Sep 7, 2014

Review: The Borrowers (1973)

I only ever knew about the 1997 film version of Mary Norton's book The Borrowers, so finding that there had been an earlier adaptation from the 70's definitely intrigued me. Not to mention that it was a Hallmark TV movie. Hallmark to me is the maker of ultra cheesy productions nowadays but I don't have a whole lot of experience with their older stuff. Maybe they used to be better back in the day? I just couldn't pass this up.

To be honest I'm not familiar with anyone in the cast of The Borrowers. There do seem to be some heavy hitters like Eddie Albert and Judith Anderson but I wouldn't really know. That's just judging from their most widely known work on IMDb. Director Walter C. Miller just seems to have ended up directing award shows now like the Grammys, Emmys and the Tonys which is interesting kinda. What a thankless job that must be.


Genre: family, fantasy
Directed by: Walter C. Miller
Produced by: Walt deFaria, Warren Lockhart, Duane Bogie, etc.
Written by: Jay Presson Allen
Music by: Rod McKuen
Running time: 81 minutes
Production company: Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, 20th Century Fox Television, Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, etc.
Distributed by: National Broadcasting Company, EastWest Entertainment, Reel Media International, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry

Starring: Eddie Albert, Tammy Grimes, Judith Anderson, Beatrice Straight, Barnard Hughes, Dennis Larson, Karen Pearson, Murray Westgate, Dan McIlravey


In a house somewhere in the country in New England lives sickly Great Aunt Sophy (Judith Anderson) with her serving woman Mrs. Crampfurl (Beatrice Straight) and her husband Mr. Crampfurl (Barnard Hughes). GA Sophy is bedridden and gets a visit from her sick eight year-old nephew who is never named (Dennis Larson). Unbeknownst to everyone except GA Sophy, there lives a tiny family called borrowers underneath the floorboards. Pod Clock (Eddie Albert), Homily Clock (Tammy Grimes) and their thirteen year-old daughter Arrietty (Karen Pearson) survive by "borrowing" necessities from Great Aunt Sophy's household and have kept themselves hidden from everyone so far. Young boys are known to be big problems to borrowers though.


The first thing that hit me when I started watching this version of The Borrowers is just how old it looks and feels. This doesn't look like a movie from the 70's whatsoever. It wouldn't look out of place if it came from the 50's! Even the 40's if you really want to push it. Even the acting and dialogue feels like something you'd see in some sort of theatre performance. Age has not been kind to The Borrowers and I'm guessing that its origins as a TV movie are partly to blame. Walter C. Miller also seems to keep the action going at an extremely sloth-like pace which hurts it.

The Borrowers is not without its charm though. There's a certain kind of warmth in terms of its use of music and calm, montagy cinematography. Judith Anderson as Great Aunt Sophy is at times really difficult to understand with whatever accent she has. When I can actually understand what she's saying, she's actually pretty amusing. What I'll say about the effects is that they could've been worse. They've definitely aged pretty poorly but that's to be expected.

I can't say for certain how close The Borrowers stays with the book because I haven't read it since I was a kid, but I'm pretty certain that it's far more faithful than the 1997 version. Certain pieces of dialogue coupled with the acting feel extremely weak though. (Spoilers) The meeting between the boy and Arrietty is a good example of this and most of the blame falls on child actor Dennis Larson. I'm sure it's weird acting with no one in front of you but he sucks the air out of the scene with his complete non-personality. The final big crisis involving the ferret being let loose to find the Clocks is actually pretty thrilling but ends far too abruptly unfortunately and ruins the effect. (End Spoilers

The Borrowers grew on me slowly the more I watched it. The 41 years that have gone by have not just been unkind but completely wicked to Walter C. Miller's effort. It all the same has its charm and has a really funny Judith Anderson to boot. If you're a huge fan of Mary Norton's book this is the movie for you. Fans of the 1997 version can probably skip this movie unless you're genuinely curious. 



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