Monday, February 13, 2012

Ladybug, Ladybug (1963)

Frank Perry's "Ladybug, Ladybug" is definitely a movie of it's time. While many people frown on films that "date" themselves, I actually love movies for that exact reason. Often when I watch an older film in the theater, I spend a few moments thinking about what's going on outside the parameter of the frame. I think about things like what the film crew looked like and what else might of happened that same day. Movies are culturally significant in that they're reflective of art at the time they were made, as well as society, but each film is significant in it's own way because it captured moments in time from a day long forgotten. Even the worst movie has an interesting back-story; the act of making a film is itself often more interesting than the finally result. "Ladybug, "Ladybug" has been practically forgotten, but I couldn't help but think about what it must of been like to make this movie.

It's such a young, inexperienced cast, with such heavy material. It must of been quite the challenge. In short, the movie is about a small rural school that receives a signal indicating an atomic attack is going to happen within the hour. Not knowing whether it's real or just some sort of glitch, the Principle sends all of the kids home, escorted by their teachers.

In an effort to keep the children calm, the teachers are deliberately vague about why they are being sent home, but as time passes, more and more of them begin to suspect the worst. There's a real sense of beauty and dread to this movie. Part of it is due to the pacing of the film, it's slow and contemplative. There is also something idyllic about the scenery that adds to the ominousness.

The innocence of the children is "Ladybug, Ladybug's" biggest strength. Their fear, confusion, and inquisitiveness seems very real. There's a bit of a red herring about halfway through the film that I really appreciated in retrospect. It allowed me to be genuinely surprised by the direction it takes in the third act. The film is somewhat similar to "Miracle Mile," in the sense that it keeps you guessing up to the very end, which is always a nice device.

A few stray observations: I really like finale, even if seems a little on-the-nose by today's standards. It might "date" the film, but I can only imagine how haunting it must of been to see this in the theater in 1963. Also, the great William Daniels plays the Principal in the film. It's funny because he played a Social Worker/Child Protective Services Investigator in one of my favorite movies, "A Thousand Clowns," the voice of K.I.T.T. on "Knight Rider," and of course, he's probably best known for playing Mr. Feeny on "Boy Meets World. Somehow, he's always the voice of authority.

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