Y’all, I have happy butterflies in my stomach today. I am so, so excited to start Movie Meaning Monday, and even better, kick it off with one of my favorite movies of all time. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is really one of those movies that will hold a special place in your childhood, assuming you grew up watching it. I’ve tried to show it to friends my age, and the truth is, the magic just isn’t the same when you watch it for the first time as an adult. It’s slightly tragic, but it’s the way things are.
I’m generally not a big fan of musicals, but there’s something about this 1968 film that I love. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang has been forever preserved in my memory as an important movie from my childhood, no matter how old I get. It’s vintage, it’s creative, it’s catchy, and the character development is there. Even the film itself has some deeper, darker allusions planted in it, but we’ll get into that later.
Basically, I think this is how the article’s gonna go down: I’m going to rewatch the entire movie in one sitting, and then step-by-step analyze the plot, characters, themes, etc. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve watched Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, so I’m curious if I’ll notice things I hadn’t picked up on before.
First of all, this was nearly f*cking impossible to stream online. Even more annoying, I own a physical copy of the movie, but my laptop doesn’t have a disc drive. Nice!
The movie opens with in 1907 with a montage of the European Grand Prix, which was a popular car race at the time. One particular car is seen winning the races again and again over the span of two years (hmm, wonder where this is going), until the car tragically crashes and essentially burns to a crisp, effectively ending its racing career. Growing up, I actually thought Dick Van Dyke was the race car driver, and frequently wondered how he could have survived such a horrific accident.
That being said, the racing montage is more or less not relevant to the plot. In fact, about 25% of the movie isn’t even relevant to the plot, but, uh let’s carry on.
So, our ‘ole friend the dilapidated race car ends up in an old garage in rural England, where brother-and-sister Jeremy and Jemima Potts fall quickly in love with it. And so we enter the cliché subplot of “Children of a Poor Single Dad Beg Him to Make a Financial Exception for Them.” Their father, eccentric inventor Caractacus Potts, struggles and toils over how to afford the car. We’re also introduced to crazy old Grandpa Potts at this time, who isn’t too active now, but trust me, he comes back, so remember that name.
Soon, another subplot arises. Jeremy and Jemima, out playing hooky from school, meet a beautiful upper-class belle named Truly Scrumptious. Yup, that’s her real, spankin’ name.
Admittedly, I had a major crush on Sally Ann Howes, but who wouldn’t? Have you ever seen such an angelic face before in your life?
In her true snoody, upper-class manner, Truly Scrumptious marches Jeremy and Jemima back to Caractacus to blow the whistle on their evil, hooky-playing deeds. We experience some awkward romantic tension while Truly chases Caractacus around, complaining that he doesn’t manage his children well enough, while Caractacus fires back that she should keep her nose out of other people’s business. Insert the next cliché of “Beautiful Woman and Outlandish Man Start Out on the Wrong Foot, But Inevitably Fall in Love.” While this awkward argument occurs, Caractacus leads Truly around his…laboratory? Invention room? Factory?
Interjection: There is something I really admire about Truly Scrumptious. I know the movie is trying to introduce her as being a snoody bitch, but I personally think she’s just a smart, independent woman. A 1910s beauty with her very own motorcar, a newfangled mind, and a free-thinking attitude?
Anywho, after that intense introduction, and Truly storms off, Caractacus finds himself down in the dumps over how he’s going to be able to afford this sloppy jalopy for his ungrateful, hooky-playin’ children. And so we enter the scariest frame in the entire movie (which is really saying something)- the family dog takes one of Caractacus’ failed inventions- a piece of candy- and starts blowing through it like a flute in the still of the night.
NIGHTMARE. FUEL. Seriously, is that a dude in a dog costume? My eyes cannot unsee this. That’s not a dog, that’s the f*cking Abominable Snowman.
And so the seed is planted in Caractacus’ head! He can package up these sweets, market them to a major company as “Toot Sweets”- the magical candy you can also use as a musical instrument, and make some big bucks. All thanks to a terrifying dog who somehow became self-aware of the gift of music!
The following day, Caractacus and his two (hookying again?) children embark on a journey to a prestigious sweets factory, where Caractacus tries mercilessly to sell his idea to the CEO, Lord Scrumptious. And low and behold, Lord Scrumptious is no other than Truly’s dad.
