User Reviews (42)

  • ellenirishellen-629629 April 2017
    9/10
    Deserves Its Reputation
    Warning: Spoilers
    This has a superior cast,from the British military who discover Mary alone in her home after an epidemic,to the cruel taunts on the ship,to the mansion in Yorkshire.We learn all about Mary,from a sullen orphan who learns to live and love after the loss of her parents in India.She has to make due in her uncle and cousin's home,a home as devoid of hope as her own was in India,and her new friendship with Dickon,getting to know her relatives and bringing them back to life.It's not easy weathering such personal tragedy,but one can't let it rule one's life,like Mary herself,her uncle,and her cousin.Always a favorite book,this movie version is THE BEST!Too bad the author never had this salvation of a secret garden in her own life!Lowell Gilmore,in first scenes of the film,is good,playing British officer,even if he was a Midwesterner.Would love to know what happened to his health from at least 1955,as he looked sickly and retired in 1958,dying in 1960.
  • JLRVancouver21 February 2017
    7/10
    Good, but not great, version of the classic story
    Warning: Spoilers
    Child star Margaret O'Brien leads a young(ish) central cast including Dean Stockwell and Brian Roper. The first two looked a couple of years older than the 10 year old characters and Roper was 20, and although he looked younger than that, he didn't look like a child (albeit the character is supposed to be a little otherworldly, think Francis of Assisi or Melampus). The black and white cinematography is good and the transition to colour when the Secret Garden begins to bloom is quite effective. While not as scenic or true to the book as the 1994 version, this is a good retelling with the notable exception of the axe scene. Why the writers felt that the possibility of murder needed to be introduced, then immediately dropped, into a children's tale of love, loss, and rebirth is beyond me.
  • jacobs-greenwood7 December 2016
    8/10
    This terrific family film features Margaret O'Brien, Herbert Marshall, Dean Stockwell
    Warning: Spoilers
    Directed by Fred Wilcox, based on the much filmed Francis Hodgson Burnett novel of the same name, with a Robert Ardrey screenplay, this is a terrific family film (and a tear-jerker for most parents) which also features a heartfelt ending.

    Margaret O'Brien is Mary Lennox, a girl whose family dies from Cholera. She is shipped off to live with her emotionally withdrawn Uncle (Herbert Marshall), whose wife died some years earlier. Her Uncle is a wealthy man with a large estate which includes a mysterious high walled, locked enclosure. One day, Mary discovers that there is an invalid boy, Colin (Dean Stockwell), living in the estate's vast mansion. Colin, the neglected son of her Uncle, is an ill-behaved, bedridden boy who is either crying, yelling at the staff (which includes Elsa Lanchester and Gladys Cooper; Reginald Owen is the estate's groundskeeper), or sleeping. Though his frequently absent father has employed several doctors, Colin remains a cripple. Mary also meets a local boy, Dickon (Brian Roper), who's good with animals. With him, she shares her latest discovery, a key which leads them to a door in the high walled enclosure. Upon opening the door, they discover a neglected garden. They decide to keep their discovery a secret; they also decide to work in the garden to restore it to what it once was. Mary wants to share their secret with Colin, whom she's come to know. In fact, she's the only person in the mansion he wants to see. She is its only resident that can keep him from misbehaving, because she's not willing to put up with his tantrums herself.

    Through Dickon and Mary, Colin is able to experience the garden and eventually gets well enough to visit it himself, in his wheelchair. Evidently, Mary's Uncle had locked the garden and thrown away its key because it was the site of his wife's death. When he discovers that the children have found the key, he rushes to the now fully restored garden (in Technicolor!) where he sees his son, who is so excited he walks to his father for the very first time!
  • kijii21 November 2016
    8/10
    The secret garden—the only part of the movie in color--represents something of a Garden of Eden revisited
    Warning: Spoilers
    This is one of the many versions of this movie made over the years. I think it functions well as a representative movie of that sub-genre of 'Fairy Tales (For Adults).' It is a fable in that children—at least in this case--teach adults a valuable moral lesson.

    When a spoiled child, Mary (Margaret O'Brien) living in India is orphaned because her parents die of a cholera epidemic, she is sent to England to live with her strange uncle (Herbert Marshall). He is has a dark mood, is reclusive, and really doesn't want to be bothered by her or anyone else. Left to her own devices, she roams around her new surroundings--within her uncle's explicit restrictions--and discovers how best to get along. While walking on the grounds of his estate, she meets one of the servant's boys, Dickon (Brian Roper).

    Dickon tells Mary that there is legend of a secret garden somewhere on the grounds. He also tells her that the garden is walled in and has been totally unkempt for years and no one can find the key to its gate.

