Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser

Great Pal created a massive hit out of terrific tale of tiny Tom

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Like Walt Disney and Ray Harryhause­n, George Pal was a magician of the movies who found fantasy more beautiful than reality.

I was first introduced to the genius of Pal at the age of 10 when, together with my mum, aunt Agnes and cousin Alistair Hackett, we went to the ABC Cinema in Coatbridge in 1959 to see Tom Thumb.

It awed, thrilled and delighted me enough for me to be able to con my mum into letting me see it over and over again when it opened the following week at Airdrie’s New Cinema.

Also on the same programme was one of the MGM Andy Hardy movies, starring Hollywood legends Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, and a fabulous Tom and Jerry cartoon, for an admission price of one shilling and sixpence; it didn’t get any better than that.

Under contract to Paramount Pictures and MGM, Pal had produced such screen classics as War of the Worlds (1953), Destinatio­n Moon (1949) and When Worlds Collide (1951).

A native of Hungary, Pal made a rapid exodus, emigrating to America to escape Nazi oppression when he found himself being investigat­ed by the Gestapo because of his Hungarian birth.

His film career ascended when Paramount offered him a contract to produce puppet movies, featuring his Puppetoon creations. Pal pioneered the method of replacemen­t stop motion animation.

The technique required intricate planning and sculpting of puppets prior to making the film. The puppets (or multiple parts of puppets) were made to represent each action desired.

For instance, to represent facial expression­s and speech, the characters would have numerous heads which, when animated in the proper sequence, could speak anything or show any emotion. This technique also inspired brilliant animator Tim Burton to adapt it in movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).

For several years Pal had tried to interest other Hollywood studios to get backing for his Puppetoon project Tom Thumb, with MGM turning down the project many times.

Then, in 1957, they finally gave the go-ahead with a shoestring budget of just under $1 million. The film would be shot at the MGM British studios in Borehamwoo­d and talented American actor-dancer Russ Tamblyn would play Tom Thumb, supported by an excellent all British cast.

The story opens in an old forest as an aging woodcutter named Jonathan (Bernard Miles) is about to chop down a mighty oak tree. Suddenly, the Queen of the forest (June Thorburn) appears and asks him to spare the tree.

If he will, she will grant him three wishes. Jonathan agrees and runs home to tell his wife, Anna (Jessie Matthews), the good news. But they foolishly waste the wishes, and Anna is heartbroke­n.

She makes another wish for a son she would love even if he were no bigger than her thumb. Her wish comes true when late that night Tom, a tiny boy only six inches tall, arrives at their door and tells them he is their son.

As both producer and director of Tom Thumb, released by MGM in 1958, Pal managed to bring in the classic hit for just over $900,000. Fortunatel­y, the meagre budget did not compromise the end result. The movie is a delightful, elaborate musical fantasy, with the quality evident in every department. Pal had succeeded in making “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”.

Tamblyn had one of his best roles in this splendid MGM production. The film is colourful and has amazing, imaginativ­ely designed, oversized sets. For many scenes involving little Tom, huge sets scaled one foot to the inch of beds, doors and chairs, and a table top – 35 feet high and 90 feet long – was constructe­d to make Tamblyn appear properly small.

The brilliant visual illusion in Tom Thumb was created by Gene Warren and Wah Chang, who were two of the most talented special effects men in the business.

Playing a couple of thieving rascals, Terry Thomas and Peter Sellers are likeable rogues and excellent throughout.

To Pal and MGM’S surprise, Tom Thumb turned out to be one of the most successful films of the year. Youngsters and adults alike were delighted with its fairy tale charm and freshness. It appealed to that lovely childhood innocence that we lose when we mature.

Pal cleverly infused the film with the same kind of sprightly fun that had characteri­sed his wonderful Puppetoons – and it really made a mark.

 ?? ?? Huge success Tom Thumb turned out to be one of the most popular movies released in 1958 as “youngsters and adults alike were delighted with its fairy tale charm and freshness”
Huge success Tom Thumb turned out to be one of the most popular movies released in 1958 as “youngsters and adults alike were delighted with its fairy tale charm and freshness”
 ?? ?? Big star American actor-dancer Russ Tamblyn impressed as Tom Thumb
Big star American actor-dancer Russ Tamblyn impressed as Tom Thumb

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