In the midst of Caractacus excitement about his candy, and maybe to add some filler in the movie, we’re interrupted by a catchy dance and song number in the factory. The friendship between Truly and Caractacus continues to blossom, and Lord Scrumptious is so close to giving in to Toot Sweets when of course, disaster strikes. The sound of the candy’s whistle causes a pack of dogs to go crazy and infiltrate the candy factory, and Caractacus loses his chance. By the way, none of this is really relevant to the plot at all yet, but we’re getting there.
Back in the depths of despair, and unsure how he’s going to buy this LOAD of CRAP for his children, Caractatus sadly watches the sunset on rural England while a windmill slowly spins behind him. And that’s when we see it- a carnival, far in the distance, and Caractacus’ next chance to make some fast cash money. He breaks into the carnival and decides to disguise himself as a barber, of all things, using yet another one of his inventions as a hair cutting tool. Are you surprised when his hair-cutter turns this poor guy into Kevin Malone? Because I’m sure not.
In a fast-paced chase, Caractacus escapes the rightfully angry customer and hides himself in a random carnival tent. This tent happens to be a song-and-dance act, which Caractacus nearly perfectly performs on the spot, and of course, we have another musical intervention: The ‘Ol Bamboo. Not gonna lie, The ‘Ol Bamboo is kind of a bop.
Finally, finally, after charming the audience with his sexy Van-Dykiness, Caractacus raises enough tips to pay for that burnt huck of shi-cough, I’m sorry, I mean the race car at the junk garage. He purchases the car, drives it into his secluded barn, and spends many days and nights bringing the car back to life. And so, after an undisclosed amount of time and about 4,384 irrelevant plot points, we are introduced to…this sexy piece of metal. Uh, I mean, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. For those of you who are confused, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” refers to to the sound the car makes as it drives. And yes, it does have its own musical number.
Finally, the plot of the movie begins.
Caractacus, Jeremy, Jemima, Truly all pile into Chitty on their first trip in the new car- a trip to the beach. It’s here that Caractacus and Truly start to get a ‘lil bit more friendly, and we even see some weird 1910s variations of flirting…
While relaxing in the car, Caractacus begins to tell a fictional story to Truly and the children about an evil tyrant named Baron Bomburst, his country, Vulgaria, and Bomburst’s imperious quest to steal Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Why the tyrant ruler of a fictional country would want a loud car from rural England is a mystery to me, but oh well, it’s a fictional story, right?
Okay, this is when things in the story start to get kind of weird, in a sense that reality starts to merge with fantasy. Because while Caractacus is telling this story about Donald Tru-*COUGH*, uh, I mean, Baron Bomburst, things take an unexpected turn, and the car is suddenly surrounded by water. And who is that we see looming in the distance on an evil pirate ship? None other than Baron Bomburst himself!
So okay, if you’ve gotten this far, we’ve accepted that we are now in the story. Which means that this evil tyrant is really gonna try to sail on over and steal Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. So Chitty does what any average vehicle would do- it automatically deploys huge flotation devices and transforms itself into a power boat. Chitty and her passengers swiftly return to shore and narrowly escape Baron Bomburst, who then proceeds to send out two spies after the car.
This movie really sounds like a madlib, doesn’t it? I promise you, it’s real film that I genuinely enjoy.
So let’s recap: Caractacus Potts renovates a dilapidated race car and turns it into a glorious chitty-chitty-chonking machine with automatic flotation pads. And somehow, Ford was the leading car manufacturer instead of this guy?!
Anyway, the spies. Oh, the spies. They’re the classic buddy duo that every comedy (and musical) needs. The entire movie is pretty much comic relief, but these guys are pretty much the icing on top of the cake. Predictably, they’re pretty shitty at their job, and accidentally kidnap Grandpa Potts instead of Caractacus. Remember him?
Okay, hold on. Weren’t they trying to take the car? Why did they decide to take Potts captive instead?
And they don’t just take Grandpa Potts captive. That would be far too mundane. Instead, they attach a hook to his weird little shack and transport him to Vulgaria via giant blimp. That’s not inconspicuous, right?
Of course, as Caractacus, Truly, and the kids are driving down the road in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, they see ‘ole Grandpa Potts being airlifted away in a giant blimp. So what’s the best course of action? Drive after the blimp!
And then, during the chase that was doomed anyway, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang accidentally flies off a cliff!