    Later, while in the house, Mary hears human screaming but can get no information from any of the servants about it. Finally, she finds a bedridden boy about her age, Colin (Dean Stockwell). Colin tells Mary that he is 'throwing a temper tantrum'. Like her, he seems spoiled and kowtowed to by the servants. When the Mary and Dickon find the key to the garden gate, they enter and find it overgrown and neglected, as predicted by the legend. But, the garden seems to be something within the children's ability to change, and as they revitalize the garden we learn more about its symbolic power. It holds the answer to many of the past's mysteries that simply needed to be 'unlocked and used' to be discovered.

    Thinking of the story's symbolism a bit, one could imagine that the children in the garden—the only part of the movie in color--represent something of a Garden of Eden--in reverse. That is, it is unspoiled by the world around it after being re-discovered by children (sort of a return to the innocence of Eden--Before The Fall).

    Another interpretation might be that, just as Freudian psychoanalysis unmasks forgotten childhood memories to 'see the past,' a child-like state of questioning is often necessary to rediscover a healthy state of being. After all, in the movie, the Herbert Marshall character often refers to himself as on the brink of insanity. But, when the children bring him back in the garden, he is restored in mind and spirit.
  • pinkarray6 September 2015
    8/10
    I love me some O'brien
    I grew up watching O'brien movies. She was my favorite child actor alongside Shirley Temple and Peggy Ann Garner. There were a few O'brien movies I didn't like, this being the addition but after the second or few times of watching this, I actually liked it.

    Stubborn Mary (Margaret O'Brien) has lost her parents due to cholera. She gets sent to Europe, where she gets laughed at by some kids and discovers a garden which causes her to change from a nasty brat to a nice girl.

    I do believe that Mary was too nasty in this adaptation and outspoken, considering when she confronts Colin about his overly loud cry. Margaret O'Brien nails her performance, except for the accent, which was quite stiff for a Indian girl who comes to British.

    Sometimes it can get a bit melodramatic but it was an engaging adaptation for people to love and remember fondly. I also recommend the 1993 Secret Garden, which was also good.
  • grantss5 June 2015
    9/10
    Wonderful movie
    Wonderful movie.

    The story of a girl who is sent to live with her uncle on his estate when her parents die. There she discovers much intrigue, family history and secrets and personal baggage. In particular, a screaming child and...a secret garden.

    Incredibly engaging and enchanting story. The three kids who form the main characters are quite sweet and the interaction between the three is fantastic.

    Add in an air of mystery and some cute and/or funny moments (look out for the goat, fox and raven...) and you have a movie where every moment is a joy to watch.

    The whole thing feels like a Rudyard Kipling novel (and I was surprised this wasn't based on a novel of his - India even features in the background story), with a smidgen of Edgar Allan Poe thrown in.

    Excellent performance by Margaret O'Brien as Mary. 12-year Dean Stockwell (whom I did not recognise for a moment) and Brian Roper are also great as the two other kids.

    The presence of Elsa Lanchaster tells you this is a great movie - she has the golden touch in terms of acting in classics (especially in supporting roles). She puts in a good performance here too.

    Great work by a raven in an uncredited role.
  • clanciai31 May 2015
    9/10
    Three children find each other in a world of darkness and bring light into it.
    This is a marvel of a film in many ways, for its extreme contrasts and almost paradox nature of joining utter horror tragedy with the idylls of paradise. It's a story of children written for children, but the film actually turns it almost into a horror feature, as the screaming child in the nights would give anyone compulsory nightmares, especially since no explanation is provided. Adding to the gloomy horror nature of a Dickens nightmare at its worst is Gladys Cooper as the totally cold-blooded aunt who is worse than a death skull in her insensitivity, and of course Herbert Marshall as the uncle, who for once has the opportunity for a different character than a gentleman. The tantrums are not those of his forcibly crippled son but of his own, which he projects on the world around him and especially on his only son, in a morbid effort to turn him into the same guilt complex martyr as himself. The scenes with the children are terrific, but the great trick is the use of the black-and-white somberness that dominates the film as a base for the effect achieved when the film bursts into color. This had already been used effectively, especially in "The Portrait of Jennie" with Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten, another masterpiece of cinematic artwork, but here it is more demonstrative, as if the contrasts between the dark gloom of hell and the paradise of the secret garden needed accentuating. It was remade in 1994 by Agnieszka Holland all in color, which definitely transcends this earlier version, abstaining from the horror ingredients and sticking more convincingly to the story with emphasis on making the psychology work. Nevertheless, both versions are well worth seeing and returning to, in some ways complementing each other, this one as the more dramatic and Holland's as the more beautiful. Of course, on such a great and enchantingly constructive story about lovable children bringing life into a world of decay around them, no film could fail.
  • wes-connors24 May 2015
    7/10
    Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary
    After a cholera epidemic wipes out her parents and most of their Indian village, spoiled and disagreeable Margaret O'Brien (as Mary Lennox) is sent home to live with her reclusive uncle Herbert Marshall (as Archibald Craven) in Yorkshire, England. Accustomed to many devoted servants, young Miss O'Brien finds the new staff lacking. They don't think to hand her a biscuit. She has to dress herself. Her melancholy uncle prefers to remain a stranger. O'Brien is locked in her room at bedtime and told she must not explore the dark, moody mansion. At night, she hears the wailing of ten-year-old cousin Dean Stockwell (as Colin Craven). Sickly and bedridden, young Stockwell fears his death is near. Allowed outside to play, O'Brien meets robust young Brian Roper (as Dickon). The local lad is beloved by wild animals and tells O'Brien about a "Secret Garden" on the estate...

    Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic novel has been made into several movies. Probably, none fully capture the nightmarish enchantment present in the original work. MGM and producer Clarence Brown succeed in the former, partially, by giving it a Gothic look...

    Dreary and majestic setting (by Edwin B. Willis) and photography (by Ray June) make several early scenes memorable, but director Fred M. Wilcox loses focus as the pace dulls and story development becomes rushed. The character "Mary" becomes less relevant and her cousin "Colin" suffers from a too-hasty resolution. While fine performers, O'Brien and Stockwell do not have the appropriate script or appearance; as well as unlikeable, they should be frail, plain and sickly. Like "Colin", the "Garden" changes too suddenly. In this instance, the switch to color photography is harsh and turgid. Set design and costuming add to the increasing artificiality. Still, the film contains many moments which faithfully evoke scenes from the book. And, the character you'd most expect them to blunder turns out to be the best, as Brian Roper's "Dickon" is appropriately amazing.

    ******* The Secret Garden (1949-04-30) Fred M. Wilcox ~ Margaret O'Brien, Dean Stockwell, Brian Roper, Herbert Marshall
  • zetazap826 November 2014
    7/10
    Not just for children
    Warning: Spoilers
    This is my own opinion and "take" on the film.

    You can understand the storyline from the main description, but the real story is that the subject is "the Garden of the Psyche". A B&W film, there is great usage of light and shadow for dramatic effect. It conveys a dreary, foreboding atmosphere, and a world devoid of color (Love and Joy).

    A prominent symbol in this film is a raven. According to website www.ask.com, "...the raven symbolizes metamorphosis, change, or transformation...messengers from the cosmos...and help people to find answers to thoughts that they are unable to face...it is believed that ravens help to expose these secrets to help a person begin the process of healing from their effects..."

    Mary comes to live with her uncle after her parents die in India from cholera, and she is deeply hurt by the loss of her parents, acting like a spoiled brat and insisting to be waited on/indulged as if she were a cripple.

    Her uncle (Archibald Craven) is psychologically wounded by the loss of his wife 10 years earlier in a tragic accident, and takes out his grief on his son, treating him like a cripple.

    His son (Mary's cousin), Colin, is told by doctors and other adults that he IS a cripple, and is a spoiled, miserable brat. An "outside" doctor eventually reveals that the boy is not crippled at all, and just needs some exercise and sunshine.

    The discovery of the Secret Garden by Mary and Dickon begins to soften Mary's heart, and its subsequent clean-up becomes a labor of love. As the garden is healed, Mary and then Colin are healed psychologically, and become kind and thoughtful to each other. The three children become friends, and are bonded with a common love and joy about the Garden - which is translated visually when the Garden is shown in color.

    Eventually, Archibald resolves to sell the house, including the Garden, and the children are beside themselves with grief. He learns from the realtor/banker that the Garden is in bloom and beautiful (after having been abandoned for 10 years), and he rushes to break into it and see for himself. The children are all there, and it's in color. Colin is sitting in his wheelchair, and in a plea to his father to save the Garden, gets up and walks stiffly into the waiting arms of his father; all are healed and are truly in the Garden of Joy.

    IMHO, much like classics such as "It's a Wonderful Life" and "The Wizard of Oz", it is well worth your time to watch it, because of the journey that it takes you on, even if you know how it ends.
  • JohnHowardReid29 September 2014
    8/10
    A pity the movie changes direction!
    Warning: Spoilers
    I'll always remember this movie for its predictable but startling climax when the moodily noirish black-and-white photography suddenly gives way to an amazing burst of Technicolor when the secret garden is finally presented in all its splendor. Admittedly, although this doesn't seem quite so novel today, it still has impact. Also memorable is the opening 30 minutes or so, brilliantly directed by Clarence Brown. It's a model of taut storytelling and Hollywood craftsmanship at its finest. Rarely has a noirish atmosphere been so stylishly, expensively and expansively created in a mainstream M-G-M movie. (Don't jump on me! "The Picture of Dorian Gray" is not a mainstream Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie. You only have to look at that film's art director credit. No Cedric Gibbons! It was written in Gibbons' contract that he was to be given an art director credit on every M-G-M movie irrespective of whether he did any art directing work on that movie or not). After this opening half-hour, however, featuring Ray June's superlatively noirish photography, the story changes direction and some of the more interesting characters drop out. Elsa Lanchester, for instance, completely disappears. Other characters are lessened in importance while the now re-pointed plot, under the guidance of M-G-M executive and occasional director, Fred Wilcox (he was M-G-M's test director for at least five years and before that he did some second unit work), heads towards a predictable climax.
  • dougdoepke24 August 2014
    A Subtext in a Little Depth
    Warning: Spoilers
    Intrigued by the title, I wanted to see this movie back in '49, but missed it. Probably didn't have the money. Anyway, I'm really glad to have finally caught up with it. From the stylized backdrops to the shrewd use of Technicolor to the overriding performances, the movie's a real treat, both as story and metaphor.

