Film Review: The Parent Trap (1961)
In 1961, David Swift released The Parent Trap, based on the 1941 novel “Das doppelte Lottchen” by Erich Kästner. Starring Hayley Mills, Brian Keith, Maureen O’Hara, Joanna Barnes, Charlie Ruggles, Cathleen Nesbitt, Una Merkel, Leo G. Carroll, Linda Watkins, Ruth McDevitt, Crahan Denton, Nancy Kulp, and Frank De Vol, the film grossed $25.1 million at the box office.
Identical twin sisters Susan and Sharon were separated as babies when their parents divorced, unaware of the others’ existence. The two meet each other at summer camp the year their father is considering remarrying and plot to get their parents back together.
The Parent Trap is a fun concept and a good film, consisting of an enjoyable plot. It starts out seeming like it’s going to be one of those films where two people who hate each other have to come to an understanding to either like the other person or wind up miserable. Instead the film spends a small amount of time on the setup of Susan and Sharon being put in isolation together, with them making up rather quickly once they find out they’re sisters, and more time on the plan to see the parent they’ve never met and getting them back together. The switcheroo ploy doesn’t drag on either, as the necessity of stopping Mitch’s new marriage trumps the two girls pretending to be the other. It’s a well-paced story with no unnecessary padding.
At the same time, the film has some great editing. Mills plays both Susan and Sharon, both of whom are on screen simultaneously in a number of scenes. Sometimes, this is accomplished by one of the girls having her back to the camera and having Susan Henning double for Mills. On the other hand, there are multiple moments where the two are showing their faces and moving around at the same time. The first time they’re on camera together is in the lunch line at camp and they stare at each other for a few seconds. This is a simple editing trick any accomplished film editor can pull off. However, when the two are putting on their performance later in the film and singing “Let’s Get Together,” it provides more of a challenge. Nevertheless, it’s done so well the viewer, though knowing the two of them are played by the same actress, doesn’t think about it.
The characterization found in the film is good, too. It would have been easy to make it so Susan and Sharon begin the film with nearly the same personalities with small differences. What the audience is given are two girls with very distinct personalities, tastes, hobbies and interests, such as Susan’s infatuation with Ricky Nelson and Sharon not even knowing who he is. The difference between the two is so great they even have to teach each other how to act like themselves so the ploy to trick their parents is successful. Even small characters have notable personalities, like Reverend Mosby. Upon his discovery of Mitch and Maggie in a compromising position, he doesn’t reprimand either of them or run off to tell Vicky about what her fiancé is doing. What he does do is act rational, listen to Mitch’s explanation and wonders why the two of them split up in the first place.
The aforementioned characterization of Susan and Sharon wouldn’t have been possible without Mills’ great acting. Despite her not having very many roles previous to this film, she manages to hold her own as two different girls, giving both of them needed depth. Moreover, Barnes provides a good performance as the girls’ foil. She’s believable near the end of the film when camping with Mitch and the girls and out of her element. Until this point, the sweetness of the character was believable and the vitriol she has towards the girls during the trip feels real.
Awards & Recognitions
bold indicates reception of award/recognition
- Best Sound
- Best Film Editing
American Cinema Editors, USA – Eddie Awards
- Best Edited Feature Film
Golden Globe Awards
- Best Motion Picture – Comedy
- Best Actress – Comedy or Musical (Hayley Mills)
- Best Soundtrack Album or Recording of Original Cast from Motion Picture or Television
- Top General Entertainment
- Top Male Comedy Performance (Brian Keith)
- Top Female Comedy Performance (Hayley Mills)
Writers Guild of America Awards
- Best Written American Comedy