Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ The Secret Garden (1949)

Dean Stockwell, Margaret O'Brien and Brian Roper in The Secret Garden (1949)
The Secret Garden (1949) is a delightful adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel of the same name. Of the three adaptations I've seen of The Secret Garden, this one is my favorite (although I'm also partial to the 1993 version too). The film is filled with wonderful moody cinematography and has great use of light and shadow. The movie is in black and white but there are three glorious Technicolor sequences which all take place in the secret garden when it's in full bloom.

Mary Lennox (Margaret O'Brien) recently became an orphan while living with her family in India. After her parents death, she's shipped off to England to live with distant relatives. Mary is thrust into this oppressive mansion, with a dower and mysterious uncle, Archibald Craven (Herbert Marshall), an even more dower staff and an unknown screaming voice that echoes throughout the hallways. The screams come from Colin Craven (Dean Stockwell), Archibald's son and Mary's cousin. He's been made an invalid from too much coddling and emotional neglect. Colin and Mary are both brats in their own ways and have met their match with each other. Mary befriends both Colin and the neighbor boy Dickon (Brian Roper). Behind the back of gardener Ben Weatherstaff (Reginald Owen), Mary and Dickon break into a secret garden that has been closed up ever since Colin's mother was killed there by a falling tree. The kids revive the garden bringing color (literally and figuratively) and hope back into everyone's lives.

The dark oppressiveness of the mansion is matched by the neighboring moors however these are no match for the vitality of nature (gardens, animals, etc.) and the youthfulness of the children. Whatever is wrong inside that mansion will be made right with the healing powers of nature and youth. I have always thought The Secret Garden is a great stories for kids. The three children in the story prove to be receptive and triumphant as they outsmart the adults. The kids are the heroes and even without the inherent powers that come with adulthood, they are able to change their own worlds. My favorite scene is the one where Mary and Colin have a screaming contest during one of Colin's tantrums. It's hilarious and I think kids would appreciate it! All three child actors do a wonderful job in the film.

Elsa Lanchester has a notable role as the jolly maid Martha and I enjoyed watching Reginald Owen play the gardener. I wonder if Dickon's Raven is played by Jimmy the Raven. I haven't been able to confirm that but if you are interested Terry of A Shroud of Thoughts has a great post about that bird's career in film.

My only complaint is that the film is far too short at only 92 minutes! Some aspects of the story are rushed because of it. If the film were just a bit longer, maybe some more time could have been spent developing some of the characters.

Take a listen to Warner Archive's recent podcast interview with actress Margaret O'Brien.

Secret Garden, The (1949) from Warner Bros.

The Secret Garden (1949) is available on DVD MOD from Warner Archive. I highly recommend it especially if you are looking for a good way to introduce kids to old movies.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received The Secret Garden (1949) from Warner Archive for review.


  1. I enjoyed your post, Raquel --- I just happened to see this movie last year on TCM. It's not something I ever would have planned to watch, but once it came on, for some reason I just couldn't turn it off! My favorite was Elsa Lanchester!

    1. Karen - Elsa Lanchester was delightful in this. And I love the kid stars. They really make the movie enjoyable!

  2. I've never seen this version...and why not! Look at this fabulous cast!

    1. You should watch it! Which other version did you see?

  3. I'm so glad you enjoyed this film! It was one of my favorite childhood books, which I read over and over again, and I thought this was a very good adaptation, although as you said it may be a tad on the short side. I really enjoyed sharing it with my children when they were little (via the VHS version) and am so happy it's now available from Warner Archive.

    I have a special memory of seeing this film at the Vagabond Theater in L.A. when I was college age. Margaret O'Brien was there so I brought a still from the film which I had in my collection and she graciously signed it for me.

    Sure enjoy your Warner Archive Wednesday reviews! Fun to see your latest picks.

    Best wishes,

    1. Laura - Thanks for sharing your story. Wow! A signed film still. What a treasure!


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