From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

1995, Movie, 92 mins

Review

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This TV-movie adaptation of the 1965 children's book is a somewhat dry, but still thoroughly entertaining adaptation of an excellent story.

Claudia (Jean Marie Barnwell) is a precocious 12-year-old. She's sick of her steady, boring life in the suburbs of New York City, and decides an adventure will give her the change she needs. She convinces her 9-year-old brother Jamie (Jesse Lee), with his cookie jar full of money, to run away with her, so one morning they set off for their destination, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The children spend the day in the museum, then hide in the bathrooms at closing time. After closing, they explore, and sleep in the museum's antique beds. After continuing this routine for a few days, they discover that a mysterious sculpture of an angel is on display at the museum. The sculpture, auctioned by its owner, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (Lauren Bacall), for an extremely low price, is rumored to have been made by Michelangelo. Claudia makes it her mission to discover whether the sculpture is authentic.

The next day, the children notice a small engraving at the base of the sculpture. The mark is one that Michelangelo used on many of his pieces. Claudia pretends to be an adult, and makes an appointment with a museum official to tell him about the discovery. He tells her that he knew about the mark, but its meaning is unclear. Claudia is horribly disappointed to find that she did not solve the mystery.

After a week at the museum, the homesick Jamie catches a cold. Claudia refuses to go home before they solve the mystery, so they decide to visit Mrs. Frankweiler. She won't tell them the secret, but allows them the chance to discover the truth for themselves. She leads them to a huge room, full from ceiling to floor with filing cabinets. She gives them one hour to look through the files. After searching for 54 minutes without luck, Claudia discovers the correct file. A sketch of the sculpture proves that it is indeed the work of Michelangelo. Satisfied, the children allow Mrs. Frankweiler to drive them home.

FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER celebrates the magic and beauty of art, the fun of an adventure, and most of all, a child's need to feel important. The siblings argue but appreciate each other, and their camaraderie and cleverness make them a joy to watch. The film (and the book) is refreshingly free of moralizing, concentrating instead on the children's ingenuity and the solution of the mystery.

The film moves at a moderate pace, slow enough to linger on the wonders of the museum, but fast enough to keep children's attention. A few scenes, such as Jamie catching cold and Claudia posing as an adult, differ from the book, and bring added drama to the film. However, the film, missing Mrs. Frankweiler's narration, lacks much of the book's humor and wisdom.

The performances and production are first rate. The children are variously brilliant, bratty and excitable, and Lauren Bacall--playing a role first essayed by Ingrid Bergman in the 1973 feature-film version of the tale--is appropriately dignified as Mrs. Frankweiler. leave a comment

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From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
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