Two movies have been based on L'Oiseau bleu (play 1908) by Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949).
1. US movie (1940). 20th Century-Fox. Pr Darryl F Zanuck. Assoc pr Gene Markey. Dir Walter Lang. Spfx Fred Sersen. Screenplay Walter Bullock, Ernest Pascal. Starring Eddie Collins (Tylo), Helen Ericson (Light), Sybil Jason (Angela Berlingot), Jessie Ralph (Fairy Berylune), Johnny Russell (Tyltyl), Gale Sondergaard (Tylette), Shirley Temple (1928-2014) (Mytyl). 98 mins. Colour and b/w.
Just before Christmas, peasant child Mytyl and her younger brother Tyltyl catch a bird in the woods. On the way home Mytyl refuses to trade it with sick child Angela. That night Mytyl complains of the misery of her lot. Approaching midnight, Mytyl and Tyltyl wake (and the movie shifts from b/w into Technicolor). The Fairy Berylune arrives and tells the children they must find the Blue Bird of Happiness, which could be anywhere; as guide she gives them Light (incarnated as a beautiful woman) and for Companions she transmogrifies into human form Tylo the dog (thick but loyal) and Tylette the cat (intelligent but treacherous, realizing that if the children's Quest founders she will be freed from the Bondage of cat-hood). The children search the World of the Past, the World of Luxury and the World of the Future, which they find populated by all the children who have yet to be born; birth comes when Father Time calls the roll and the chosen children travel to Earth in a silver-sailed ship. Still there is no Blue Bird and, disappointed, Mytyl and Tyltyl return home . . . to wake in their beds realizing how lucky they are. Joyously, Mytyl discovers the bird she caught yesterday is now blue, and at once takes it to Angela. The bird escapes; Mytyl consoles Angela with the knowledge that one can always find the Blue Bird.
Much was expected of TBB, with Temple commercially a strong lead, but while it was in production The Wizard of Oz (1939) was released, and TBB more or less vanished without trace. The remake, 2, although itself disastrous, gave new life to the original. This is no Wizard of Oz – Temple's tweeness cannot match Garland's acting – but neither should it have been forgotten. [JG]
2. US/USSR movie (1976). 20th Century-Fox/Lenfilm/ Sovinfilm/Tower. Pr Paul Maslansky. Exec pr Edward Lewis. Dir George Cukor. Spfx Lev Cholmov, Wayne Fitzgerald/Pacific Title, Roy Field, Leonid Kajukov, Boris Michailov, Georgi Senotov, Aleksandr Zavtalov. Screenplay Alfred Hayes, Hugh Whitemore. Starring Harry Andrews (Oak), George Cole (Tylo), Jane Fonda (Night), Ava Gardner (Luxury), Patsy Kensit (Mytyl), Todd Lookinland (Tyltyl), Pheona McLellan (Sick Girl), Robert Morley (Time), Elizabeth Taylor (Light/Maternal Love/Mother/Witch), Cicely Tyson (Tylette). 83 mins. Colour.
This was intended as a gesture of West/East friendship, so there are Russian actors in minor roles (their lines usually dubbed, and clumsily) plus interpolated fits of Russian ballet; the Russians contributed more impressively on the technical side. To the scenario of 1 is added a venture into the Palace of Night, where are found numerous blue birds; but they die with dawn's coming. Only Tyson seems able to bring any conviction to this excruciatingly bad movie; Taylor is wooden in four roles. The whole is redolent of a school play. [JG]