Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Juror's Film Festival: One of our Dinosaurs is Missing (d. Robert Stevenson, 1975)

Favourites really can be very odd. A favourite film can be forged by a moment in time as much as they can be by the greatness of the film. For instance, Sink the Bismarck will always hold a very special place in my heart because, as boys, my brother and I watched it endlessly, delighting in aspects of it which, now, we must admit are in fact a bit lacking.

So it was that I was encouraged to watch One of Our Dinosaurs is Missing with a friend who adored it. She had fallen in love with it as a child, and the film has a great pedigree. Directed by Robert Stevenson, the maker of such family favourites as Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Love Bug and the absolutely classic Mary Poppins, it has all of the feel of those classics: a great British cast (Peter Ustinov, Derek Nimmo and Helen Hayes are the leads), that peasouper London setting and a positively madcap plot.

Lord Southmere (Nimmo) has smuggled the top-secret “Lotus X” out of China, and the Chinese, led by Hnup Wan (Ustinov), are in hot pursuit. Southmere hides the tiny piece of film containing the secret on a dinosaur in the Natural History Museum and instructs an army of great British nannies to find it after he is caught and held by his pursuers. So, who will get to it first: the nannies or the ninjas?

It is easy to see why young children would love this film. It has so much that is absolutely crazy and charmingly amusing. Nimmo was one of the funniest British actors of the post-war era and is a delight at all points in this film, but it is two set-pieces which stay in the mind: a wonderfully done, extended sequence featuring a dinosaur being driven through the foggy streets of London, and the climactic fight where ninjas and nannies do battle, the latter armed only with handbags.

However, I did not have the advantage of having watched this when I was innocent and six years-old. From an early stage, I had to confront the perfectly innocent but, nevertheless, staggering racism. This is a film which is so culturally insensitive that the music is a bit close to the bone. This is a film which is so racist that even the portrayal of a white Texan is racist. Obviously, there isn’t an ounce of intent in it, but you simply can’t ignore it.

Dated though it is, this is not one for the adults. My friend watched it not as her 21 year-old self but as the same six year-old who had fallen in love with it, and she enjoyed it in spite of her matured reservations. A film made with innocence which still survives for innocents of all ages.

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