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).