DirectorGeorge Cukor Story byMaurice Maeterlinck LanguageEnglish
WriterHugh Whitemore, Alfred Hayes, Aleksei Kapler, Tony Harrison, Maurice Maeterlinck Release dateApril 5, 1976 ScreenplayAleksei Kapler, Alfred Hayes, Hugh White CastElizabeth Taylor (Queen of Light / Mother / Witch / Maternal Love), Jane Fonda (The Night), Ava Gardner (Luxury), Cicely Tyson (Tylette), Robert Morley (Father Time), Harry Andrews (The Oak) Similar moviesRelated George Cukor movies
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The Blue Bird is a 1976 American/Soviet fantasy film directed by George Cukor. The screenplay by Hugh Whitemore, Alfred Hayes, and Aleksei Kapler is based on L'Oiseau bleu by Maurice Maeterlinck. It was the fifth screen adaptation of the play, following two silent films, the studio's 1940 version starring Shirley Temple, and a 1970 animated feature. Unlike prior adaptations, the film received little-to-no critical praise and was a flop at the box office.
Mytyl and her brother Tyltyl are peasant children who are led on a quest for the Blue Bird of Happiness by the Queen of Light, who gives them a hat with a magic diamond that allows them to call forth the souls of all things, both living and inanimate. On their journey, they are accompanied by the human personifications of a dog, a cat, water, sugar, bread, milk, light, fire, and the like. They visit the kingdoms of the past and future and the queendoms of night and luxury, at each place absorbing more wisdom. Eventually they discover the blue bird they've been seeking has been in their own backyard all along.
The film was shot on location in Moscow and Leningrad. Katharine Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine initially were signed to star, but both dropped out of the production before shooting began. At times both work and living conditions bordered on the primitive, and the non-Russian cast found it difficult to cope with the severe weather and mostly inedible food. James Coco, originally cast as Tylo, could digest only bread and butter and eventually suffered a gall bladder attack that necessitated his being replaced, and Elizabeth Taylor dealt with dysentery and dehydration throughout filming. Communication between the English and Russian-speaking crews was nearly impossible, and George Cukor frequently resorted to sign language in a feeble effort to make himself understood. He also encountered difficulties with Jane Fonda, who kept trying to engage the Russians in political discussions, and Cicely Tyson, whom he accused of trying to jinx the production by casting voodoo spells on the set.
Elizabeth Taylor ..... Queen of Light/Mother/Witch/Maternal Love
Jane Fonda ..... Night
Ava Gardner ..... Luxury
Cicely Tyson ..... Tylette, the Cat
Robert Morley ..... Father Time
Harry Andrews ..... The Oak
Todd Lookinland ..... Tyltyl
Patsy Kensit ..... Mytyl
Will Geer ..... Grandfather
Mona Washbourne ..... Grandmother
George Cole ..... Tylo, the Dog
Richard Pearson ..... Bread
Georgiy Vitsin ..... Sugar
Margarita Terekhova ..... Milk
Valentina Ganibalova ..... Water
Eugene Shcherbakov ..... Fire
Nadezhda Pavlova ..... The Blue Bird
Grant Bardsley ..... Little Blue Brother
Oleg Popov ..... Clown
Vincent Canby of the New York Times described the movie as "two films that want to compete but don't, everyone being polite, accepting compromise, effectively neutered. One of these films is blandly American, like the sort of processed cheese sold in jars that can later be used as water glasses. The other is dimly Russian but without any real Russian character, except for the sets, which aren't great. They look like stuff left over from the Bolshoi Opera's last road tour ... Spectacle for spectacle's sake no longer is the rage in this country. It can still work sometimes if it's put on a large patch of ice, but the romantic notions that motivate The Blue Bird are enough to send most American children, to say nothing of the ancients who may accompany them to the film, into antisocial states beginning with catatonia and ending in armed rebellion ... Mr. Cukor ... seems to have had less chance to direct in this case than to act as the goodwill ambassador who got his actors on and off the sets on time ... None of the English-speaking actors can do much but behave as if he was in a very unlikely pageant ... The Soviet cast members, who speak in badly dubbed English, are no better except when they are given a chance to dance."
Variety said, "Nobody's going to laugh in ridicule at any of it (it's that good) but nobody's going to be strongly moved (it's that bad)."
Time Out New York called the film "a desperately pedestrian, hideously glitzy version of Maeterlinck's delicate fantasy" and added, "You'd never believe in a month of Sundays that Cukor directed it."
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film but lost to The Holes.