No, seriously, the car flies. The fucking car sprouts magical wings and propellers and shoots off into the sky after the blimp. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.
The journey takes about a nice, based on evidence that the sun sets and rises, but eventually, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang lands in the fictional country of Vulgaria. It’s not actually disclosed why Caractacus Potts knows to go to Vulgaria, but hey, movie magic, right?
Now, if you were confused by the title of my article, it might start to make sense from here on out. Like I said, we had to cover a lot of fluff first to actually get to the plot of the movie. As they land in Vulgaria, Caractacus, Truly, and the kiddos find themselves in this quaint-looking little village. There’s no sign of any civilization, and there certainly isn’t sign of Grandpa Potts and the giant, evil blimp. Confused and probably freaking the fuck out, the quartet is taken in by a toymaker, who spills the piping tea on the magical land of Vulgaria. Essentially, it is illegal for children to be in Vulgaria, and if any are detected, the Baroness Bomburst will abhor and imprison them. All the remaining children are hiding underground in tunnels and safety camps, where the kind-hearted toymaker goes to bring them food and clothes.
A shunned population of people, hiding from the government in underground camps and tunnels…interesting. Oh, did I mention that everyone in Vulgaria speaks with a thick German accent?
Because Jeremy and Jemima are children and thus at risk for being imprisoned by Baroness Bomburst, the toy catcher hides them underneath the floor in a secret lair while Caractacus and Truly go off to find some food. Considering most of the movie so far was light-hearted and kind of goofy, this weird, anti-semitism hinting allusion comes off as quite a shocker. And it’s not just me who figured out this allusion- I’ll link some other articles about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with similar points below.
Anyway, back in Baron Bomburst’s castle, Grandpa Potts is stressing big time because this evil tyrant thinks he is Caractacus Potts, and expects him to build a flying car. Alas, to avoid being executed, Grandpa Potts goes along with the whole weird situation but continuously bluffs his abilities. This brings us onto our next song and dance number: a group of old man prisoners singing about rising up from their terrible fate and trying to build a car that none of them know how to build. And, yet again, it’s truly a bop, and truly some movie magic filler.
Back in the village, Baron Bomburst and his raiders have seized Chitty, and this terrifying dude named the CHILD CATCHER seizes Jeremy and Jemima. Seriously, where the fuck did this guy come from?
Yes, once Baroness Bomburst hears a whiff that there are children in the village, she sends out this terrifying dude to lure them into a trap by using the classic “hey, I have candy!” line. Sure enough, Jeremy and Jemima fall for it, and Truly Scrumptious gets to see them being snatched away in a giant cage. Surprisingly, this scene doesn’t include a musical number, though I hear Robert Helpmann is an excellent dancer.
With Jeremy and Jemima kidnapped, and Grandpa Potts on the verge of being executed, Caractacus and Truly put their heads together and plan to secretly infiltrate the Baron’s castle. The toymaker brings them to an underground grotto, where all of the village’s remaining children are hungrily hiding together (again, with the allusions to Jews hiding from the Nazis, you might be getting the picture a little clearer now). After hanging out with the hiding children and hearing about their experiences, Caractacus declares he is going to rescue all the children and free them from the Baron. The children, in turn, agree to help him rescue his family. And rescue Chitty, for that matter.
Oh yeah, remember Chitty? The car that this entire movie is named after?
This upcoming little tidbit is actually my favorite part in the entire movie. The toymaker sneaks Caractacus and Truly into the castle disguised as life-sized dolls, the former as a puppet, and the latter as a doll on a music box. They each perform their own little routines- Caractacus dances around does a pretty convincing job pretending to be a giant puppet, and Truly performs a lovely little song as a doll spinning on the music box. If you watch interviews with Sally Ann Howes, you know that this scene was incredibly difficult and required a lot of concentration on her part to remain robot-like at all times. Somehow, she managed to pull it off in one take, which makes the scene even more magical. You really see the chemistry between Caractacus and Truly go as well, especially when he starts singing about how much he loves her in sync with her music box song. It’s hard to describe, but if you watch the scene, it makes more sense and it’s extremely adorable.
