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Film / Pollyanna (1960)

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"We looked for the good in them... and we found it, didn't we?"
Reverend Ford

Pollyanna is a 1960 Disney live-action movie, based on the novel of the same name. Written and directed by David Swift, it stars Hayley Mills as the heartwarming orphan Pollyanna Whittier. Jane Wyman stars as Aunt Polly, with Agnes Moorehead as Mrs. Snow and Karl Malden as Reverend Ford. The film was the last performance of Adolphe Menjou, who appears as Mr. Pendergast.

The film makes a few alterations and expansions to the novel. Aunt Polly for example is now even more of an antagonist - portrayed as a matriarch who controls the entire town (which is appropriately named Harrington Falls here) down to what the reverend says in his sermons every Sunday. The maid Nancy likewise now has a sweetheart called George that Polly disapproves of - and not snitching on them is what prompts Nancy to become Pollyanna's friend. An additional narrative change involves the townspeople rejecting Aunt Polly's false charity and organising a town bazaar to raise funds themselves. New characters are added - such as a sour maid Angelica and a cook Tilly - and others have their roles expanded like Jimmy Bean and Mr Pendergast (a renamed Mr Pendleton).

Despite being viewed as a financial disappointment, Pollyanna was a hit for the Disney studio, and turned Hayley Mills into one of the biggest child stars of the early 60s; she became the last winner of the Academy Juvenile Award for her performance. Walt Disney apparently loved the film so much, he refused to let any scenes from it be cut.

This film contains examples of:

  • Abled in the Adaptation:
    • A surprising inversion. The book confirms that Pollyanna walks again, her injury caused by a car accident there. Here the film ends with her heading off to get the operation, and the injury coming from falling off the side of the house - making a recovery uncertain.
    • Mrs Snow appears to be a genuine invalid in the book, who never leaves her bed. In the film, she seems to be a hypochondriac that merely thinks she's about to die; she gets out of bed to go to the town bazaar and Aunt Polly's house at the end.
  • Adapted Out: Polly and Jennie Harrington had another sister Anna (Pollyanna is named after her and Polly), who isn't mentioned in the film.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • A new subplot for Nancy - who is in love with a man called George that Aunt Polly disapproves of. She tries to pass him off as her cousin to Pollyanna at first, but the child isn't fooled. Her deciding not to tell Aunt Polly that Nancy was out with George is what marks the start of their friendship.
    • A subplot is added involving the town needing a new orphanage. Aunt Polly intends to donate the money herself, but the townspeople reject her charity and opt to hold a bazaar that will raise funds. Pollyanna sneaking out of the house against Polly's wishes to go to the bazaar is what leads to her accident.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Aunt Polly's disdain for Pollyanna's father is explained in great detail in the book; her sister Jennie turned down an offer of marriage from a wealthy man their family approved of in favour of a poor missionary pastor, and lost touch with her family shortly afterwards. None of this is mentioned in the film, leaving it open why Polly hates to hear about her brother-in-law.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • Mr. Pendelton becomes Mr. Pendergast.
    • Thomas Chilton becomes Edmund Chilton.
    • The town was Beldingsville in the book, and becomes Harrington Falls in the film.
  • Adaptation Personality Change:
    • Pollyanna becomes much shyer and a bit of a Cute Clumsy Girl than the book's more outwardly Plucky Girl. For example, in the book, she gives grand greetings to Nancy and Aunt Polly when she meets them, but is far more subdued when meeting them here (in the book, she was so energetic she just assumed Nancy was her aunt until the carriage ride was nearly over).
    • Nancy herself is a Cute Clumsy Girl and often prone to stuttering and stammering around Aunt Polly in the book, but is much more composed in the film (except around her love interest, that is).
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: Pollyanna was crippled in a car accident in the book, and learns to walk again afterwards. In the film, she falls from her attic room while sneaking back in from the bazaar. While the townspeople do cheer her up, it's left open whether she will walk again, and the film ends with her leaving the town to prepare for an operation.
