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Working titles of the film were The Magic Bedknob and The Magic Bedpost. Opening and ending cast credits differ in order. The opening credits introduce child actors Cindy O'Callaghan, Roy Snart and Ian Weighill, who marked their film debuts in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. After the opening credits there is a written prolog that reads: "England August in the Year 1940/Again-A time for valor. A time of whispered events. Now faded with the passing years." The underwater and Kingdom of Naboombu sequences combine live-action characters with animation, a device the Disney studio had recently used in its popular 1964 film, Mary Poppins (see below). As noted in the New Yorker review, adult characters appear "elongated" when shown at a distance. According to that review, director Robert Stevenson's solution to enabling Americans to understand the children's heavy Cockney accent was to shoot them close-up when they were speaking, allowing the audience to "practically read the lips."
English author Mary Norton (1903-1992) published her first children's book, The Magic Bed-Knob, in 1945 and, according to an August 1945 Daily Variety news item, Walt Disney purchased the film rights to the book that year. Bonfires and Broomsticks, Norton's second book to feature the characters "Eglantine Price" and the three children, was published in 1957. Some of the differences between the film version and the two books on which it was based are as follows: In the first book, the war is not explicitly mentioned. The children, who are not orphans, are sent to spend the summer with their aunt in Bedfordshire, where they meet Eglantine, who gives them the magic bedknob in exchange for not revealing that she is a witch. Adventures ensue, including a trip to a land of cannibals. In the second book, which is set two years after the first, the children travel back in time to 1666, in the days before the Great Fire of London. There they meet "Emelius," whose last name is "Jones" in the book, and return with him to the present. While the children try to restore him to his own time, he is almost burned at the stake as a witch, but Eglantine rescues him using an "intrasubstantiary locomotion" spell. At the end of the second book, Eglantine returns with Emelius to live with him in his time, traveling on the bed, thus removing any chance for the children to take more trips.
In an interview filmed for the thirtieth anniversary of the film that was included as added content on the DVD release, Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, the brothers who were the film's composer-lyricists, stated that they were given the task to write songs for Bedknobs and Broomsticks while the studio awaited permission from author P. L. Travers to film Mary Poppins. In an interview reprinted in a modern source, the brothers reported that Disney assured them that he owned another story about magic for which their songs could be used if Mary Poppins was not produced. According to the Shermans, the song "The Beautiful Briny" actually was written for, but never used in, Mary Poppins.
An April 1966 Daily Variety news item reported that the Sherman brothers were working on The Magic Bedpost [possibly an erroneous title] and that Irwin Kostal, who served as Mary Poppins' conductor, music supervisor and arranger, would repeat his roles for the second film. In December 1966, Walt Disney died. Although the studio hoped that Bedknobs and Broomsticks would duplicate the success of Mary Poppins, according to modern sources, Walt Disney decided to delay production of the second picture because of the many similarities between the two films. In October 1968, a Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Disney's producer-writer Bill Walsh planned to make a $50,000 production of Bedknov and Broomstick [sic], which was being adapted by Walsh and Don DaGradi from Mary Norton's two children's books and that the Sherman brothers had already worked on the score. In a filmed interview, the Shermans claimed that they were given the "go ahead" in late 1969 for Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Among the songs they wrote was one that was not used in the film, the vaudeville-style "Solid Citizen," which was to be used in the plot as a distraction for the "King" while Browne, Eglantine and the children steal the star. The song was later replaced with the soccer game sequence.