    Poor little Mary's (O'Brien) parents have died, and she's been sent to live with her cold- hearted uncle (Marshall) in a big gloomy mansion. She's been shunned and told she's homely by her parents, and now, in the mansion, her uncle refuses even to see her. As a result, she's become understandably mean and bratty. It doesn't help that in the night, she hears piercing unearthly screams, while the servants race to a mysterious upper room. Turns out it's her uncle's bed-ridden young son Colin (Stockwell) in torment. He too has been rejected, told he's crippled, and must stay in his room. Thus, he never gets to go outdoors into the sunlight. As a result, he too has become mean and bratty, like his young cousin. On the whole, I don't think I've seen more jarring behavior from adolescents than these two unfortunates, especially when they wreck his bedroom trying to outdo one another in meanness. Good thing there's a servant's young son, Dickon (Roper), to serve as an emotional anchor.

    But then, in her wanderings around the grounds, Mary discovers what amounts to a strange presence. It turns out to be a secret garden that no one ever talks about. Its grounds are surrounded by a high wall and a locked gate kept hidden by overgrown brush. But every time she pokes around, the gardener shoos her away. Naturally she's intrigued. What's in there, and why are the contents kept locked and secret. Seems Dickon, her frequent companion, would also like to find out. Now, unknown to them is the uncle's story behind the garden. Seems the uncle was having tea with his beloved wife in the garden when it was open and happy. But then out of nowhere a tree branch fell and crushed her. Ever since, he's been haunted, trying to bury the memory behind a locked gate. As a result, he too has become withdrawn and unhappy, thus adding to the travails of his young son and niece. Now, except for the servants, it's an intensely unhappy household.

    All in all, it's hard for me not to see the "secret garden" as a kind of metaphor for the inner lives of the three family members. I want to merely suggest the following view of what may be going on in the subtext, without claiming it was anybody's "intended" meaning. Now, all three for various reasons, have sealed off their inner lives not only from others but from themselves. Thus each harbors his or her own locked "secret garden" and allowed it, like the real one, to become untended and unflowering. Hence their unhappiness. But where to find the key to unlock the gate not only to the real garden but to themselves. The raven-- perhaps standing for free flight-- finds the real one; Mary, I think, finds her own inner key in the yellow daffodil blossom a beautiful sight. When she holds it up, it shows her what the garden could become if it were tended. That she needs to unlock the gate comes from her seeing her outer self in the tormented Colin. By helping him, she's also helping herself to open up to what's been sealed off. In Uncle's case, he more implausibly adjusts through knowing that the garden is again open and flowering. The tending is thanks to Dickon, Mary, and Colin who have since joined together, instead of remaining enclosed and apart. Thus the "secret garden" is no longer secret, either the real one or the metaphorical one. Using Technicolor to express this transformation from the gray was, I think, a daring and striking move. Now all four sit together, enjoying the garden and each other. A happy family, at last.

    It's O'Brien's film that she carries in effective fashion. At times, she's close to going over the top, yet her presence remains a strong one throughout. Stockwell too registers in a difficult role, requiring screaming hissy-fits that O'Brien answers in kind. Perhaps surprisingly, the illustrious supporting cast hasn't much to do. Marshall has only a couple extended scenes, while Lanchester provides a dollop of comic relief in her one extended scene. As the third member of the youthful trio, Brian Roper provides solid support. Too bad he didn't stay in the USA. On the other hand, I can't help thinking that George Zucco's benevolent doctor was an effort at compensating for Aubrey Mather's corrupt medical man who keeps poor Colin in unneeded leg braces.

    Anyway, the movie's a fine, atmospheric production from MGM, with a strong storyline and a good moral. It may have taken decades, but I'm glad I finally caught up with it.
  • LeonLouisRicci23 August 2014
    10/10
    There Used to be an Innocent Age
    A Time when the Innocence of Childhood was Enhanced with a Dreamlike Quality that was Both Inspiring and a Bit Scary. This is a Classic Tale, Mostly Written for Kids (especially Girls), that has been Filmed a Number of Times. It Seems the Best Version is this One, Perhaps because it was made when these Children were Still able to be Children.