  • Adaptational Context Change: Pollyanna was really grasping at straws to find something to be glad about when she's given a small room in the attic - as she had been hoping for a big, splendid room - and actually cries her first night in the house over it. In the film, she seems to actually like the room, and refutes Angelica the maid's disdain for it by saying she's never had one to herself before.
  • Adaptational Jerkass:
    • Aunt Polly has to go through far more Character Development than her book counterpart. Here, she's shown as an oppressive presence who controls the town the way she sees fit. Nancy gets a boyfriend in the film that Polly disapproves of, and she openly forbids her from seeing him. She doesn't in fact have her Heel Realization until the last ten minutes. Notably, Aunt Polly in the book moves Pollyanna to a nicer room earlier after her niece accidentally shames her for how small the attic is. But here in the film, she's kept in the attic until the accident.
    • Downplayed with Nancy, who is dismissive of Pollyanna at first and treats her like an annoyance - even foisting her onto Angelica so she can quickly fool around with George in the garden. In the book, Nancy noticed how aloof Aunt Polly was being straight away and resolved to be there for Pollyanna on her first day. In the film, Nancy is only won over when Pollyanna covers for her after they have lunch with her movie-exclusive boyfriend George (who Polly disapproves of, and Nancy would end up in trouble for being with him). Still though, Nancy does become Pollyanna's first friend in both.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Pollyanna is implied to be half-British in the film, where she's played by the English Hayley Mills. It's said that her father was a minister in the British West Indies and she is seen teaching Nancy the English folk song "Early One Morning" at one point. Hayley Mills does give Pollyanna some American pronunciations (she pronounces 'aunt' like 'ant' for one) to suggest her speech patterns were influenced by having an American parent too.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Oddly enough, Aunt Polly as well compared to the above. The book opens with her openly complaining about having to take Pollyanna in, taking the time to call her late sister "silly" for marrying and having children. The text also describes her as being absurdly stern and never smiling. She never says anything of the sort to anyone in the film, and has several moments of being friendly or cordial to her staff (while still being aloof). She also doesn't punish Pollyanna for being late to supper like she does in the book (where Pollyanna had been crying about her room and went wandering to cheer herself up).
  • Adaptational Wealth: Nancy in the book is said to come from a poor family who needs the money, and she's working for Aunt Polly to support a widowed mother and three younger sisters. In the film, her family isn't mentioned, and she's planning to get engaged soon. She and George are able to afford a nice engagement ring by the finale.
  • An Aesop:
    • Although the quote from Abraham Lincoln was never said by him, it doesn't stop it being a good lesson; look for the bad in people and you'll find it. But look for the good in them, and you might find it as well. Pollyanna showing kindness to others - even when they didn't show it to her - did help them and herself in the long run.
    • A negative mind will never give you a positive life. Bad things will happen to everyone in life - Pollyanna lost both her parents and ended up with an aunt who barely showed her any love - but adopting a positive attitude and facing hardships with optimism will benefit in the long run. Even more powerful by having the film end without confirming whether Pollyanna is able to walk again - as the important lesson is to face her uncertain future with that positive attitude.
    • The film has some strong points to make on the nature of false charity; Aunt Polly gives money all the time out of a sense of obligation, as opposed to genuinely wanting to help. It's illustrated that this is just another way of her exerting her influence over people, and asserting her dominance. It's arguably comparable to White Man's Burden.
  • Age Lift: The other way around. Aunt Polly and Dr. Chilton are younger in the Disney movie than in the book, and in the book have not spoken in fifteen years (as opposed to just five in the movie).
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Aunt Polly is a grown up example. Brunette and avoids love and affection, remaining in a high society persona.
  • Ascended Extra: Both Jimmy Bean and Mr Pendergast (renamed from Mr Pendelton) have larger roles in the film than the book.
