The Moon-Spinners 1964
Film released July 8, 1964 - Walt Disney
Stars: Hayley MIlls, Eli Wallach, Peter McEnery, Joan Greenwood, Irene Papas, Pola Negri
General Plot of The Moon-Spinners
Hayley Mills (as Nikki Ferris) and Joan Greenwood (as Aunt Ferris) travel from the city of Heraklion out along the coast of the island of Crete. Hayley is accompanying her Aunt who collects recordings of folk music, and they end up after an exhausting bus ride at the doors of The Moon-Spinners taverna and hotel, which is run by Irene Papas (as Sophia) a single mother who refuses the two traveling English ladies a room, though her hotel is vacant.
It seems her visiting brother Stratos (Eli Wallach) wants the hotel kept empty as he is plotting a sale for a cache of stolen jewelry to Madam Habib (Poli Negri), a wealthy jewel collector who we meet later traveling the Mediterranean on an enormous private yacht. Sophia's young son Alexis (Michael Davis) persuades her to allow Nikki and Aunt Ferris to have a room, and complications begin piling up, as Stratos makes it clear he wants them gone as soon as possible.
The two English ladies soon find themselves allied with the mysterious Peter McEnery (as Mark Camford) who has fled the United Kingdom. We discover that his seemingly innocent daily snorkling out in the waters isn't a vacation activity, but because Mark is searching for the jewels that Stratos has hidden. These rare jewels were stolen from him much earlier as he was transporting them as part of his job at a London bank, and he is in disgrace (and possibly going to jail) until he can get the jewels back, clear his name and hopefully expose the real culprit for the theft.
Stratos is devoted to murdering Mark, and Hayley, too, as it becomes obvious she has learned too much about his real plans. Sister Sophia tries to persude Stratos to give up his strange schemes (which are tied up with astrology, though how exactly isn't explained with much detail in this film), but Stratos loves his hoped for payday from selling the jewels, and if it means even murdering his sister, he's willing to do it.
Disney in Crete
The scenery in Crete is beautifully photographed for this film, though there are a share of studio shots inserted throughout the movie from the Pinewood production facilities in Engliand. As part of the story we get to witness the wedding parade of a large Greek family, and then the party afterward (where Hayley Mills performs then then current 1964 teenage dance style of England while the Greeks try to follow along).
Hayley ends up a prisoner in a picturesque windmill, where Alexis and Peter must rescue her, and Stratos becomes more unhinged as the tale progresses, his carefully plotted fencing of the stolen jewels unraveling as Hayley and Peter (barely) outwit him step by step. It doesn't help that Startos is superstitious about everything around him.
Joan Greenwood and Irene Papas
Joan Greenwood and Irene Papas have the least amount to do in the film, one a worried mother who gets bullied by her domineering and increasingly homicidal brother, the other a worried English Aunt who starts going to pieces when Hayley turns up missing (she's in the windmill).
Hayley Mills in Crete
Walt Disney (the man himself is listed as producer) has filled this movie with the usual family-friendly elements of his life-action movies, and though there is a suspense element (and the near murder of Mark), none of the darker elements of the movie are allowed to dominate. Instead, Hayley Mills is the center of attention (this is her 5th of 6 movies for Disney), smiling and laughing and complicating the efforts of all the adults who have their own agendas, but must place second to the smiling, tanned and sun-bleached film's star.
Poli Negri, who appears as Madam Habib, was a famous silent film star who worked in Polish films, Germany, and the United States. Walt Disney specifically persuaded her to come out of a long retirement to appear in The Moon-Spinners.
Although The Moon-Spinners did well in release (making somewhere over $3.5 million USD), the big movie for Disney in 1964 (and Hollywood in general) was Mary Poppins ($102 million USD), which came out August 27 and was the number one top-grossing film of the entire year.
Incidentally, Greece was all over screens in 1964. Zorba the Greek came out this year (which was also filmed on Crete, and also starred Irene Papas) and Topkapi came out, which takes place mainly in Turkey, but stars Greek actress Melina Mercouri (who became an international star through the 1960 film Never on Sunday).
The DVD Version
The 2003 DVD release is not in the original print release widescreen format, but is a fullscreen pan and scan. The transfer seems to have some compression "table-cloth" patterning in some scenes. The only disc supplement is a trailer for the film.
I have been told there is a widescreen version in HD available through Apple iTunes for purchase (or rental).
Director James Neilson
Written by Michael Dyne from the Mary Stewart book
Stars Hayley Mills, Eli Wallach, Pola Negri, Irene Papas and Joan Greenwood
Original Page Feb 2014