Less Adamant About the Chimp-Monkey Issue Than Merlin Jones
Actually, this movie begins to suggest to me exactly what the deal was with chimps in the live-action Disney movies of the era. According to the story, the chimps here are retired space chimps. (Actually, that isn't possible; they're female, and only one female space chimp was trained, apparently.) I suppose a certain amount of fascination developed in the general public in those days, and that's why half the Disney movies set at institutions of higher learning in those days seem to have involved chimpanzees in some way. Come to that, I don't think it's just Disney. Chimps were just a popular thing for a while there, and this movie goes a long way toward explaining why. There's also the fact that they are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, and there's something fascinating about watching them emulate human behaviour. It's easy to laugh at without the feeling that we are quite laughing at ourselves.
Hank Dussard (Dean Jones, naturally) has inherited an olive grove in France. His mother was from the village, and now, he has returned. According to Father Sylvain (Maurice Chevalier, of course), the mistral comes every year and blows the ripe olives to the ground, and men's hands are too strong and not delicate enough to pick them up again. Women are better, but best of all are children, so a single man has no luck in harvesting and selling his olives. Hank's solution is actually quite clever. He is a former space chimp trainer, and he uses some of his inheritance to buy four retired space chimps. This arouses the ire of local butcher, Marcel Cartucci (Bernard Woringer), who is also the head of the local Communist party. This is also because Marcel is in love with Hank's neighbour, Maria Riserau (Yvette Mimieux). Maria isn't interested in him, but she finds the American stranger fascinating--and she likes the chimps okay, too.
To be honest, I'm not sure about the solution to the problem. If it were an issue of climbing the trees, chimps would make something like sense. However, it seems that one of the things the fine people at Disney never quite mention in these movies is that chimps are really strong. Presumably, the issue in picking up the olives is hand strength, because I can't figure out what else it would be based on the descriptions. Leaving aside that olives as they fall from the tree aren't the same as olives out of the can (and I use that version in part because the olives they gather at the end of the movie are [i]black[/i]), chimps are a heck of a lot stronger than humans. If a man's hands would bruise them, a chimp's hands could well crush them. I realize not many people know that, but it strikes me that having chimps be the solution to a climbing problem just makes a lot more sense. On the other hand, they don't then have a reason to pressure Hank to marry someone, anyone, which makes up so much of the story.
Honestly, I spent a lot of the movie coming up with better solutions to the whole mistral problem. My thought was that maybe you could hang canvas skirts around the trees so that the olives didn't fall onto the ground in the first place. Of course, in that situation, you don't get wacky chimp hilarity, but on the other hand, you can get the protest against the American's attempt to industrialize their quiet French village. Also, it makes a lot more sense and doesn't require keeping chimps year 'round. Part of the reason all this occupied as much of my mind as it did is that literally nothing in the rest of the movie was particularly surprising. We all knew that Hank was going to end up with the girl. We all knew that the American was going to become part of the community in the end. And so forth. It's a pretty typical movie, so I found myself thinking about other things. That's just what happens, which is no surprise to regular readers.
I'm not sure how I've managed to go this long without ever seeing this movie. I'm always surprised to discover new Disney movies. I think we can safely say that the reason they never played [i]The Gnome-Mobile[/i] on the Disney Channel when I was a kid is that it was terrible. However, this movie wasn't. Oh, it wasn't as good as some of the Disney movies I've seen--after all, I saw [i]Mary Poppins[/i] on a regular basis as a kid. However, I don't think [i]The Ugly Dachshund[/i] is that much better of a film than this one, and I saw it quite a lot in those days. I'm always a little startled to see Dean Jones in anything non-Disney, just as it tends to be a bit confusing to me when I see Maurice Chevalier in Disney movies. (The fact that they have made him a priest makes it a bit weirder. I simply assume that his character is atoning for a dissolute youth.) Oh, it's possible that I saw it occasionally and just don't remember it, but I have a perversely good memory for film. It's also a bit hard to forget flirting chimps.