“The movie of ‘Tomorrow'”
Director: John Huston
Cast: Aileen Quinn, Albert Finney, Carol Burnett
Synopsis: A young orphan girl’s adventures in finding a family that will take her.
Annie was a huge hit on Broadway in 1977, but there still seems something odd about making a movie adaptation of it five years later. Despite their popularity in the theatre, old style musicals were distinctly out of favour in the movie business. A major success like Grease might come along every now and then, but they were the exception that proved the rule. Annie, however, with its origins in the comic strip which first saw the light of day back in the 1920s, is a distinct throwback to the musicals of the 1950s, and must have seemed old fashioned even back in 1982. Just as strange is the decision to hire ailing 75-year-old John Huston, who had never before worked on a musical, to be its director. You’d be forgiven for expecting the movie to be an unmitigated disaster but, surprisingly, it’s fairly tolerable entertainment which remains refreshingly free of any saccharine sentiment. And although it never made any money at the box office because of its high production costs, Annie was still the 10th most popular movie of 1982.
11-year-old Aileen Quinn plays the title role of Annie, a lovable orphan who, when we first meet her, lives at a neglected orphanage run by the alcoholic Mrs. Hannigan (Carol Burnett) Given that she’s forever ordering her charges to clean the place as punishment for not being miserable enough, it’s surprising just how grimy the orphanage is. It’s also mystifying just how an obvious lush like Hannigan could hold down a job in which she’s responsible for the lives of a dozen or more kids. Anyway, although life’s pretty miserable at the orphanage, the girls keep their spirits up by singing such jaunty numbers as ‘It’s the Hard-Knock Life,’ much to Hannigan’s annoyance.
One day, the orphanage is visited by Grace Farrell (Ann Reinking), the personal secretary of the billionaire ‘Daddy’ Oliver Warbucks (a shaven-headed Albert Finney) who essentially wants to rent an orphan for one week. Over the protests of Hannigan, Grace selects Annie, who soon finds herself living in the lap of luxury at Warbucks’ palatial mansion. And it’s not long before she’s melting the hard-headed industrialist’s heart. However, when he tells Annie that he wants to adopt her, she is unexpectedly reluctant, and explains that she still harbours hopes of being reunited with the parents who left her at the orphanage when she was a babe. Overcoming his disappointment, Warbuck orchestrates a national publicity campaign in a bid to locate them. Unfortunately, his offer of $50,000 to the couple backfires when thousands of chancers turn up at his mansion posing as her long-lost mother and father.
The 1930s setting of Annie serves even further to deceive the viewer into believing they’re watching some glossy musical from a bygone era — which, technically, we are, but you know what I mean — particularly given the terrific job made of recreating depression-era America’s city streets and the urchins who inhabited them. But for all the money that has clearly been spent on it, the movie lacks a heart, and its ordinary story prevents us from growing too close to the characters. Certainly, none of the adults receive enough screen time to develop really memorable characters, and simply seem to be satellites caught in an orbit around the title character. Quinn does a capable job of playing Annie without getting too cute about it, and Burnett savours the showiest role as the execrable Mrs Hannigan, but the rest of the cast — including the usually reliable Mr. Finney — tend to blend into the background.
(Reviewed 24th October 2013)