Released in July 1960, this Technicolor Disney film starred young Hayley Mills – daughter of actor John Mills – in the title role. This was her American debut and the first of six movies she made during her five-year contract with Walt Disney Studios.
Critics who went to see Pollyanna expecting a sloppy sentimental, tear-jerking film were astonished to discover a beautifully acted, intelligently scripted film of genuine warmth – one of the best live-action films Disney ever made.
Orphaned Pollyanna (Mills) comes to live with her wealthy Aunt Polly (Jane Wyman) in the town of Harrington, circa 1912.
She immediately starts upsetting things in the very proper household and throughout the town, with her uncanny knack for seeing the bright side of things (in what she calls “the glad game” always finding something to be glad about).
Her first friend in town is Jimmy Bean (Kevin Corcoran), a carefree youngster from the town orphanage. Together they engage in various adventures.
Pollyanna first goes to visit crotchety old Mrs Snow (Agnes Moorehead), a hypochondriac invalid who feels sorry for herself. Pollyanna is the first person who doesn’t sympathise with the old woman and eventually wins her over with her honesty and friendliness.
Then she and Jimmy meet the hermitlike Mr Pendergast (Adolphe Menjou), who catches them trespassing on his property, but instead of scolding them, becomes another friend, interesting the youngsters in glass prisms and the colourful light they spread around his home.
Pollyanna then works her magic on the town preacher, Reverend Ford (Karl Malden). Every Sunday his hellfire-and-brimstone sermons – usually recommended by Aunt Polly, who for all intense and purposes runs the whole town – give everyone indigestion. The young girl finds him rehearsing a sermon one afternoon, and he confesses to her that he feels he isn’t reaching his congregation.
She tells him that her father, a missionary, taught her a valuable lesson, which he inscribed on a charm: “When you look for the bad in mankind, you will surely find it”. He is dumbfounded with the shock of discovery, and that Sunday he comes to church a new man, telling the congregation that he intends to spend future sermons exploring the joy in the bible – and he also vows to get to know his people much better.
Finally, Pollyanna plays matchmaker for Aunt Polly and young Dr Chilton (Richard Egan), who had once been sweethearts several years ago. Since then, Aunt Polly has become more and more spinsterish, and her niece is determined to do something about it.
One thing that comes between Polly and Dr Chilton is the subject of the town orphanage, which Aunt Polly sponsors. A new one is needed, and Chilton organises a bazaar to raise money for it.
At first, most of the townspeople are afraid to oppose Polly openly, but their enthusiasm gradually grows, especially when meek Reverend Ford decides to take a stand and support the event.
Pollyanna is forbidden to go, but Jimmy Bean helps her climb through her window, down a tree, in order to attend. She has the time of her life and even wins a doll – her very first. Going home that night, she climbs the tree and is almost inside when she drops her doll. Reaching for it, she falls to the ground with a scream.
The next day it becomes clear that her legs are paralysed. Dr Chilton arranges to take her to Baltimore for immediate surgery, but he tells Aunt Polly that surgery cannot do anything for Pollyanna’s state of mind.
For the first time, she is sullen and rejects the glad game as being stupid. But an amazing thing happens . . .
People – hundreds of them – gather on the front lawn and knock on Aunt Polly’s door. They say they are friends of Pollyanna and they want to wish her well. Dr Chilton brings her downstairs and she sees just how much she has meant to so many people in the town.
Mrs Snow is no longer an invalid, Reverend Ford is now part of the community, and Mr Pendergast is even going to adopt Jimmy Bean. And Aunt Polly realises that all this time she has given everything to Pollyanna – and to the town – except love. And that’s more important than anything.
As Pollyanna is taken to the train, the whole town comes to see her off and as the train pulls out of the station, a sign is hung from the platform: “Harrington – The Glad Town”.
Most of the exteriors were filmed in Santa Rosa, California, and in the Napa Valley, doubling quite nicely for early century New England.
Hayley Mills was awarded a special juvenile Oscar for her role in the film (the last juvenile Oscar awarded). Her Oscar was subsequently stolen but in January 2022, the academy presented her with a replacement Oscar.
Dr Edmond Chilton
Reverend Paul Ford
Mayor Karl Warren
Mrs Paul Ford
Mrs Amelia Tarbell
Mary Grace Canfield