Cast & Crew
Fred M. Wilcox
Mary Lennox, a spoiled young English girl living in India at the turn of the century, is orphaned when her parents die of cholera, and is sent to Yorkshire to live with her wealthy uncle, Archibald Craven. Mrs. Medlock, Craven's cruel and ill-tempered housekeeper, meets Mary at the port and escorts her to her uncle's eerie mansion. Craven refuses to meet Mary, and Mrs. Medlock warns her against snooping around the darkened house. When Mary asks about the screams she hears from another part of the house, Mrs. Medlock locks in her room for the rest of the night. The next morning, Mary meets Martha, a maid who laughs incessantly and who refuses to obey her commands. Mary later befriends Martha's young brother Dickon, who tells her that there is a secret, locked garden on the estate, and that Craven buried the key to it. Mary finally meets Craven just before he sets out on a trip to London, and during her brief meeting with him, she learns that his wife was crushed to death by a tree limb ten years earlier. Soon after Craven leaves, Mary sees a raven digging for worms outside the house and notices that the bird has unearthed the buried key to the secret garden. Late that night, while investigating the source of the mysterious screams in the house, Mary discovers Craven's young son Colin. Colin, who is bedridden and is being treated by a doctor for paralysis, admits to the tantrums and demands that Mary obey his orders. Mary, however, refuses to indulge Colin and eventually wins his respect and friendship. The following day, Mary and Dickon discover the entrance to the garden behind some bushes, and use the key to open the gate. Once inside, Mary and Dickon find a neglected garden containing a variety of pretty flowers. They also find a fallen tree limb on a chair next to a table that was once set for tea, and realize that they have discovered the place where Craven's wife was accidentally killed. Later, Mary introduces Colin to Dickon, and tells him stories about their visits to the secret garden. One day, a new doctor, Dr. Fortescue, examines Colin and determines that he is suffering from nothing more than fear, and suggests that the irons placed on his legs by the previous doctor be removed. Dickon and Mary later take Colin in a wheelchair to the secret garden and show him all the flowers they have been growing. Excited, Colin attempts to stand up on his own but falls. Later, when Craven returns from London, Fortescue accuses him of wallowing in his grief and transferring his longing to die to his son, thus causing Colin's physical deterioration. Craven angrily rejects Fortescue's accusation, and announces that he will be selling the estate and moving to Italy with Colin. Craven later has a change of heart, however, when he enters the garden and sees Colin rise from his wheelchair to walk toward him. Astounded at Colin's sudden ability to walk, Craven embraces his son and decides to remain at the house.
Fred M. Wilcox
A. Arnold Gillespie
Robert J. Kern
Standish J. Lambert
Edwin B. Willis
The Secret Garden (1949)
Margaret O'Brien shot to stardom at MGM in Journey for Margaret (1942), at the tender age of five, brilliantly playing a traumatized British war orphan. Among her fans was Lionel Barrymore, who co-starred with O'Brien in Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case (1943), and declared that she was the only actress other than his sister Ethel to move him to tears. O'Brien's best performance was as the youngest sister in Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), which earned her a special Academy Award, and praise from critic and novelist James Agee, who called her "incredibly vivid and eloquent - almost as hypnotizing as Garbo."
By the late 1940s, however, the quality of O'Brien's films had declined, or she was miscast, as in the studio's all-star Little Women (1949), in which she played Beth. She was also getting older, and wasn't quite as adorable. However, she was perfectly cast as the melancholy orphan in The Secret Garden.
Her co-star, Dean Stockwell, was also excellent as the traumatized, temperamental cousin. Just a year older than O'Brien, Stockwell hadn't been acting as long as she had, but he'd also worked with some impressive co-stars, including Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in his second film, Anchors Aweigh (1945). He'd played Myrna Loy and William Powell's son in Song of the Thin Man (1947), Gregory Peck's son in Gentleman's Agreement (1947), and the title character in the cult film, The Boy with Green Hair (1948). Yorkshire-born Brian Roper played Dickon, the neighbor boy who introduces Mary to the garden. (Roper would reprise the role in a 1952 British television miniseries of The Secret Garden.) A strong cast of mostly British character actors ably supported the young stars.
Producer-director Clarence Brown had directed two of MGM's best family films, National Velvet (1944) and The Yearling (1946). He only produced The Secret Garden, turning the directing chores over to Fred M. Wilcox, who also had experience with family films - he had directed Lassie Come Home(1943), and two Lassie sequels. Together, they created a richly atmospheric production for The Secret Garden, from the moody, spooky Victorian mansion where the family lives, to the scenes in the lush restored garden, which are the only portions of the movie filmed in color - much in the same way as the Oz sequences in The Wizard of Oz (1939) were in color, and the Kansas scenes in black and white. Strangely, even though Oz had set the precedent, some critics appeared confused by the use of color in The Secret Garden. And they felt, as did the Variety critic, that "the allegorical and psychological implications that have been carried over from Frances Hodgson Burnett's book are clearly for the grown-up trade. Not only that, but a good bit of the production is designed to create eerie terror that may discourage parents from letting moppets see the pic." In this era when even the youngest "moppets" take Harry Potter in stride, however, such criticism seems quaint, and The Secret Garden seems ahead of its time.
The Secret Garden turned out to be Margaret O'Brien's final MGM film. She made one film at Columbia in 1951 before retiring from the screen. A few years later, she made an unsuccessful comeback, and worked occasionally in summer stock and television. Dean Stockwell also retired from the screen several times, but made two very successful comebacks -- first as a young adult in such films as Compulsion (1959) and Long Day's Journey Into Night (1962), and in middle age, playing eccentric characters (Dr. Yueh in Dune (1984), Ben in Blue Velvet, 1986). He still works regularly in films and television.
Director: Fred M. Wilcox
Producer: Clarence Brown
Screenplay: Robert Ardrey, based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Cinematography: Ray June
Editor: Robert J. Kern
Costume Design: Walter Plunkett
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Urie McCleary
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Principal Cast: Margaret O'Brien (Mary Lennox), Herbert Marshall (Archibald Craven), Dean Stockwell (Colin Craven), Gladys Cooper (Mrs. Medlock), Elsa Lanchester (Martha), Brian Roper (Dickon), Reginald Owen (Ben Weatherstaff).
BW&C-92m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Margarita Landazuri
The Secret Garden (1949)
Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel was serialized in The American Magazine between 1910 and 1911. Matthew Boulton's name is misspelled "Mathew" in the onscreen credits. A December 1946 Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Claude Jarman, Jr. was orignally slated for the part played by Dean Stockwell. A Hollywood Reporter news item on April 7, 1947 indicated that M-G-M had planned to shoot the film in England on a "newly erected studio," but the film was eventually shot on the M-G-M lot in Culver City, CA. The film's Technicolor sequences were those that took place in the garden. Modern sources credit Marni Nixon with dubbing Margaret O'Brien's singing voice. Other film adaptations of Burnett's novel are The Secret Garden, a 1919 Famous Players-Lasky Corp. production, directed by G. Butler Clonebough (a pseudonym of Gustav von Seyffertitz) and starring Lila Lee and Spottiswoode Aitken (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20; F1.3908); a 1984 BBC production, also entitled The Secret Garden, directed by Katrina Murray and starring Sarah Hollis and David Patterson; and a 1993 Warner Bros./American Zoetrope production, The Secret Garden, directed by Agnieszka Holland and starring Maggie Smith and Kate Maberly.