live-action fairy tale that takes the novel approach of considering the Prince’s point of view as much as Cinderella’s; it’s a deeper, more complicated love story than other takes on the same material, with Disney’s subsequent own (non-musical) live-action version in 2015 taking more than a few leads from this film’s wildly unpredictable final act that throws quite a few curveballs at the familiar tale. Gemma Craven makes for a winning Cinderella here under the thumb of her wicked stepmother, played here by the always great Margaret Lockwood, from The Lady Vanishes (1938) and Night Train to Munich (1940), in her final film role – her first big screen appearance in more than two decades. However, it’s obvious right off the bat that this isn’t your average story of pumpkins and glass slippers as we also meet Prince Edward (Richard Chamberlain) in the opening stretch, quite aware that he feels oppressed by the demands of living up to his royal duties and predecessors as decreed by his father (great British character actor Michael Hordern). What follows weaves through some of the familiar tropes like Cinderella’s fairy godmother (a scene-swiping Annette Crosbie), the magical ball accoutrements that expire at midnight and that pivotal slipper, but the plot is embellished with plenty more along the way and goes in a very different direction when the hunt for the mystery princess kicks in.

The film really needs its full running time to make that concept work, too, and luckily here on FilmStruck you can see the full 146-minute version. I first caught this in the theater as an impressionable little kid when American audiences were only given a severely truncated 126-minute version, which dropped several songs entirely and, most inexplicably, hacked off the first half of the most haunting song (and one of my very favorites in the Sherman songbook), “Tell Him Anything (But Not That I Love Him).” This was actually a very tough film to track down after it did the kid’s matinee circuit in the late 1970s and had a single airing on NBC (with even more footage lopped out). Despite the inclusion of the excised material on the soundtrack LP, I had no idea how drastically it was cut until the full version bowed on DVD in 2000, and now we can enjoy it in pristine quality as well.

The entire selection of songs is uncommonly strong (crafted with music score composer Angela Morley), and it’s no wonder that this film was nominated for both Original Song Score and Original Song Oscars (the latter for the elegant “The Slipper and the Rose Waltz,” which gets configured here as both “He Danced with Me” and “She Danced with Me”).

The film is also a real feast for the eyes, featuring stunning location work in Salzburg, Austria that should make this a must for any fan of The Sound of Music (1965). It’s also a fine installment in what I like to think of as director Bryan Forbes’ “soft focus” cycle, which kicked off with The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969) and went into very satirical territory with The Stepford Wives (1975). Perhaps because he wasn’t all that prolific and didn’t bring a distinctive stamp to his work, Forbes never really gets cited as a significant director; however, he was remarkably strong and consistent over the years with a number of stone-cold classics to his credit like The Wrong Box (1966) and Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964). Oh yeah, and did you know this was executive produced by none other than David Frost, the TV personality and interviewer who famously grilled Richard Nixon a year later?

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Thankfully Richard Sherman is still alive and well today as of this writing, and I’ve been privileged to spend several evenings and dinners in his company complete with many stories about working in the Disney days and on some of his other beloved projects like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Snoopy Come Home (1972). He’s still full of sparkle and energy, writing new songs and still involved in the Disney legacy including extensive consultation on Saving Mr. Banks (2013) and tweaking lyrics for the live-action The Jungle Book (2016). He still appears in the L.A. area with great frequency for public music performances, and it seems like there’s a tribute to the work of the Sherman Brothers popping up at least twice a year or so around town if you keep your eyes open. Sherman’s still quite proud of this particular film and includes it in his repertory of highlights, usually represented by the most memorable and Broadway-ready song, “Suddenly It Happens.” Since this is running at the moment as part of FilmStruck’s international, decade-spanning “Fairy Tale Theatre” theme, it’s only appropriate that this sometimes mistreated and overlooked film has, in the end, managed to endure, drum up some loyal followers over the years and find a happy ending of its own.

Nathaniel Thompson

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2 Responses The Slipper and the Rose (1976): A Different Kind of Cinderella Story
Posted By kingrat : August 16, 2017 12:36 am

Thanks for writing about this film, which I’ve never seen. Forbes’ best films, I think, are WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND and KING RAT (well, duh). One of his most characteristic moves as writer and director is to take a genre subject and then treat it as a serious character-driven drama. Sounds like THE SLIPPER AND THE ROSE is another example.

Posted By Mukesh : August 16, 2017 11:30 pm

You have reviewed it well..

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