    The Move is a Wonderful Gothic, Fantasy, Semi-Horror Movie that is Thick on Atmosphere and Emoting. The Tantrum Scenes may be Dated and Somewhat Hard to Take but They are Short and the Film Moves Away to Other Things that are Poignant and Impressive.

    All Three Child Actors are Superb and the Adult Cast is Nothing Less. This is a Film that is Strikingly Saturated with Warmth along side a Foreboding Landscape of Suppression and Psychological Maladies. it is Quite Different in the way it Blends Hopelessness, Alienation, and Buried Desires Resurrected by the Sheer Will of the Innocents and Manifested with Spiritual Healing.

    A Near Perfect Movie that is a Throwback to a Different Era to be sure but Beneath the Layers of Dated Class Structure are Timeless Lessons that are Designed to Teach Children but it is the Children who End Up doing the Teaching.
  • atlasmb16 August 2014
    9/10
    A Wonderful Story For Children And Adults
    "The Secret Garden" is a wonderful adaptation of a classic novel. it starts out as a B&W thriller worthy of Hitchcock. As the layers of the story unfold, and the mysteries are solved, it resolves into a mixture of drama and comedy.

    Mary Lennox (Margaret O'Brien) is an orphaned child who finds refuge in the household of a distant uncle. As in "Heidi" and countless other films, the child must cope with strange environs and a clash of personalities. Eventually, she befriends two young boys. Together, they solve the mysteries of the dark mansion and--through their friendship--break through the air of oppression that shrouds the house and its secret garden.

    The production values are great. The music drives the moods of the story. The cast is excellent in every role, but Margaret O'Brien must be singled out for her ability, at such a young age, to contribute whatever emotions are required. The lighting also makes a significant contribution to the story, giving the mansion very different moods in daylight or nighttime. Color is used sparingly, where it is most dramatic.

    So much of this film captures the imagination; especially the imagination of a child: The very concept of a secret garden. The various animals. The idea of a foreboding mansion with many undiscovered rooms.

    At one point, Mary says, "I don't want to grow up." This is a story about the importance of childhood and the wonderful mysteries that capture the imagination of a child. It is also a story about love and its ability to cure the human psyche.
  • abcj-212 April 2011
    9/10
    A Wonderful Immersion into a Classic
    I love this classic Margaret O'Brien version. Margaret embodies the spoiled and orphaned Mary Lennox. Herbert Marshall plays her brooding uncle and a young Dean Stockwell plays her crippled cousin and rival in the pitching a fit department.

    These child stars were powerful actors whose performances rival most any adult. Gladys Cooper plays the strict and prim housekeeper, and the delightful Elsa Lanchester plays the maid who cares for Mary and introduces Mary to her brother, Dicken.

    Mary and Dicken explore the grounds and discover the secret. Along the way, Mary and Dicken coax her cousin outside. Of course, Mary's uncle isn't thrilled with the changes upon his return from an extended absence.

    This film's amazing cast, beautiful Technicolor scenes in the garden, bittersweet story, and that good old happy ending that I love make this a classic keeper for the family or any individual who enjoys being visually immersed into great literature. I highly recommend this film.
  • vincentlynch-moonoi27 March 2011
    7/10
    Only One Drawback
    This is, of course, a lovely story. And all the better this time for the wonderful child actors here. Margaret O'Brien alternates in this film between overacting (particularly when having a tantrum) to playing it just right in other scenes, fairly typical for this youngster. But, overall she is effective as a little girl who has been having a rough time of it, but mellows through her adventures surrounding her new life in Great Britain. Dean Stockwell is another favorite of the era, and he is delightful here, as well. I wasn't a bit familiar with the young actor (Brian Roper) who played the local boy, but he is, perhaps, the best of the lot.

    Of the adults in this film version, Goerge Zucco, as the modern doctor, has perhaps the most interesting role. Star Herbert Marshall's role is small (compared to his usual film presence), but key, and he is always a wonderful presence. Elsa Lanchester is a bit over the top here, so I'm not sure she deserves many kudos. I didn't even recognize the gardener -- Reginald Owen.

    It's a shame that MGM didn't spend just a little more money to make this film all in color, particularly considering its date -- 1949. I think it could have been made in color, yet sterile and drab while outside the garden, and then the beautiful color while in the garden. Perhaps that's why in recent years this film has been nearly lost in the public's remembrances when more recent color versions have been so acclaimed.

    The ending comes all too fast, and a few more scenes showing a happy family would have been quite sentimental and a far better ending.
  • classicsoncall27 March 2011
    8/10
    "My garden, my very own garden".
    Warning: Spoilers
    This was a surprising little gem to catch on Turner Classics this morning; I had only been aware of the 1993 version and did not know of an earlier one. This is only the third film I've come across utilizing the black and white transformation into color technique, probably best known for it's use in "The Wizard of Oz". The other one I'm thinking about is Abbott and Costello's "Jack and the Beanstalk".

