As a fan of the 1993 remake, I was eager to see the MGM version (itself a remake of a silent film), which seems like the perfect property for that particular studio during the very height of its Golden Age. And that it was. Starring a perfectly cast Margaret O’Brien (in her final role for the studio), director Fred Wilcox produces a lovely fairytale in story, mood, and performance.
Mary was born wealthy and raised into something of spoiled brat in India. After both her parents die in a cholera epidemic, she is forced to live in a rundown, spooky English manor with her emotionally troubled Uncle Archibald (Herbert Marshall) and his bedridden son (a wonderful Dean Stockwell).
The headstrong Mary’s immediate problem is a maid (Elsa Lanchester) who refuses to give in to the ridiculous demands of a child used to being waited on hand in foot. Lonely, angry, and a little scared, she strikes up a friendship with Dickon, the brother of one the maids. Together, with the help of a raven, they discover a secret garden…
Other than to tell you that this is when the Technicolor kicks in, you will have to find out the rest of the story on your own.
Like the very best fairytales, “Secret Garden” hasn’t aged a day. O’Brien is beguiling in the lead role and the story itself is timeless.
If you haven’t already ruined the attention-span of your kids with video games and reality TV, they are likely to embrace “The Secret Garden” like they would “The Wizard of Oz.”
“The Secret Garden” is available for purchase at the Warner Archive.