  • Bad Boss: Polly considers it her right to demand that her employees remain permanently single as a condition of employment. Of course it could be that she just disapproves of George as a suitor to Nancy, but having such control over her employees' personal lives is quite much.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Nancy becomes Pollyanna's friend because the little girl doesn't tell Aunt Polly about them running into George in town.
  • Beneath the Mask: After Dr. Chilton gives Polly a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, the servants note that it didn't faze her at all. Cut to Polly in her room, where her Proper Lady façade breaks and she cries into her mirror.
  • Beta Bitch: Mrs. Tarbell acts as this to Aunt Polly.
  • Bitch Alert:
    • Angelica the maid, who is much crabbier to Pollyanna than Nancy (who merely seems stressed).
    • Mrs. Tarbell, whose first scene is her complaining about the arrangements on the train.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The women in Aunt Polly's household — Nancy (blonde), Polly (brunette), Angelica (redhead).
  • Break the Cutie: Well, the Universe seems to be trying... At the end, almost succeeding.
  • Brick Joke:
    • When Pollyanna and Jimmy are in Mr. Pendergast's house he randomly feels Jimmy's hair and says "don't they ever cut your hair in that orphanage". This then shifts to a dramatic scene with Aunt Polly and about 20 minutes later we see Jimmy and Pendergast in the barber shop.
    • A heartwarming example regarding Nancy and George. Their relationship is mostly forgotten about once Pollyanna covers for them with Aunt Polly, but the ending reveals they're engaged and waiting until after Pollyanna's operation so she can be their flower girl.
  • Canon Foreigner: The Disney film adds a sour maid called Angelica in Aunt Polly's house, as well as a cook called Tilly. Likewise Nancy is given a sweetheart called George that Polly wishes to suppress.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Pollyanna falls off the roof and paralyzes herself while sneaking back into the house from a town festival Aunt Polly forbade her from attending. Crosses over with Too Dumb to Live because she was safe, but went out to fetch a prize she won at the fair only to fall off the roof.
  • Creator Cameo: The director has one as a fireman shooing a boy off a ladder, after the boiler accident at the orphanage.
  • Cheerful Child: Pollyanna of course, although Hayley Mills does portray her as a bit of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander, is ultimately always very happy and optimistic.
  • Children Are Innocent: As Pollyanna drops in on Mrs Snow picking out the lining for her coffin, the girl first assumes she's having a new dress made.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Nancy hypothetically says that Mrs Snow would complain she didn't get chicken if they delivered calves' foot jelly to her. When Mrs Snow instead complains that she wanted lamb broth, Pollyanna 'corrects' her by saying she should want chicken.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Pollyanna struggles to find something to be glad about after the intense Sunday sermon. She eventually decides they can be glad because they have seven more days until they have to hear the next one.
  • Death Seeker: A mild example with Mrs Snow, who merely expects to die soon and is already picking out the lining for her coffin.
  • Decoy Protagonist: It's been argued that although Pollyanna appears to be the lead, it is actually Aunt Polly who is the true protagonist of the story. She goes through the most Character Development, with Pollyanna acting more as a catalyst for it. Given that Pollyanna precedes a certain other Disney film by only a few years, it's quite easy to think of Aunt Polly as a proto-version of Mr. Banks, or a live-action successor of Grumpy.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen:
    • Mrs. Snow, the crabby old woman convinced she's ill and who is rude to everyone.
    • Angelica, the cynical maid in the house.
    • Aunt Polly takes longer, and it's not until the last few minutes or so but she realises how cold she's been to Pollyanna when her niece is crippled.