    Ostensibly a children's movie, I kept considering why so many scenes were played out in darkness with that horrible crying sound of the young Colin Craven (Dean Stockwell). The old, dark Craven mansion was, in the words of the film, an excellent house for bitterness and not for children, but fortunately, Mary's (Margaret O'Brien) alliance with Dickon (Brian Roper) helped their new friend to find joy in life along with the ability to walk. It still bothers me, even after the picture is over, that the sour Uncle Craven (Herbert Marshall) was willing to subject his own son to a debilitating condition instead of insisting on a cure that could make him a happy young boy again.

    That all had to do with the death of his wife of course, ten years earlier due to an unfortunate accident. It's somewhat mysterious that the picture would take the viewer in the direction of a crime implicit in Mrs. Craven's death when there was already enough tension to go around. The virtually abandoned son would have been privy to those whispered conversations as well, adding even more to his imposed misery.

    Fortunately it's the youngsters who carry this picture. O'Brien, Roper, and Stockwell form a unique trio, blooming as it were, along with the newly tended garden after the abandonment of a decade. Though the feel good ending seems somewhat forced, it's appropriate that the old Uncle is cured of his own personal demons to redeem himself as a father to the young Colin.
  • TheLittleSongbird13 June 2010
    8/10
    Lavish and well done adaptation of an enchanting book
    The book by Frances Hodgson Burnett is an enchanting piece of literature. This adaptation is very good, and very good as a film, but can I be honest? I prefer the 1993 film, as I grew up with it, and it never fails to move me. The film could have been longer by three minutes, and Herbert Marshall I found rather dull as the grieving, melancholic uncle. However, this version of The Secret Garden is beautifully mounted, the cinematography, scenery, sets and costumes are very wondrous. Plus the music score, story and script still maintain the charm, and the direction is focused. In terms of performances Margaret O'Brien is very spirited as Mary, while Elsa Lanchester is typically splendid as Martha, Reginald Owen is charming as Ben Weatherstaff the gardener and Gladys Cooper is suitably beastly and tyrannical as Mrs Medlock. Overall, very well done and I liked it very much, it's just that I have a preference to the 1993 film. 8/10 Bethany Cox
  • robert-temple-122 April 2010
    10/10
    Utterly Magical
    This is the Margaret O'Brien version of this timeless story, which is based upon the famous children's' novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett. It is not only for children, however, but also for young at heart adults. Its underlying themes are surprisingly adult, namely grief, loss, and despair, and the possibility of redemption through the power of the imagination. First filmed in 1919, this is the second cinema version of the story, which has been filmed a total of five times as a feature film and three times as a TV series. Agnieszka Holland directed a superb version in 1993, two years before TOTAL ECLIPSE (1995, see my review) and four years before WASHINGTON SQUARE (1997, see my review). But although I like to 'go Dutch' by watching Holland, her version does not surpass this one. The uncle threatened by madness through grief is here played absolutely perfectly by Herbert Marshall, whose raving despair is pathetically convincing. And in the lead we have the incomparable Margaret O'Brien, who could easily 'carry' any film she was ever in. Although the initial scenes in India are a bit stilted in this version, as soon as we get to England and the gigantic Yorkshire mansion surrounded by its 'wuthering winds', as Gladys Cooper, the terrifying housekeeper, calls them, and lashed by unremitting rain and storms, we have settled in for a traditional tale which is going to be well told. This is all aided by a magnificent performance as the country boy Dickon by the child actor Brian Roper, who retired from acting eleven years later, in 1960, and died in 1994. But this performance of his lives on in the memory. Young Dean Stockwell also does very well indeed as the crippled boy Colin Craven, though he overdoes his tantrum scenes, and that was a serious failing of the director's, in allowing all the tantrum scenes to be unconvincing. Among the stars of this film are a brilliant tame raven and a tame lamb and fox cub. I have been unable to discover the name of the raven, but he deserved a Bird Oscar, because he is in so many scenes and did such a superb job. Elsa Lanchester plays an eccentric maid named Martha who has the curious characteristic of never stopping laughing. That is not an easy role to play, but she pulls it off. Try never stopping laughing and see what I mean. This film employs the device used ten years earlier in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939), of turning from black and white into colour at significant moments. Here, the colour occurs when they enter the Secret Garden. There is a profound psychological significance to this Secret Garden, which the grieving Herbert Marshall has kept locked for ten years so that no one dare enter it, because it represents his living heart, to which he has barred all access, as he has attempted to seal himself off from feeling after the death of his wife. Naturally, it is the spontaneous innocence of the children which achieves the access to this locked and forbidden area, both of the grounds and of the psyche, and achieves a renaissance of joy in a withered remnant of what had once before been joyful. That is why I call this story timeless, because it has all the elements of a successful myth, told simply but full of meaning. And that is why it has resonated so deeply with the public for more than a century. However, as innocence is no longer fashionable or even respectable, and as all children are meant to be forced to have sex education at the age of five, eight year-olds are on crack cocaine, and ten year-old girls are getting pregnant, all without even a blush to the public, and all wholly taken for granted, I suppose that the days when THE SECRET GARDEN could speak to anyone are soon due to expire. This is called, in case you had not noticed, the terminal decadence of civilisation. Sometimes our powerlessness to do anything to stop this accelerating decline of the world in which we live leads one to watch a lot of old movies, just in order to recapture the time before things got so bad. Even the worst days of the world wars, and the most sinister of the old films noir, were not as menacing of the blunt and inescapable reality of today's world, as it hurtles towards its inevitable doom, because it has lost its heart, or should I say, its Secret Garden. There is one more thing I should say about this film, which is a remarkable irony, namely the fact that its screenplay is by Robert Ardrey (1908-1980). Younger people of today may never have heard of Ardrey, but in 1961 he published an international best-selling book, African GENESIS, which had an incredible impact upon modern culture and transformed the public's view of humanity's origins. It was followed by another book, THE TERRITORIAL IMPERATIVE, in 1966, and others after that. Ardrey was an anthropologist, and he propounded the 'killer ape theory' of mankind's origins, whereby deep-seated violent aggression was built into our makeup and at the basis of much or most of human behaviour. The entire 1960s saw a ferment of feverish discussion and debate about Ardrey's views, and they were discussed continuously in the press and in other people's books for years on end, well into the 1970s. Much of what Ardrey propounded in 1961, which shocked the world, is now accepted without question by society in general. How strange that the screenplay to this film THE SECRET GARDEN was written by the later author of African GENESIS! There would seem to be no two works so far apart as those. Ardrey was one of two 1940s Hollywood screenwriters who would later have a mammoth intellectual impact upon Western society, the other being Ayn Rand, who scripted LOVE LETTERS (1945) and her own brilliant THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1949).
  • bkoganbing14 May 2009
    8/10
    How Does Your Garden Grow?
    It looks like there have been a gazillion version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's popular novel for children made. This one apparently is the most popular, the one most people will remember.

