When the Hendersonville Film Society’s Chip Kaufman told me that they were showing George Cukor’s The Blue Bird as their Thanksgiving turkey, I didn’t fully appreciate the enormity of that statement; I’d never seen this legendarily disastrous film. Having now seen it, I can only say, “Wow!” This isn’t just a bad movie, it’s mesmerizingly awful. (The mesmerizing quality is what gets this mess more than a richly deserved half-star on every other level.)
The Blue Bird was the subject of a great deal of publicity at the time of its release in 1976, owing to its status as a U.S.-U.S.S.R. co-production; audiences were prepped for a lavish spectacle. What they got instead was something that looked like it was made for maybe 20 rubles, complete with dramatics that would shame a third-grade class play. It wasn’t the first time that Maurice Maeterlinck’s story had been brought to the screen, but it was certainly the worst, and the cheesiest.
The story is — and always was — a pretty simple affair. It boils down to a somewhat depressing variant on the “happiness is in your own backyard” bromide. (The same lesson can be addressed much more quickly and less gloomily by listening to a couple of Al Jolson songs on the topic.) Essentially, two children, Mytyl (Patsy Kensit, who grew up to star in movies like Absolute Beginners) and Tyltyl (Todd Lookinland, who soon found himself in capacities like “Surfer no. 3″ in Big Wednesday) go looking for the bluebird of happiness with the help (or hindrance) of pets and inanimate objects brought to life by The Queen of Light (Liz Taylor in one of several roles).
To this end, we get such conceits as Jane Fonda playing The Night, Cicely Tyson playing The Cat, Robert Morley playing Father Time and Harry Andrews (looking for all the world like Lorne Green) playing an ambulatory oak tree. It mostly seems to be a contest over who can deliver the worst performance (I think Fonda wins, but it’s a close call) as they all prance around bad sets in even worse costumes (Ms. Tyson’s cat suit wouldn’t cut it in an episode of the Batman TV show).
The Blue Bird cannot be recommended on any serious level, no. But for jaw-dropping badness, it’s downright remarkable. Rated G
– reviewed by Ken Hanke