  • Description Cut: Angelica and Tilly overhear Edmund tell Aunt Polly off and note that the latter was unaffected "like water off a duck's back". Right after they say she has a heart of stone, it cuts to Polly in her room sobbing at how Edmund's words have hurt her.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After spending the whole story cheering everyone in town up with her sunny attitude, Pollyanna is at her darkest moment and the entire town turns up to wish her well. She may walk again, and she earns the love of her aunt - who also may reconnect with Dr Chilton.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Grumpy old lady though she may be, Mrs Tarbell is the first of the townspeople to sincerely wish Pollyanna well in the end.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: After Nancy becomes Pollyanna's friend, whenever she's out of uniform (and would need to have a Prim and Proper Bun), her hair is worn down in a different style and tied up with ribbons.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: The "Vault Disney Collection" edition's DVD case.
  • For Happiness: Pollyanna likes everyone and wants them to be happy. She seems to accomplish this goal without realizing the size of her role.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Pollyanna's father taught her the Glad Game when a missionary barrel they received contained a pair of crutches instead of a much-wanted doll. He said she could be glad she didn't need to use them. Near the end of the movie she finds herself severely crippled — after she dropped a doll she won, and overreached herself trying to retrieve it — with warnings that she may never walk again...
    • Aunt Polly allowing Pollyanna to kiss her goodnight is foreshadowing that she does have a sweet side after all.
    • When she has her first conversation with Jimmy Bean, Pollyanna warns him about how unsafe it is to play in trees. She's crippled when she falls from a tree she was climbing to get back into her room.
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: Aunt Polly's favorite colour appears to be purple; she wears many dresses in different shades of it, befitting the richest woman in town. There's some overlap with Purple Is Powerful too, given her Iron Lady facade.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Aunt Polly's deceased father is said to have raised Polly up to be the sort of person she is now, which is what makes her control over the town so insufferable.
  • Hair-Contrast Duo: Pollyanna is blonde, cheerful and optimistic, while Aunt Polly is brunette and cold.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Pollyanna. Hair colour isn't mentioned in the book and she's been portrayed by brunette actresses in other adaptations.
  • Happily Adopted: In the last scene, Mr. Pendergast reveals he's adopted Jimmy Bean.
  • Hate Sink: Mrs Tarbell is even more condescending and demeaning to Pollyanna than her aunt, who at least is unused to caring for a child and gives the occasional Pet the Dog moment. She's rude to everyone else and controlling to her husband. Subverted in the ending, where she is in fact the first person to wish Pollyanna a speedy recovery.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Pollyanna can make this happen to anyone. Most notable is Aunt Polly. It's downplayed but the first person Pollyanna sees in the crowd of well-wishers is also the snobby Mrs. Tarbell — who had been opposing the bazaar. This time, Mrs. Tarbell sincerely wishes Pollyanna a recovery.
    • Mrs. Snow's heel face turn is undoubtedly the biggest second to Polly and Ford, as it starts in her very first scenes. Pollyanna softens her heart first with the prisms in the window, and later her piercing tirade at Snow's planning her funeral. She is physically taken aback by Pollyanna's rant. After the girl leaves in a huff, she dismisses the funeral director and immediately begins working on the quilts for the bazaar. Millie walks by with towels and Snow gives her a very mugging if not sarcastic smile. She acts grumpy and miserable, but occasionally has her soft moments. The very first time she meets Pollyanna, she even asks when the girl will be returning.
  • Heel Realization: Reverend Ford has one late into the film, realizing that his ministry has not spread the good word and love of God to others but instead followed Polly's mandates that had him looking for only the sinfulness of the others and doing sermons that made everyone feel bad rather than good and joyful.
  • Henpecked Husband: Mr. Tarbell, whose wife is a crony of Aunt Polly's. A significant moment for him is standing up to her and ordering her to join in the neighborhood bazaar.
  • Heroic BSoD: When this happens to Pollyanna, just about the whole town tries to help. She eventually gets past her BSOD.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Pollyanna herself, in the most winsome possible way. She sees everyone as a potential friend, assumes everyone's motivations are all good — and instead of being victimized, she transforms the town as everyone tries to live up to the good she sees in them.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Mrs Snow assumes that Pollyanna is lying when she says "I wish I were pretty like you".