    It's a wonderful allegorical tale about how one has to give in life in order to receive. It also is about the maturing of a couple of really bratty kids.

    Margaret O'Brien is a child of the British Raj in India, quite used to having things her own way as her parents are a big-shot and his lady. But when both are taken away by an epidemic, she has to go back to Great Britain to live with an uncle, Herbert Marshall for whom the mildest thing that can be said is eccentric.

    She's given rather restrictive use of the vast house, though the grounds are her's to roam with the exception of a garden that is locked up. Many years ago Marshall's wife has died there and it's her death and the circumstances thereof that have driven him to the brink of dissolution and insanity.

    O'Brien also finds she has a cousin roughly her age who is bedridden with paralysis in Dean Stockwell. Stockwell has not born his affliction well and in fact is a bigger brat than she is. Dealing with him has forced her to confront her own misbehavior.

    A large part of Stockwell's problems are his doctor and caregiver in the persons of doctor Aubrey Mather and housekeeper Gladys Cooper. They like having him dependent on them, it increases their position in the house, as for Mather, he's making a whole living off Marshall treating his child.

    The younger brother of maid Elsa Lanchester, Brian Roper, also becomes a friend to both as they discover the locked up and neglected garden and use it as a playground. With the special love that children bring to something, interesting things start happening there.

    Most of the cast are familiar names to the American cinema, all the adults are card carrying members of the British colony in Hollywood. But Brian Roper was imported from across the pond because of the fact that he spoke with a Yorkshire brogue, he was native to that part of England. It does lend an air of authenticity to the film. Roper had a fair career for about a decade, mostly in his native country. I believe this is his one and only American film appearance.

    The Secret Garden is a fine adaption of the children's novel, maybe the best one ever done. The adults are hard pressed in this one to even get their innings in as the kids totally steal this film.
  • PudgyPandaMan5 February 2009
    8/10
    Great movie for the whole family
    I was mesmerized the first time I saw this film as a child. I was quite happy to stumble upon it recently and experience it again as an adult.

    It is quite an atmospheric film - capable at producing quite differing moods. There is the scary, creepy mansion; the beautiful grounds and terraces; the spoiled and crippled boy that throws tantrums; and finally the beautiful restored garden presented in Technicolor (the rest of the movie was in black and white).

    I like how the movie leaves you guessing as to what is going on. Who is the boy heard screaming and why? It creates a certain tension and suspense. Also, what happened to make the master lock-up the secret garden - what is the horrible secret? I appreciate that they don't spoon-feed us the history of this strange place, but allow us to discover the facts slowly.

    Margaret O'Brien is in the last years of her child stardom and unfortunately doesn't transition well in later roles. She does fine in this film, although many may find her whiny, spoiled character a tad annoying. I actually think she acted more naturally as a young child - it seems the very young take to fantasy and imagination almost like second nature. Here, her acting begins to look more "stagey".