Modern sources report that Ron Moody was considered for Emelius and, at various times, Lynn Redgrave, Judy Carne and Leslie Caron were considered for the role of Eglantine. Julie Andrews, who had starred in Mary Poppins, was offered the role, but she turned it down. In a modern interview, Andrews reported that she had second thoughts about turning down the role, feeling that she was indebted to Disney for much of her success, and later called to accept, but by then it had been offered to Lansbury. Production of Bedknobs and Broomsticks, which occurred entirely at the Disney Studio, did not begin until 1970. According to 1971 studio production notes, three blocks of Portobello Road as it looked in 1940 were reproduced on Disney Studio soundstages. Among the props used for this sequence were carts rented from A. Keehn, a company that had a monopoly on them, according to set decorator Emile Kuri, who stated that for over a hundred years the company had collected a shilling a day for each barrow rented by vendors on Portobello Road. The studio notes reported that bit parts in this sequence were portrayed by British performers then living in the "British colony in Hollywood," among them, Ben Wrigley, a celebrated eccentric dancer; John Orchard of the original London cast of Oliver!; Morgan Farley, who began his career in 1917 with Ruth Gordon on Broadway; and Chris Marks, who was immortalized in Ripley's Believe It or Not for being able to spin his eyeballs. Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, a May 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Edith Leslie and Clive Halliday were added to the cast. Modern sources add the following actors to the cast: Maxine Semon (Portobello Road dancer), Ina Gould (Shopkeeper), Arthur Malet (Museum guard), James Brugman (Soldier playing saxophone), Conrad Bachmann (German soldier), Eric Brotherson and Barbara Morrison. A modern source also lists Delos Jewkes and Patrick Dennis-Leigh as "Soldiers of the Old Home Guard."
As noted in several reviews, Roddy McDowall appears briefly in the film as the local pastor "Mr. Jelk," who unsuccessfully tries to court Eglantine and is frightened away from her home by clothing enchanted by the substitutiary locomotion spell. Part of his performance was cut from the film prior to the premiere, according to an August 1998 Los Angeles Times article. Although the film was originally 140 minutes in length and planned as a holiday roadshow, when the New York premiere was booked in Radio City Music Hall, approximately twenty-three minutes were cut to fulfill the conditions of the contract to accommodate the theater's stage show. Shortly after the release of the film, the ten-minute Portobello Road dance sequence was cut to about four minutes.
Although the film was promoted as the successor to Mary Poppins, many reviewers, including the Variety critic, felt that Bedknobs and Broomsticks lacked the charm of the earlier picture. Many critics were impressed by the animated sequence, often comparing it favorably to Disney's earlier cartoons, but the Portobello Road dance received mixed criticism. The Hollywood Citizen-News reviewer felt it was arbitrarily placed in the film, and the critics for The Times (London) described it as a "terrible knees-up dance." Most reviews, though, praised Angela Lansbury's performance as Eglantine, as did New York Times, which stated that she projected a "healthy sensuality." Bedknobs and Broomsticks was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Scoring, Best Original Song ("The Age of Not Believing"), Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. Alan Maley, Eustace Lycett and Danny Lee won an Oscar for Best Special Visual Effects.
In 1979, an additional twenty minutes was cut from the film for a re-release, according to an August 1998 Los Angeles Times article. According to a 1996 press release for the film's twenty-fifth anniversary, Bedknobs and Broomsticks was restored "as close as is possible, to the version previewed at the Walt Disney Studio in early 1971," which was twenty-four minutes longer than the version at its initial release. Two songs were reinstated, "With a Flair," which was sung by David Tomlinson as Emelius and deleted after the film's premiere, and Lansbury's ballad, "Nobody's Problems for Me," which, according to the Sherman brothers, had only been recorded by Lansbury with a rehearsal pianist. In addition, the "Portobello Road" dance was expanded to nine minutes. Five shots from that sequence, which existed only as a faded workprint, were digitally revitalized to recapture their lost color.
In a filmed interview, the Sherman brothers reported that the original soundtrack for the song "A Step in the Right Direction" was found, but according to them and an August 1998 Los Angeles Times article, the song's corresponding footage was not, despite a search of the Walt Disney Archives. According to information on the twenty-fifth anniversary video, Lansbury and McDowall re-looped several pieces of soundtrack that no longer existed, and other voices had to be cast to replace performers who were deceased, had grown up or were unavailable. A modern source states that the following actors provided voice-overs for the restoration: Joe Baker (Capt. Greer), Jeff Bennett (Emelius), Corey Burton (Bookman/Mr. Widdenfield), Fay DeWitt (Mrs. Hobday), Amanda McQueen (Carrie) and Gregory Grudt (Charlie).