    "Now don't you try to butter me up. I'm not at all pretty."
  • Incoming Ham: Mrs Snow's introduction is an offscreen yell to be quiet ("haven't you any respect for a dying woman!") that her daughter and Nancy roll their eyes at.
  • Irony: Mrs Snow's moment of defrosting is ensuring Pollyanna gets the doll she always wanted. When sneaking back into the attic room, Pollyanna falls and cripples herself while trying to go back for the doll.
  • It's All My Fault: After Pollyanna's accident, Aunt Polly admits the entire thing is down to her.
    "I couldn't have been the least bit understanding?"
  • Kissing Cousins: Not literally, but Nancy lies saying her lover George is actually her cousin Frank. Pollyanna is not fooled when she sees them kissing.
  • Large Ham: Karl Malden as a preacher butchering Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God".
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Dr. Edmund Chilton says that Aunt Polly was so much nicer when she used to wear her hair down. After an emotional conversation with him, Aunt Polly goes upstairs and lets it down for a moment.
  • Licked by the Dog: Some people find Pollyanna's friendliness to be this, at least at first.
  • Literal-Minded: Pollyanna, as the innocent that she is. Nancy says Mrs Snow is eternally annoyed at not getting what she wanted from the charity basket. As she hypothetically said that Mrs Snow would want chicken if she got calves foot jelly, Pollyanna 'corrects' the old woman when she says she wanted lamb broth.
  • Matte Shot: Used to add two stories to the exterior shots of Aunt Polly's house. The real house (the McDonald Mansion in Santa Rosa, California) is a single story.
  • Maybe Ever After: Aunt Polly's reconciliation with Edmund Chilton is left open in the finale so it can focus more on her and Pollyanna's relationship being mended.
  • Meaningful Echo: Mr Neely is annoyed by Aunt Polly's charity basket, and snorts when Pollyanna tries to tell him to think of it not as charity but a gift from a friend. He's among the first to wish Pollyanna well, presenting her with a flower and repeating the same line.
  • Missing Mom: Despite being Aunt Polly's sister, Pollyanna's late mother is barely mentioned. Pollyanna appears to have been a Daddy's Girl (explained in the book as Jennie dying years previously).
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Reverend Ford says this after talking to Pollyanna. He realises how silly he was for listening to Aunt Polly and making people feel horrible at the sermons every week. He resolves to read from 'the happy texts' in the Bible every week from then on.
    • Aunt Polly, after Pollyanna is crippled while climbing back into her room. Her attic room, which Polly gave her. Sneaking back from a bazaar that Polly forbade her from attending, and actually refused to attend with her.
      "That child lies up there because of me!"
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Pollyanna is the American heroine of an American novel, but she has Hayley Mills' English accent in the movie. This is Hand Waved by saying that she was previously living with her missionary father in the British West Indies. In the original novel, her missionary father was based in the western U.S. instead. Hayley does however give Pollyanna a few American pronunciations in her accent to realistically suggest Pollyanna was influenced by both parents.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • We see an early moment of Pollyanna's cheerful disposition slipping when she finally calls out Mrs. Snow for wasting all her time planning for her death when she should be enjoying life. When she runs out of the room clearly distraught over what just happened, both Mrs. Snow and the undertaker with whom she was having a discussion feel terrible after seeing the look of despair on Pollyanna's face. This snaps Mrs. Snow out of her fatalist mindset.
    • This is then followed by a moment like this for Mrs Snow herself. She begins sewing the patchwork quilt, and Millie does a Double Take when she sees. She seems completely stunned when her mother then smiles.
  • Plucky Girl: Pollyanna merges this with her own trope and manages to transform an entire town of sourpusses into happy people.
  • The Pollyanna: She's more layered than most examples, however; it's strongly hinted that she's holding onto the Glad Game because it's all she has left.
