Emil and the Detectives Review

Theatrical Release: December 18th, 1964/ Running Time: 99 min. Rating: G

Director: Peter Tewksbury/ Writers: (screenplay) A.J. Carothers, (novel) Erich Kastner Cast: Bryan Russell, Walter Slezak, Roger Mobley, Heinz Schubert, Peter Ehrlich, Cindy Cassell, Elsa Wagner, Wolfgang Völz, Eva Ingeborg Scholz

By Contributing Writer: Cory

In 1964, Walt Disney Studios, presented the crowning achievement of it’s live action catalog, Mary Poppins.   With all the pomp, praise and hoopla that film received, it made for a hard act to follow.   That year also saw the live action releases of, The Moon-Spinners, Three Lives of Thomasina, and The Misadventures of Merlin Jones.  After the great success of  The Parent Trap; and, to perhaps appeal to a young, male audience, Disney purchased the rights for another story by German writer Erich Kastner.  In December of 1964, Disney released it’s live action feature film Emil and the Detectives.

When talking to people about Disney films, this wonderful film tends to be left out or totally forgotten. It is a shame because it is without a doubt one of the most thoroughly entertaining films that the folks at Disney produced in the 1960’s. The film has very high production values, boasts a highly enjoyable cast (especially the young child actors), and has an enjoyable story.   While most films that have a large child cast may sometimes come off as “cute” , that is not the case in Emil and the Detectives.  This film will not only appeal to the many fans who have waited patiently for a legitimate dvd release, but to anyone who enjoys a well-rounded story with quality.

The Film:
( 4 out of 5 stars)

10 year old Emil is on his way to visit his grandmother in Berlin. His mother entrusts him with money to be delivered to the grandmother upon arrival.  The money attracts the attention of a thief named Grundeis who has a well-known talent that has earned him a nickname as the “Mole”. The thief steals the money from Emil on the bus trip.  Arriving in Berlin, Emil enlists the help of a young boy named Gustav who lends his services as a detective to track down the thief.  Soon Gustav and his friends find that Emil’s money is only a small fraction of  a much larger scheme at hand.

The story for Emil and the Detectives is taken from a classic German children’s book by author Erich Kastner. Kastner also wrote a short story some years before, that Disney  adapted known as, The Parent Trap.  The story of “Emil” was adapted for screen by Disney studio writer, A.J. Carothers ,who would also pen  the screenplays for The Miracle of the White Stallions, Never A Dull Moment and The Happiest Millionaire.  When the film was in the initial pre-production phase, the story was updated from the 1920’s of the original story to the present-day 1960’s.  Filming took place on location in Berlin and with many interior scenes and the tunnels shot at the Tempelhof Studio.  Always looking to maintain costs, the studio utilized the enormous amount of talent in the area, and several of the supporting cast and crew were real Germans.

Bryan Russell, who was an American child actor, and would continue to act in a few Disney productions (most notably in The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin), played the lead role of Emil.  Roger Mobley, who had starred 6 months earlier in Disney’s tv film For the Love of Willadean, plays Gustav. When watching this film, you can not help  enjoying  the child actors, especially, Roger Mobley.  He would later go on to appear in several  Disney productions, starring as the title character in the Gallegher series, but, in his role of Gustav, he absolutely “steals the show”.

Actor Walter Slezak, known for his Tony Award winning role in Fanny, plays the lead villain, The Baron.  Heinz Schubert, a popular German actor, whose role as the Mole, is a wonderful comedic performance with timing and mannerisms that are wonderfully executed.

Emil and the Detectives was released to theaters on December 18th, 1964 with the live-action featurette, The Tattooed Police Horse, and was the big Christmas release from Disney for that year.  Despite positive critical reviews praising the actors, and the it’s quick paced story, the film was not a financial success.  It was later shown on the Wonderful World of Color in 1966.

The DVD:
(4 out of 5 stars)

The film was released on VHS in 1987, and then fell into obscurity until July 2011, when the Disney Movie Club issued Emil and the Detectives as a new entry to it’s line of DVD Exclusives.   Being a dedicated fan of the film and wanting to have a dvd copy, rather than my old, worn vhs, I immediately ordered it.   The dvd is cased in a white eco-friendly snap case with the cover art showing Emil, Gustav and the Mole. Inside the case, is a redeemable movie rewards code.   The disc is a reflective cover with the title of the film printed.  There is a basic title menu with options for play and scene selection.

Film Image:
(3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The film is presented in 1:33:1, which is not the original theatrical aspect ratio. I believe the film is open matte, because, when enlarging the frame on my widescreen tv, I did not notice any framing issues.

The quality of some Exclusives can be hit or miss, and I can happily report that any worries of a horrible exhibition should be cast aside when viewing this particular film. The image on this film is highly commendable.  While not one of the best remastering job I have seen Disney perform, the image is exceptionally crisp  with lines defined and colors visually strong and not muted.  The picture is not washed out at all. I am not sure where Disney located the master that they used for this dvd issue, but, it has either been stored properly or Disney has done some light remastering to this print. There are some specks and flicker on the picture, but, overall the film is a huge!! improvement over it’s vhs release. One main highlight was that Disney has used a master which contains the animated opening credits, which, were part of the original film. The previous vhs release had only used a simple title card.

(1 out of 5 stars)

Typical with most Disney Exclusives, they are all lacking in the extras department. With this film not being one of Disney’s great financial successes, it is no surprise that there is no “making of featurettes” or the willingness of Disney to track down some of the surviving cast members for a commentary track. This film was serialized and shown on The Wonderful World of Color in September of 1966, so there would have been “introductions” done by Walt Disney. These would have made for a nice inclusion.  Sadly, the only “extra” is the fact that the film does have a Scene Selection option.

Final Conclusion:
(4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This is a fine film with a great cast, and well rounded story. As stated before,  not one of the most recognized film releases in Disney’s live action catalog, it is one that definitely deserves a stronger fanbase and recognition. With a 19.99 price tag, and being for sale solely from the Disney Movie Club, this may ward off some potential buyers. But, for fans of classic Disney and a overall good movie, it is well worth investing to have this film in such a fine presentation.

You can buy your copy of Emil and the Detectives by join the Disney Movie Club HERE.

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