- by ZoŽ
The story of one boy, his
pet caterpillar and man who wants to make them famous.
- by ZoŽ
Jerry Flynn (Cary Grant) is a highly acclaimed theatre
owner and Broadway producer, who after three consecutive flops finds himself in severe
financial difficulty, and the possibility of losing his theatre. On exiting the theatre
one evening he comes across Pinky Thompson (Ted Donaldson), a young boy who is friends
with a caterpillar called Curly (yes - I *DID* say caterpillar!) that dances to the tune
"Yes Sir, that's my baby!". Seeing this as an opportunity to hold onto his
beloved theatre, he and Pinky set up a partnership. But Jeannie (Pinky's sister played by
Janet Blair) has other ideas. Naturally, being a CG film, this disagreement turns into
romance between Flynn and Jeannie. Although the caterpillar becomes a symbol of hope for
mankind, Flynn still wants to save his theatre and is prepared to sell Curly to Hollywood
for $100,000. At the last minute he relents, but it is too late as Curly is missing.
However, before the end of the movie, Curly is found..........to have turned into a
This is a completely bizarre, fantastical tale, in which
Cary's talent seems quite at home. A quote by one of the newspaper men who is asked to publicize the caterpillar, "There's a war going on, or hadn't you heard?",
appears to be what the audience of the time thought of this film -released as a bit of
light relief and escapism during the war, this film was a flop. Personally, I really enjoy
this movie - but I also think it may be an acquired taste!!!
VARIETY Film Review - April 26, 1944
- by "Kahn"
- submitted by Barry Martin
One of the more novel scripts of the year, 'Once Upon a Time' is certainly bizarre - and yet charming. It's unfathomable - and yet intriguing. It is
certainly absurd - and yet boxoffice.
'Once Upon a Time' will certainly excited a national wave of conflicting theories on its merits. It certainly must have required considerable courage for Columbia to have
undertaken a production that manifests so few popular ingredients that make for big b.o. Because of its central character, such as it is, 'Once Upon a Time' is, actually, the story of - a caterpillar! A dancing caterpillar! One that dances only to "Yes Sir, That's My Baby!"
'Once Upon a Time' was originally a radio play called "My Friend Curly," by Norman Corwin (from an
idea by Lucille Fletcher Herrmann). It excited considerable comment in radio circles when it was produced on CBS, but its film version, because of a more extensive production starring Cary Grant and Jane Blair, bids fair to create an even greater word-of-mouth.
The film's leading "character," of course, is one that's unbilled - that would be Curly, the caterpillar. Curly is the pal of
nine-year-old Pinky, and it dances when Pinky plays "That's My Baby" on his mouth-organ. When a flop Broadway producer learns of this phenomenon, he sees a chance to gain its possession and exploit it
sufficiently so that he can salvage his theatre from the bankers. Gabriel Heatter hears about the dancing caterpillar and gives it nationwide prominence in
discussing it on his radio program. Then follows a deluge of offers to exploit the insect - and there's even a scene of Walt Disney, over long-distance phone from Hollywood, offering $100,000 for it.
The basic story may have difficulty in "reaching" an audience at first, but if one can accept the sheer fantasy for what it's worth, it can very well be excellent entertainment. There's considerable charm in the youngster's attachment for the insect through the close link that existed in the original radio play between the theatrical agent and the boy (in the film the agent is the theatrical producer) is somewhat lost. And that final reel - when the youngster has been overcome with grief over the loss of his caterpillar, only to learn that it wasn't lost at all but had since become a butterfly - is an exercise in screen fantasy.
Both Grant and Miss Blair may be starred in this film, but they must bow in performance to others not equally billed. Namely, Ted Donaldson, the
youngster, who, in his first film appearance, is what publicity departments would call a find James Gleason, William Demarest and Howard Freeman are among the major supporting players who do okay.
That title really tells it. There's a foreword that suggests to the audience, in effect, to pull up a chair and relax. It's the kind of suggestion that had best be taken literally.
NEW YORK TIMES
Film Review - June 30, 1944
- by Bosley Crowther
- submitted by Barry Martin
you ever seen a dancing caterpillar? Of course not, and no one
else has - except Cary Grant and all the people in "Once Upon
a Time," at the Music Hall. For it is such an incredible
freak of nature, conceived in a whimsical vein, that is the
fabulous object of attention in this genial Columbia film. And it
is the imagined reaction of people to it that forms the content of
this innocent romance.
The radio first
played this whimsy. "My Client Curley" was the title
then, and Norman Corwin derived it from a story by Lucille
Fletcher Herrmann. Columbia has dressed it up a little to stretch
it out on the screen, but the story is basically similar to that
played on the radio. It is the story of a theatre impresario who,
facing financial ruin, discovers a little boy who has a
caterpillar that can dance. Immediately he sees possibilities in
exploiting this fantastic worm and puts on a ballyhoo campaign in
order to run up the price to Walt Disney. But he doesn't reckon on
the feelings of the youngster, and it is when he tries to take the
wonder from the boy that beautiful illusions are shattered and the
callous showman gets a kick in the teeth.
possibilities for satire in this story are casually skipped,
except for a few gentle passes, in favor of wistful romance. It is
not the flashy aspects of a dancing caterpillar that are dwelt
upon so much as the tender significance of this wondrous worm to a
boy. And, in this, the story follows a rather obvious and
conventional line, familiar in stories relating adults, children
and animals. The writing, too, is only moderate in its qualities
of tenderness, but a charming twist, based on nature, gives the
climax a poetic lift.
Mr. Grant is, as
usual, archly jocular though most of his role as the theartre man,
and James Gleason plays his Man Friday with creased, suspicious
eyes and tongue in cheek. But it is the youngster, little Ted
Donaldson, who is most appealing in this film, and his round face
and boyish treble do a lot to give it charm. Janet Blair has a
minor assignment, which she handles adequately, and William
Demarest gets little opportunity to do his best by a skeptical
newspaper man. Needless to say, the caterpillar is never given a
chance to perform.
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