Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2019) on… Peter Pan (1955 and 1956)

So, normally, I have been covering movies that have been released in theatres, but, occasionally, I will also be doing some programs that were originally shown on television (no TV series, just individual programs). To that end, I will be discussing the 1955 and 1956 telecasts of Peter Pan, both starring Mary Martin in the title role.

One night, when Mr. and Mrs. Darling go to an office party and leave their three children home, Peter Pan (Mary Martin) comes through the window. He gives Wendy, John and Michael a chance to fly away with him to Neverland. There, Wendy is asked to be the mother of the Lost Boys. Throughout their time in Neverland, they have a lot of adventures fighting Captain Hook (Cyril Richards) and his pirates while also befriending Tiger Lily and her band of Indians.

There are a few things I should note here. Anybody that is looking for these to be pristine and look like they were made yesterday (or something along those lines) need not bother here. When these first aired, they were both done “live.” However, at that time, they weren’t being recorded, at least not in the same way that most “live” stuff is nowadays. What we do have are kinescopes, which is essentially where they recorded through a camera that was aimed at a television monitor in the studio, and so the picture quality is already less than what it could have been. Also, according to the booklet that came with this disc release, both of these were filmed in color (although there would not have been a huge number of households that had color TVs at this time), but the kinescope process only allowed for a black-and-white recording.

Mary Martin had starred in Peter Pan in a successful run on Broadway. NBC tried to make plans to present the show on television as a live production, using the sets and cast of the stage show. When it aired on March 7, 1955, it proved to be so popular (with nearly 65 million people tuning in), that they planned to do it again. On January 9, 1956, the second show reached nearly 55 million people. Since they were both live (and not really recorded, outside of the kinescope), plans were made for yet another. However, it took a few more years, and by the time that it did air in 1960, they had been able to record it on videotape, making it easier for them to air that version. However, in the minds of most who have seen all three, the earlier two versions are considered to be better (even if what we have left is only in black-and-white). And I do agree, these are both pretty good (and I’ll take them over the more recent Peter Pan Live any day of the week). The main differences between these two are some technical glitches that occurred during the live broadcast of the first one, leaving lights off when Peter’s shadow has just been sewn back on, and a few of the cast members, mainly Michael and John and a few of the Lost Boys, changed between the two productions. As I said, this was essentially a filmed Broadway show, so they aren’t the most cinematic (you can see the wires holding up Mary Martin and some of the other cast members when they fly), but they are still good fun, and I would easily recommend trying these out!

These two shows have been made available on Blu-ray by Video Artists International (VAI). There was a DVD release as well from them, but it only contained the 1956 version.

Length of 1955 telecast: one hour, forty-two minutes

Length of 1956 telecast: one hour, forty-five minutes

My Rating (1955): 7/10

My Rating (1956): 7/10

Audience Rating (1955):

Audience Rating (1956):

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