    This film plays very much likes a children's mystery. But I think adults will find much to enjoy. There are great performances by big stars such as Herbert Marshall and Gladys Cooper. On occasion, there is some overacting - like the "extremely" happy maid, Martha. But the exaggerations will play well to children.

    I consider this film to be a great escape - so let yourself be transported to "The Secret Garden"!
  • mmackinn19403 April 2008
    8/10
    Minor, but major
    The predictability of the ending could not overcome the impact of contrasting the outside world in black and white and the garden in color.Though this has been done in "The Wizard of Oz" in 1936, the use of this technique has lost none of its appeal. In fact, the revelation of the father at the end could not be as significant if the contrast had not been incorporated into the film. The role of the raven as an almost human sentinel who significantly reveals the location of the key to Mary is underestimated by most reviewers. Also overlooked is the gardener, who as an adult is aware of the garden, but keeps its secret, adding to the specialness of the keepers of the secret. The garden may be for the young, but also for those who see hope for the future.
  • callie-522 March 2008
    6/10
    Not the best adaptation...
    I was in 4th grade when our teacher read this story to us, one chapter at a time after lunch. It was a wonderful book that I read many times over.

    This movie makes the third adaptation I've seen and while it certainly surpasses the 1987 version (the first version I ever saw and BOY was I disappointed!!), it isn't, IMHO, as faithful as the 1993 version.

    I was skeptical that Margaret O'Brien could be as sour as Mary Lennox is written, but she did very well - just another side of her talent I hadn't seen before. But honestly, she was the only standout. Maybe, as someone else posted above, this version is dated, but the over-exaggeration of the emotions was so unnecessary. And all the extra dialog with Dr. Fortesque... I guess they had to give a reason for Mr. Craven to go out into the garden one last time.

    A good movie to watch on a rainy Saturday afternoon, perhaps, but if you really want to know the story, watch the 1993 version instead. Or better yet, read the book!
  • Brigid O Sullivan (wisewebwoman)21 March 2008
    9/10
    A classic!
    This is a movie I never tire of seeing. Margaret O'Brien is just about perfect in the part of Mary Lennox, an orphan who finds herself in a house full of strange people.

    Along the way she finds love in friendship, a love that was never shown to her by her parents.

    The book on which this film is based by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was my favourite book as a child and I've given many copies to children over the years. This movie is quite a perfect replica of the book, apart from the injection of a totally unnecessary "crime" element. The characters are multi-dimensional, a wounded father flailing against the world and projecting illness on to his son. The son, Colin, played by a very young and handsome Dean Stockwell, in turn reacting with tantrums and hate to the world around him.

    Mary has her own issues, feeling ugly and unloved due to her past in India.

    Unhappiness reigns in the Manor House headed up by Herbert Marshall playing Colin's father - a brilliant performance.

    There is a teeming cast of well known names to add to the flavour of the film: Dame Gladys Cooper as the housekeeper; Elsa Lanchester as the maid; Reginald Owen as the mysterious gardener.

    The black and white filming adds a morbid darkness with the colour sequences in the garden contrasting beautifully.

    The only flaw was the settish nature of the scenes, even the gardens are "back lot".

    But these quibbles aside, some movies one can get immersed in afresh with each viewing. This is one that takes you in and doesn't let up till the final very satisfying frame.

    9 out of 10.
  • rbrb20 December 2007
    8/10
    A Magic Garden!
    A mesmerizing enchanting magical movie.

    An orphaned child is sent to live with an embittered uncle in the bleak north of England. He lives in a spooky old mansion that includes many secrets, like about his deceased wife and bedridden son......but then there is the garden.....

    What a movie: dark and cerebral on the one hand, yet hilariously funny in parts with super acting by all including a raven, a fox and a lamb.

    This is a great universal story of love, grief, despair, hope and redemption.

    I remember having the book read to me when a child at school.

    A classic film which deserves at least an 8/10, and well done to TCM!
  • ccthemovieman-19 May 2007
    3/10
    Strictly A Young Girl's Movie - Both This, And The Remake
    I have watched both versions of this film, the original which is this 11949 movie, and the re- make of 1994. The kids - who are all the lead characters - are annoying in BOTH films! They are so irritating I wouldn't watch either version again.

    Here, young Margaret O'Brien fakes an English accent which immediately makes her annoying to hear because her accent is obvious. Her character, "Mary Lennox" pouts, most of the time and I don't find that entertaining. Her constant simpering also is revolting. This is better than the re-make, however, which also throws in New Age baloney, typical of something done in the '90s.

    At least in this classic film, we get to see people like Herbert Marshall, Dean Stockwell, Gladys Cooper, Elsa Lanchester and Reginald Owen, all well-known and established actors. In the re-make, the only actor of note is Maggie Smith.

    This is a young girl's movie, and little else. If you are adult male, don't watch either version.
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