Despite the formidable star power of no less than Julie Andrews, this original version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s made-for-TV musical Cinderella has been astonishingly neglected, overshadowed by the 1965 version starring Lesley Ann Warren.
This oversight was largely due to technology; the 1957 version, broadcast live, was preserved only as a black-and-white kinescope (i.e., a film recording made directly from a television screen, intended for studio use rather than viewing purposes; ironically, the broadcast was in color, but the kinescope was made from a black-and-white television).
Now at last the kinescope has been remastered for home video, and Andrews’ first screen performance is finally available for her fans to enjoy. Already a stage star in the Cinderella role of My Fair Lady’s Eliza Dolittle, Julie Andrews as Cinderella is a no-brainer, and the 1957 version is worth seeing for her performance and singing alone. At the same time, it’s fair to note that the 22-year-old star lacks the wide-eyed ingenue quality the 19-year-old Warren brought to her debut role in the 1965 version.
The 1957 version opens on a strong note with a rousing rendition of “The Prince is Giving a Ball,” and benefits from charming material involving the Prince’s royal family cut from later versions. But Edith Adams’s baton-twirling fairy-godmother-as-cheerleader dates poorly, and moving the glass-slipper scene from Cinderella’s house to the palace (almost making Cinderella a sort of royals stalker) is a bad idea. On the other hand, I like the way the denouement of this version softens Cinderella’s stepfamily and their ultimate fate.
Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella is such a gallant anachronism, such a grandly unreconstructed throwback, that it offers, without ever raising its voice, a ringing cross-examination of our whole era of dark, gritty fairy-tale revisionism.
There may be no dethroning the Disney cartoon as the definitive musical retelling of the story of Cinderella in the popular imagination; but for my money Rodgers & Hammerstein’s made-for-TV musical is a better take on the timeless fairy tale set in stone by Charles Perrault, and a better introduction to the story for children.
Coming in the wake of a string of early classics — Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi — Disney’s Cinderella represents, alas, the early stages of Disney-itis.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.