#16) The Blue Bird (1918)

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#16) The Blue Bird (1918)

OR “French-Belgium Expressionism – Now For Kids!”

Directed by Maurice Tourneur

Written by Charles Maigne. Based on the play by Maurice Maeterlinck.

Class of 2004

View the film here; restoration courtesy of “Saving the Silents”, with support from the NEA and the NPS. Please support them while we still have them!

The Plot: The film is a fairy tale about two children named Tyltyl & Mytyl (Robin Macdougall & Tula Belle) who are instructed by the good fairy Berylune (Lillian Cook) to find the “Blue Bird of Happiness”. They are aided on their journey by the souls of such things as light, water, milk, and their pet cat and dog. And then things just keep getting weirder from there.

Why It Matters: The NFR calls it “one of the most aesthetically pleasing films” and praises the film’s message of the simple joys of everyday life. An essay by Professor Kavesh Askari delves a bit more into the Symbolism of the piece.

But Does It Really?: For what it is, I liked it. I found the whole thing to be a very simple, charming fairy tale. Maybe not the most beautiful film ever made – as some claim – but quite enjoyable and visually appealing nonetheless. It is a rare silent film with a budget, and that helps to showcase the more fantastical elements. A very sweet film with a good message (though maybe a few too many Christian overtones for my taste).

Everybody Gets One: I’ll give a shout-out to the kids; Robin Macdougall and Tula Belle. Neither one of them really continued acting (this is Macdougall’s sole film appearance), but they both lived to be 89 and 86, respectively. They’re not the Barrymores, but I thought they were both very good.

Other notes

  • This was released as a Famous Players-Lasky Corporation Picture. A few years later, the studio would move from New Jersey to Hollywood and change its name to Paramount Pictures.
  • Did the Widow Berlingot have her daughter when she was 70?
  • Speaking of, for no reason I can think of, Berlingot is played by a man in drag. Edward Elkas is definitely no Louie Anderson.
  • The print I saw had what appeared to be glue marks on the film for a good chunk of a reel. For a moment it looked like the kids were going to be beamed up “Star Trek” style.
  • A tip of my hat to the special effects team. This film uses every trick of the trade – process shots, film reversal, stop-motion – and it all really works.
  • I love that the dog calls his child masters “my little deities”.
  • This film uses color tinting to differentiate the dream sequences from the real world. This predates similar usage from “The Wizard of Oz” by a full 21 years!
  • And then the kids go to a graveyard and visit their deceased grandparents and siblings! This film got real morbid real quick.
  • If those ladies represent the Joy of Pure Thoughts, then I like how this film thinks.
  • Ummm…so the light bulb was invented in Heaven? Looks like Edison and Tesla were both thieves. Also, the film purposefully never states what time period it is, but light bulbs had been around for about 40 years at this point. Did we need to be sold on them?
  • Just in case you missed the film’s message, they REALLY hit you over the head with it at the end.

Legacy

  • While this film (and the play) didn’t invent the phrase “bluebird of happiness” it kept the phrase going until the 1934 song solidified things.
  • “The Blue Bird” has been adapted into film a few times over the years, including Shirley Temple’s first flop and a bizarre ‘70s vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor.
  • And Mr. Bluebird (possibly of happiness) appears in a certain Disney film that I suspect is not making it on the Registry anytime soon.

4 thoughts on “#16) The Blue Bird (1918)”

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