There are certain films that you have watched in your childhood that need to be revisited as an adult. Olly Olly Oxen Free is one such film. It has everything in it that would appeal to children – air balloons, adventure, summer fun building stuff, collecting junk – and yet, growing up watching this movie, my sister and I had no interest in it. We found it boring. How our perspectives change with time!
Olly Olly Oxen Free is really a very entertaining family film.
Albie (Kevin McKenzie) and his friend Chris (Dennis Dimster) are two boys who are attempting to repair the hot-air balloon belonging to Albie’s late grandfather, an adventurer who flew under the name of The Great Sandusky. Albie wants to celebrate his grandfather’s upcoming birthday and decides that taking flight in his old balloon would make his grandpop proud. Helping him in his endeavors is the dotty Miss Pudd, played by Katharine Hepburn.
The director was clearly targeting the adults in the audience and not children when he made the film and perhaps that is why it did not appeal to us growing up. The story is told in a puffy cloud of nostalgia. All it is missing is the narrative of Albie as an old man telling this story to his children.
Albie and Chris are your typical young boys living in a not-so-typical surrounding. The Great Sandusky must have left a good fortune to his daughter, for Albie and his mother live in a sprawling century home filled with antiques and paraphernalia from his grandfather’s flying days. Outside of the house is an enormous greenhouse, now rundown. This is where the old balloon is stored and where much of the film takes place. They are clever and mechanically-minded lads, but rather impetuous.
Miss Pudd is a character herself. She runs a local junkyard (housed in and around a converted watermill) but refuses to sell any of her junk….until she discovers that the boys have imagination and the spirit of adventure in them, just as she has. She is a dreamer, living in a world of hopes and unfulfilled projects. Meeting Albie and Chris breaths new life into her. Now, for the first time, she is working on a project that will become a reality.
If she is in need of the boys, they are equally in need of Miss Pudd. She spurs them on and encourages them whenever they have their doubts about completing the repair of the balloon. She is also the one doing most of the sewing!
Elements of Olly Olly Oxen Free are reminiscent of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), such as the vintage car and the aerial sequences. The eccentric Miss Pudd is rather like Professor Catactacus Potts’ father and even bears a similar-sounding name, and the boys also own a sheepdog (this dog must be part of the standard equipment for inventors).
Olly Olly Oxen Free has its moments of improbability but it is a great yarn. As children, we all dream of huge adventurous projects and completing them seems like such an easy task…until we discover that we do not have the knowledge or the resources to accomplish them. Miss Pudd represents that child who has never grown up, but she is given a chance to go on a truly adventurous outing and her determination allows the boys their chance of giving Albie’s grandfather the birthday present he deserves.
Constance Metzinger runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.”