  • Pre-Approved Sermon: Aunt Polly coaches Reverend Ford on what to say to his congregation.
  • Plagiarism in Fiction: Reverend Ford's first sermon in the film, "Death Comes Unexpectedly", is a series of quotations from Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Worse, not only do we not hear much scripture quoted, but Ford never even says, "As the good man, Reverend Edwards, wrote long ago..."
  • Race Lift: A 1989 Walt Disney Presents Made-for-TV Movie titled "Polly" that was also a musical starring Keisha Knight Pulliam and Phylicia Rashad as Polly and Aunt Polly, respectively.
  • Relative Error: Inverted. Nancy tries to pass her sweetheart George off as a cousin to Pollyanna.
  • Remaster: A featurette on the DVD reveals that during The '90s, Disney's film preservation team discovered two problems with the original film elements: the negative suffered color crush due to a faded yellow layer, and the reel containing the Shopping Montage only had separation masters in red and blue, as opposed to red, blue, and green. In order to restore the colors as close as possible to their original appearance, the team had to create their own green separation master, from the un-faded green layer of the negative.
  • Running Gag: At the bazaar, it's a minor running gag that, whenever Pollyanna tries to enjoy herself, an adult will tell her to get into her costume for the National Anthem performance.
  • Shaking Her Hair Loose: After an argument with Edmund about how loveless she is, Aunt Polly retreats to her room and lets her hair loose for the only time in the film; it's said that she previously wore it down but wore it up as she became colder to people.
  • Slice of Life: The first two acts of the story don't have much of a plot. It just involves Pollyanna going around meeting various people in the town and winning them over with the Glad Game. The Nostalgia Chick points out that this is all very important build-up for Pollyanna's crippling accident and Heroic BSoD, as well as Aunt Polly's Heel–Face Turn.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Heavily on the idealistic side. The film stresses the power of being optimistic and having a positive outlook towards life.
  • Stepford Smiler: While Pollyanna's cheerfulness is mostly genuine, she occasionally shows signs of struggling to maintain that cheerfulness, most notably when she snaps at Mrs Snow for her obsession with death and when she gets crippled in an accident and learns that she may never walk again.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Angelica the maid. Although Pollyanna does defrost her, she still remains slightly aloof with the occasional Pet the Dog moment.
  • Think Happy Thoughts: Pollyanna's "game" involves finding a bright side to even the saddest situations.
  • Tsundere: Mrs. Snow and Mr. Prendergast are harsh and cold initially, but eventually become good friends with Pollyanna.
  • Villainy-Free Villain: Aunt Polly never does anything evil in the story. At first she merely scolds Pollyanna for her behaviour. She does oppose the town bazaar, but not maliciously. Ultimately the entire story is setting up a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Wealthy Philanthropist: Aunt Polly deconstructs this. She doesn't flaunt her wealth and does try to use it to do good things. However, she only does good things out of a stuffy sense of obligation, because she's the wealthiest woman in town. As such, the people resent the 'false charity' and it's seen as just another way for Polly to control them. Polly does however learn the true meaning of kindness and becomes a better person by the end.
  • When She Smiles:
    • Mrs. Snow is initially grumpy and cantankerous. But after Pollyanna tells her off, she goes to work on a patchwork quilt for the bazaar. When her daughter catches her doing it, Mrs. Snow just smiles at her, and Millie doesn't quite believe what she's just seen. We see Mrs. Snow smiling a lot more at the bazaar too.
    • Mrs. Tarbell spends most of the movie acting as a snobby Proper Lady. As such it's a huge contrast when she's smiling sincerely at the end.
    • Aunt Polly smiles plenty of times in the movie, but it's always slightly vapid and just another relic of her Proper Lady image. However, there's a big difference when she sincerely smiles at Pollyanna in the end.

Alternative Title(s): Pollyanna