I smell children. . . (I’ve always loved this guy)

Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang was the second movie I ever saw (the first was something about a man who had befriended a shark). I saw it in a theater located on a high floor in Tokyo, and I remember looking out the lobby windows and seeing gigantic billboards, signs, and the crowded streets below.

Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang was supposed to scare children in spots (just in spots). Its villain is the Child Catcher, a spindly, long-nosed man who would whisper I smell children when a child was nearby.

He’d then snatch the unfortunate kids and put them under the city because Baron Bomburst and Baroness Bomburst, rulers of Vulgaria, despised children.

Obviously, Marlyn Manson is a fan of the Child Catcher.

The Child Catcher worked by tricking the kids. He’d bribe them with candy, so they’d emerge from their hideyholes like he did here:

The kids (paradoxically, the worst part of the movie) are insipid: They risk death for a lollipop and have the worst lines. (It’s really strange how in so many children’s movies, the kids have no genuine character arc and are just there as shadow puppets.) Dick Van Dyke is good, but his role isn’t as interesting as it had been in Mary Poppins. Unfortunately, his Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang costar Sally Ann Howes is nowhere near as good as Julie Andrews had been in Mary Poppins. Caveats aside, the movie is still very good.
Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang is both a creampuff and a wallow in horror lite. The Child Catcher is the boogie man, worse than a vampire, because he preys on children. The Child Catcher must have terrified European parents in 1968, 23 years after Second World War—arguably, this story is an analogy of the Nazi terror. Note, too, that the parents dress in very German lederhosen.

I’m writing a short story about the Child Catcher, but I am not quite pulling it off.

Interestingly, Ian Fleming didn’t pull it off, either.

His book doesn’t even have the Child Catcher. In fact, it doesn’t even have the Baron; it’s a lackluster hum-drummer of a book—James Bond gadgets for kids.

I love it when movies are better than the book (Wizard of Oz, another one—there’s no Wicked Witch).

Maybe I loved the Child Catcher because I had no worries about Child Catchers in gentle Japan. If I happened to get separated from my mother in a crowded department store (this happened several times), it was easy for nearby adults to find my tall, Caucasian mother a few aisles over.

On another note: Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd does “Hushabye Mountain.” In the original, it’s sung by Dick Van Dyke. But with Gilmour, it’s kind of Dark Side of the Rainbow.

About Meakin Armstrong

Fiction writer, fiction editor, journalist, and copywriter.
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