Disney Live-Action Classics

Before she was a “Candle in the Wind” reprise waiting to happen, Lindsay Lohan was just a prepubescent thespian with a contract at Disney — shades of Hayley Mills, especially considering that Lohan’s debut came in a do-over of The Parent Trap. Where Nancy Meyers’ 1998 Trap update was glib assembly-line crap, David Swift’s 1961 original (screening in the American Cinematheque’s retrospective of classic live-action Disney films) holds up well five decades on. The plot is a laborious contraption in which identical twin girls (a tomboy and a princess, both played by Mills), reared apart and oblivious to each other’s existence, are fortuitously reunited at summer camp and scheme to reconcile their mother and father. Your mileage may vary on the mistaken-identity shtick, but there’s real warmth in the film’s notion that the girls should act so protectively toward the parents who separated them — and real finesse in Mills’ double-barreled star turn. If The Parent Trap broaches very real adolescent anxieties of abandonment and familial fissure (it’s a divorce story that never quite spells out the d-i-v-o-r-c-e), the studio’s subsequent Mills vehicle pivots on the universal fear that one’s cat will draw them into cloak-and-dagger intrigue. Similarly blemished by a dreadful late-’90s remake, Robert Stevenson’s That Darn Cat! (1965) is lightweight kiddie-caper stuff, yet the abundance of skilled comics in the supporting cast (with Frank Gorshin and Neville Brand best in show as a pair of nasty bank robbers) gives the proceedings an air of rarefied silliness. The air is heavy with melancholy in the series’ other cat-themed effort: Don Chaffey’s lugubrious 1964 tearjerker The Three Lives of Thomasina, which depicts the violent death and supernatural resurrection of a distaff tabby in pre-WWI Scotland. With numerous scenes set in its feline star’s subconscious, Thomasina predates Being John Malkovich’s monkey dream sequences by 35 years. It may also be a weirder movie overall, what with its intimations of witchcraft, creepy troupe of itinerant circus performers and the mere presence of Patrick McGoohan. American Cinematheque at the Aero Theatre; Wed.-Sun., July 11-15. www.americancinematheque.com.


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