Based on Mary Norton’s The Magic Bedknob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons and Bonfires and Broomsticks, this film went into development in the 60s when it looked like Mary Poppins wouldn’t get made. Due to its similarities to that movie — Julie Andrews was considered for the lead in this, but hesitated and Angela Landsbury got the role — it was put on hold.
As the Sherman brothers’ contract with the Disney studios was about to end, they were brought back to work on this film, bringing back the song “The Beautiful Briny” which had been meant for Mary Poppins.
Taking place during the Blitz or World War II, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is the story of the Rawlins orphans, who are evacuated from London to the countryside and the care of Miss Eglantine Price (Landsbury). They decide to run away, but watch their temporary foster parent fly on a broomstick and decide to stick around.
She tells the chldren that she’s learning witchcraft to protect the UK from the Nazis and is currently a student at the school of Professor Emelius Browne (David Tomlinson). When she discovers that the school is shutting down, she travels to find the professor and discover the final spell she needs to learn to become a witch.
It turns out that Browne is a showman more than a sorceror and that he made up all of the spells, but they all still work when Price casts them. To get the final spell, she must travel to Portobello Road to locate the rest of the book that has been cut in half. It turns out that the rest of the spell is engraved on the Star of Astaroth, a sorcerer’s medallion that has been given to a pack of wild animals that were given the power to speak. The group joruneys there and enters an animated world where Browne is able to spirit away the treasure.
Yet when thety return home and the children consider that the two magic users could be their parents, it looks like things are going to become dark. And darker still when the Nazis finally attack. Will the skills that Price has learned be enough to protect them all?
The film originally ran 141 minutes. That said, the premiere at the Radio City Music Hall had to work in the theater’s elaborate stage show, so 23 minutes were cut from the film. Those lost scenes include nearly all of Roddy McDowall’s character and three songs, “A Step in the Right Direction,” “With a Flair” and “Nobody’s Problems.” “Portobello Road” had seven minutes cut out before the movie as restored as part of its twenty-fifth anniversary, with Lansbury and McDowall redubbing their voices. Sadly, Tomlinson was too ill to record, so Jeff Bennett recorded his lines.
I totally enjoy that this is a more occult-based Mary Poppins. Crowley, who invented the V for Victory symbol, would be proud.