In 1968, I think, my grandmother offered to take me to the movies. I would have been 10 at the time, and my grandmother was cool: she took me to see Planet of the Apes and The Poseidon Adventure when they first opened in the big movie theaters on Broadway. But on this day in 1968, the two enormous side-by-side theaters were playing Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang and Oliver!
Oliver! got great reviews (written by adults, of course). Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang was based on a book of Ian Fleming's that I'd read a few years earlier and this was the movie kids were excited about. It got not-so-great reviews. But it starred Dick Van Dyke, with songs written by Richard and Robert Sherman. It had the scent of Mary Poppins about it (and would have had Julie Andrews in it if she hadn't been stubborn). It was also made by the folks behind the James Bond films.
As we stood in front of the theaters, my grandmother asked, "Are you sure you want to see Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang? Oliver! is supposed to be very good." This meant, of course, that she wanted to see Oliver! I was not to be deterred: Dick Van Dyke and an amazing flying car was what I wanted to see.
If you're a Disney fan, or a fan of the brothers Richard and Robert Sherman, then the terrific score for Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang will be no surprise to you. Lots of great tunes, including the title number, "Toot Sweets," "Hushabye Mountain," "Me Ol' Bamboo," and so on. You can buy a terrific CD here.
I stood my ground, my grandmother acquiesced, and into Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang we went. A pity, because I'm sure that Oliver! is a much better movie. Nevertheless, I was enthralled. There are so many things in the movie that hit just the right buttons for a kid that's easy to forgive that Julie Andrews would have made it much better and the movie is a bit of a lumbering mess.
But there were lots of cool toys, among them a damn fantastic car from Corgi of Britain that has pop-out wings and also turns into a boat of sorts.
And also this really wild machine from Mattel (which meant that it's really swell) which made Toot Sweet candy whistles out of four different flavors of Tootsie-Rolls.
The car in Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang is a marvelous creation with real personality, and thus when Dick Van Dyke sings an enthusiastic song about it, well it just doesn't seem as silly as it otherwise might.
Now the miraculous part of this is that we are at the end of 2015 and Dick Van Dyke has just turned 90. A beloved figure in Hollywood (he really is a nice guy), he's being widely feted and deservedly so. And he's still performing! I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined as a 10-year-old that as a 57-year-old I would still have the pleasure of seeing Dick Van Dyke singing "Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang." But sometimes miraculous and wonderful things happen, so click here and enjoy a real blast from the ancient past from a 90-year-old guy who still knows how to have a lot of fun. Does anyone you know really enjoy himself so much?