After charming Baron Bomburst into thinking he’s a puppet, Caractacus pulls a wild one and attaches the Baron to a giant pulley hook when he’s not looking. And so, while Baron Bomburst is flying around in the air attached to a giant rope, hundreds of children infiltrate the castle and wreak havoc. They capture the Baron and the Baroness, and the child catcher, and the evil tyranny of Vulgaria appears to be over now. With Chitty Chitty Bang Bang back in their hands, Caractacus, Truly, Jeremy, and Jemima begin the long flight home.
In the next scene, we’re back on the beach in England, and Caractacus is finishing his story. Oh yeah, remember that 75% of this film is a fictional story being told on a beach?
As Caractacus drops Truly off at the Scrumptious Manor, she asks him if he could envision the two of them having a future together. Then Caractacus kind of fucks up and says nah, probably not, and Truly basically accuses him of being a snobby loser.
Later, when Caractacus arrives home with his children, he discovers that Lord Scrumptious (Truly’s dad) is waiting for him with news that he wants to buy the Toot Sweets, and use them as…dog treats.
Nonetheless, Caractacus and his family are ecstatic with the news that they’re now super rich. Caractacus runs off to tell Truly the news, and apologizes for being a dick, and then…he asks her to marry him!
Aww. But didn’t they just meet, like, yesterday?
The film closes with Caractacus and Truly riding off in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, who takes off into the air again. As the car rides off into the sunset, Caractacus discusses the importance of pragmatism, and the movie ends.
So! Here’s my general analysis of the movie, which I’ll try my best to keep short and sweet. I think the overall theme of the movie is pretty innocent and enthusiastic: an energetic, quirky family musical, about a flying car and a wild adventure. On the surface, it is a pretty tame movie. But beyond that, if you analyze the subplot, there is a deeper meaning. At least, in my (and my other) opinions, there is.
Allegedly, though I haven’t found proof of this, Chitty screenplay writer Roald Dahl was supposedly anti-jew. I read another article about this issue, published on a Tumblr page called “Sometimes I lie awake at night…”. I can’t find an author name, but I’ll link the article at the bottom of the page. One of the most interesting paragraphs goes as so…
“Ian Fleming wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with the fascist militarism of Prussia and Nazi Germany in mind. Vulgaria’s elite are characterized by overwrought Germanic stereotypes – the accents and costuming gives it away. Having children is illegal in Vulgaria. Cognizant of that terrible policy, the lederhosen-wearing parents that we encounter in Vulgaria hide their children in a subterranean cave and the toymaker helps hide Jeremy and Jemima knowing full well the Child Catcher will do anything to root any children out. Some of the language the Child Catcher uses refers to certain pests and equates the children to these savage, animalistic terms. The Child Catcher and his de facto Gestapo are a force even the adults fear with all of their funny moustaches and comically crooked noses. The Holocaust-tinged allegory is too obvious to ignore. All of this history will easily escape children but, for adults, it comes off as the most sanitized treatment of such horrific issues. Co-screenwriters Roald Dahl (yes, that Roald Dahl) and director Ken Hughes preserved Fleming’s metaphors and illustrations. Again, keep in mind who this film is intended for.”
The Child Catcher does indeed have a quote alluding to Jews hiding to escape the Nazis. In the scene before he takes Jeremy and Jemima, he says to the toymaker, “You have to know where to look. Like cockroaches, they get under the floors, in the cracks in the walls, in the woodwork…” If that’s not a Holocaust metaphor, I don’t know what is.
Furthermore, when the Child Catcher introduces a caged Jeremy and Jemima to the Baron, he describes them as “Unique Specimens.”
Although the toymaker is unable to protect Jeremy and Jemima, he is definitely something of a hero- hiding all the abandoned village children in underground cellars and grottos. It’s definitely an interesting plot point, but I find it somewhat distasteful that the writers decided to weave an anti-semitic allusion into a family. It’s just a little weird to me.
Besides that, however, I really do enjoy this movie. And maybe that is because I grew up on the film and it forever holds a soft spot in my heart. And though I’ve hammered on and on about the odd themes in the movie, it is just a family film on the surface. It’s one I continue to find intriguing, interesting, and forever classic. 8/10 from me!
Further reading and sources: https://pome-mag.com/chitty-chitty-bang-bang-and-the-weird-antisemitic-subplot/
Movie trivia about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0062803/trivia
(And LOTS of YouTube screenshots)
Coming up next: Winter Reading List: What I’m Reading Right Now