“And four white mice will never be four white horses…such fal-der-al and fiddle-dee-dee of courses”
Who doesn’t know the story of Cinderella? After her father’s untimely death, a young girl (Lesley Ann Warren, In Plain Sight) is forced to work as a servant for her step-mother (Jo Van Fleet, East of Eden) and step-sisters in her own home. When word reaches the family of the Prince of their kingdom (Stuart Damon, General Hospital) hosting a Royal Ball in order to find his future bride, Cinderella wishes she could go and have a chance like everyone else. And lo and behold that wish is granted when her fairy godmother (Celeste Holm, Promised Land) appears to transform Cinderella into a beautiful vision, complete with iconic glass slippers. Cinderella goes to the ball and wins the Prince’s heart but the magic fades and she flees, leaving the Prince heartbroken yet determined to find the mysterious woman who stole his heart. Cinderella left behind a shoe during her flight and the Prince carries it with him, vowing to marry the girl whose foot fits. And he traverses the kingdom and, though her step-mother tries to stop Cinderella from having a chance to try on the shoe, fate intervenes when the Prince finds Cinderella and the two live happily ever after.
So that’s the gist of the story. It’s a pretty simple concept and it has a timeless appeal, which made it the perfect choice for entertainment powerhouses Richard Rodgers (South Pacific) and Oscar Hammerstein (Flower Drum Song) to adapt into a musical. This 1965 version is actually the second television movie of the adaptation and, at the time, was the biggest television production of its kind. The first, shown in 1957, showcased Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music) in the titular role. Coming off a string of mega musical hits such as State Fair, The King and I and Oklahoma! Rodgers and Hammerstein were enjoying a level of success few ever achieve. Thus, all they had to do was snap their fingers and pretty much anyone they wanted to would fill the roles.
It was a bit of a surprise to see unknown Lesley Ann Warren don the iconic slippers, especially when you consider who else rounds out the cast. The Queen and King, roles that aren’t crucial to the story by any means, were taken by Ginger Rogers (Kitty Foil) and Walter Pidgeon (Mrs. Miniver), Academy Award winner and Academy Award nominee, respectively. Celeste Holm had also won an Academy Award by this point so to say the pressure was on Warren and is a bit of an understatement. However, the worrying was for naught as the broadcast was a huge success playing yearly for at least a decade. That’s due in no small part to the acting, though admittedly the heavy lifting is done by the Rodgers and Hammerstein music and lyrics. Warren brings just the right amount of doe-eyed innocence to the iconic role. This is a quick play, less than ninety minutes, yet though the roles are somewhat condensed everyone commits wholeheartedly. Yes, it feels as though you’re watching a play as opposed to a movie, but no charm is lost from the change in perspective.
I’ve always enjoyed the Rodgers and Hammerstein oeuvre of musical films and I hold a certain amount of affection for their interpretation of Cinderella, all three television versions I’ve seen. However, I do understand the limitations the 1965 broadcast presents to a modern viewer. For one thing, Charles S. Dubin’s (M*A*S*H) direction is very much theater-appropriate as opposed to the type of musical television production which would be put on today. Secondly, this production is also presented as a teleplay as opposed to what we consider a television movie, with a definite “this-is-a-play” aesthetic. This could be a turn-off for those who wish to see a certain level of production value on their screens.
Lastly, there are a few beats within the story which may rankle modern-day viewers. A weird bit of lyric choice stands out, as Cinderella dreams of being a slave at one point. What? It strikes a discordant note for sure. Also Cinderella openly states she gets beaten by her stepmother. Usually the abuse is more of a verbal nature within the story so for it to be stated so baldly is a bit of a shock. More shocking is who she shares this information with…the Prince! It’s in the opening scene and she explains why she’s hesitant to come outside and help him. The most shocking thing is possibly his reaction, which can be best summed up as “meh.” He isn’t outraged, apologetic, no sympathetic response at all, really. That’s tough for our modern day sensibilities. It’s soon revealed the Prince is someone who just goes along with what he’s told so from a character standpoint; it’s understandable, but still not very palatable.
My positive feelings for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella stem out of a nostalgic rooting, pure and simple. I recommend it for someone who likewise views it in that light. I’m not sure it will appeal to a first-time viewer though the Rodgers and Hammerstein magic is quite present and could very well ensnare a new generation.
When discussing Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella: 50th Anniversary Edition, the good news is the digital restoration. The original 1.33:1 full frame transfer is displayed to its best, and that goes likewise for the Dolby 2.0 Stereo track. That being said there is a strange almost fish-eye lens quality to the picture which causes the outer edges to be slightly out of focus. So you’ll need to adjust your viewing and try to keep your gaze to the middle of the screen for the most part. The audio does a good job especially when you can plainly hear the vocals were captured live. Neither aspect will rock your world but it looks and sounds good for as old as it is.
The lone special feature is a retrospective featurette compiled in 2001, featuring interviews with Lesley Ann Warren, Stuart Damon and Celeste Holm acting as the main portion, with additional photos and interview snippets mixed in, as well. It’s worth noting the retrospective was ported over from the 2002 release yet the other special features from that disc were not.
Each television version of this Cinderella work has its own charm, and Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella is no exception. Lesley Ann Warren’s debut showcases some of the wide-eyed guilelessness she would come to display in later works and it’s wonderful to see Ginger Rogers and Walter Pidgeon. The storyline is clearly dated but it’s a classic example of a bygone era in terms of television production values.