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Walt Disney Presents: The Moon-Spinners

“Everyone lies when it serves their purpose – even the stars.”

I woke up really early one day and decided to watch the 1964 film, The Moon-Spinners, simply because I now have a Disney+ subscription. Deep inside my brain, the frugal lips of my father still read “Squeeze every drop out of what you buy,” so I wanted to plumb the depths of the online archive. My continuing mission (apparently): to explore strange new films.

I am not going to review The Moon-Spinners in this piece. There’s plenty of action and suspense in the film, which centers in Crete and has several awesome moments, including trying to escape the island in a hearse. Instead, I am going to talk about Hayley Mills, who plays protagonist Nikki Ferris, and what I wish had happened in this movie. It’s a fun romp that breaks some of Disney’s typical clich├ęs, even showing some violence, but like most films in the 60's there's a lot of lag time compared to the films we watch today (Shot. Person walking down hall. Shot. Person turning the corner. Shot. Person continuing to walk.) This formula means The Moon-Spinners was a good watch, but lacked much to tax the mind. My mind, therefore, kept working to find ways to tighten the script – and some of them were just too delicious not to share.

During the film, this clearly intelligent if young and biddable girl, Nikki (Mills), attaches herself to the nearest white blonde British male available (Mark Camford, played by Peter McEnery) while on holiday in Crete with her aunt, a musicologist interested in recording local singers. She does so despite the fact that he’s rude, callous, puts her down, and literally insults her (except when they first meet, but hey, he was drinking). In exchange, she saves his life and takes tons of risks with her own as they try to retrieve the jewels hotel owner Stratos (Eli Wallach) has stolen from Camford's employer.

Stratos: Look, I'm a bad guy!

During the movie, Nikki has two opportunities which, IMHO, she completely misses. I want to explore those opportunities. Because honestly, Mark Camford is kind of boring.

WHEN SHE MEETS ALEXIS: Alexis (Michael Davis) is much younger than Mark Camford. He’s also so much cooler! Alexis is a resident of Crete, works in the hotel in which Hayley stays, and is sweet, kind and open. He clearly knows everyone and everything in the area and has a great moral compass. Alexis is the Merlin of this movie, in terms of keeping the story moving, and making sure things can happen. You can see Alexis clearly respects and values Nikki already, and is willing to consider her a friend. Honestly, I’d have been more interested in a sub-plot where Nikki all of a sudden looks at the two men and thinks: what am I really looking for in life?

Mark Camford and Alexis look hopefully up at Nikki.
Kinda like choosing between Ant-Man and Tom Holland Spider-Man, isn't it?

Imagine this pair solving mysteries by the Cretan ocean. Instead, Nikki seems to let the expectations of the world control her attractions. In my dream subplot Nikki realizes she likes Alexis while they’re rescuing Mark Camford. Instead of Camford stealing a kiss Nikki gives one to Alexis, Alexis looks up at her with suddenly older eyes, and the movie ends with them promising to be close friends for life. We, the audience, smirk and know better.

WHEN SHE MEETS MADAME HABIB: Madame Habib is played by Pola Negri in arguably one of her best roles and her final film role ever. I had to watch her scenes a few times because Negri has the ability to say many things and share many ideas with a few well-crafted expressions. In this film Negri plays the role of a Bond supervillain, complete with a tiger on her own ship. (No, a yacht, if it's owned by a rich person and has a staff and a place to eat dinner and a private room with a tiger it's a yacht. Rule.) The ship is named appropriately the Minotaur (which literally means 'infamy of Crete'). At this point, Nikki has become desperate. She knows Madame Habib is a rich person who will stoop at nothing to buy jewels. She's just escaped being duped, along with Mark, by a fake British Consulate who drugged them both with the help of his alcoholic wife. (I said the film wasn't mentally taxing, but it's definitely full of excitement.) In desperation, she steals a boat, I mean yacht, no this one is a boat, and decides to confront Madame Habib and beg her to not buy the jewels.

Yep, definitely a yacht.

Madame Habib is ensorcelled by Nikki’s charm, and mentions she believes Nikki’s future is full of interest. You can see Madame Habib’s wheels turning; you can see a certain fascination with Nikki and the bravery, resourcefulness and ruthlessness Nikki has shown. What if Madame Habib had offered Nikki an escape from all these stupid men, while Mark and Stratos tussle on the floor over a necklace? What if she had offered to take Nikki and her aunt out into the ocean and teach them the ways of crime while attending exotic musical events? What if they had thrown both Mark and Stratos overboard, kept the necklace, kidnapped Alexis, and gone out to sea? What if Nikki had grown in skill and cunning to join the Avengers?

I’m just saying. And also, they should haul back to Crete first and take Alexis’ mom Sophia (Stratos’ sister). Irene Papas took a minimal tertiary role and turned it into something powerful, rejecting her brother’s villainous acts, apparent violence, and speaking out for her son. Every expression from Papas spoke of sublime acting skills. Please, Madame Habib and Nikki of my soul, please take Sophia too on your tiger-led criminal yacht, out to the sea, where none of you ever have to deal with Mark Camford again.

Memorable Moments:

WHERE IT CAME FROM: Lady Mary Stewart penned the original novel of the same name. I originally read her work because of her Arthurian trilogy, which began with The Crystal Cave.

TIME TRAVEL: Remember I mentioned The Avengers? The film takes on an oddly multidimensional feel when you realize Nikki Ferris appears in The Parent Trap II – as the daughter of Hayley Mills.

YOUR MIND AIN’T GOING: At one point in the story, Nikki is running to steal brandy secretly in order to… well, because drinking is what men do when they get shot, I guess. One of the singers her aunt is recording sees the bottle apparently floating in air – and clearly thinks she's losing her mind. I think this may be actress Pamela Barrie, but can't confirm. It's a great character moment.

BUT ISN'T SHE... AND AREN'T YOU...: While it may seem natural for a young woman like Nikki to become fascinated by an older man, the apparent age difference between Nikki and Mark gets a little creepy at times.

Great Lines:

Captain: Madame, there's a young woman in a motorboat alongside. She's signaling to come aboard.
Madame Habib: What sort of a young woman?
Captain: A young woman.
Habib: I don't recall any mention of a young woman in the arrangements.

Habib: So who else knows about these emeralds?
Nikki: My aunt Frances. Well, I had to tell her.
Habib: And where is she now?
Nikki: She's in a hearse at the airport.
Habib: Drink.
Nikki: What is it?
Habib: It make clear your brain.

Should You Watch? And How Did It Rate?

Oh, definitely watch this when you’ve got the time and need something that doesn’t agitate the brain cells, but don’t expect depth and be prepared to ponder how times have changed – and to enjoy every moment of Negri. Three out of five treasures hidden in the Bay of Dolphins, unless they remake this with my suggestions, then it’s five out of five.

1 comment:

  1. Aunt Frances was played by English actress Joan Greenwood.


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