The New Adventures of Heidi
(aka HEIDI’S CHRISTMAS,
VACACIONES EN NEW YORK LA SENORITA HEIDI)
(1978) color 98 minutes
Pierre Cossette Productions /
National Broadcasting Company
Story: Johanna Spyri
(“based on characters in her book, ‘Heidi’ “)
Screenplay: John McGreevey
Music & Lyrics: Buz Kohan
Music Orchestrated and Conducted by Allyn Ferguson
Cinematography: John Nickolaus
Editing: Gene Fowler
Production Designer: Michael Baugh
Executive Producer: Pierre Cossette
Produced by Charles B. Fitzsimons
Directed by Ralph Senensky
With: Katy Kurtzman (Heidi), Burl Ives (Wilhelm Beck, aka “Grandfather”), John Gavin (Dan Wyler), Maryln Mason (“Mady”), Sherrie Wills (Elizabeth Wyler), Sean Marshall (Peter), Alex Henteloff (Chef Andre), Charles Aidman (“the Wild Man”), Walter Brooke (Cousin Tobias), Amzie Strickland (Cousin Martha), Molly Dodd (Mother Gertrude), Adrienne Marden (Sister Agnes), Arlen Stuart (Miss Horowitz, the hotel telephone operator), Barry Cahill (Hotel Manager Kreggs), Bartlett Robinson (Oscar, the Butler), Fred Lerner (Saess), Lola Mason (Birgette), Buck Young (Jensen), Karl Ellis (Harold Sands), Kim Fowler (Andre’s Marie, Andre’s wife) (voice only)
THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI is certainly the ringer in the Heidi film canon, as it takes Johanna Spyri’s characters and runs with them in a wholly new and refreshing direction, turning the cautionary childhood fable into a bizarre musical adventure with fantasy elements.
Like the arresting A GIFT FOR HEIDI (1958), NEW… HEIDI takes the 19th Century settings of the story and grafts them willy-nilly onto the modern world. The effect in both cases is disarming, but not unpleasant. In NEW… HEIDI, for instance, our first glimpse of the modern world is a little yellow VW Beetle, parked in the village square! At first it seems an anachronism, but when a gaggle of schoolgirls soon arrives in a bright red VW Microbus, we know the setting is deliberate.
The delightful child star Katy Kurtzman makes a most intriguing pre-teen Heidi, sporting the twin blond braids we have come to associate with the Swiss miss (although they appear nowhere in the original book), and dressed in Gingham for much of the trip.
Indeed, the influence of popular TV series of the day such as “The Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons” is evident in Heidi’s look, as well as the general production design of Michael Baugh, which evokes the American Old West more than the Swiss Alps.
Regardless, Ms. Kurtzman is amazing in this multi-faceted role; she must convey both the guileless pluck of childhood and the effortless grace of budding adulthood. She also has to cry a lot, and sing a bunch of songs to boot! In this bravura performance, Katy does both with ease, essaying a fine job from a true professional.
The popular and always-welcome Burl Ives also gives a memorable performance as Grandfather (although some of his histrionics about his blindness border on the hyperattenuated).
NEW… HEIDI is a well-mounted made-for-TV production, featuring many emblems of the period, including garish color, trendy fashion, lots of zoom shots, and an abundance of location settings (our favorite being a wonderful shot of Park Avenue with about a foot of slush on it!). Indeed, NEW… HEIDI seems refreshingly avant-garde at times, with daring point-of-view camerawork and lovingly-crafted montage sequences. This was obviously no rushed “TV Movie of The Week”.
Eschewing the original plot for a mix-n-match updating, Heidi’s pal Klara is transformed into Elizabeth (a most precocious and engaging Sherrie Wills), a rich brat who gets bored easily. Her father, Dan Wyler (the underemotive John Gavin), is a cold-hearted businessman, an instantly recognizable 20th century updating of Klara’s father, Herr Sesemann. Wyler’s secretary Mady (Marilyn Mason), is a long-suffering love interest with great facial expressions.
There are several subplots which turn NEW… HEIDI into borderline fantasy. The most absurd is the introduction of a crazy “Wild Man” who lives in a cave and spies on people. Some extremely silly comic relief is provided by Wyler’s head chef, Andre (Alex Henteloff), who sports the worst French accent we’ve ever heaard. And certainly, the lurid possibilities inherent in two restless, fetching pre-teens alone in New York City in the sex and drug-addled mid-1970’s would nary be risen today.
Even odder, at exactly the 60 minute mark, we are taken aback by a most disturbing lap dissolve, in which an airliner appears to be flying straight into the World Trade Center… Accidental of course, but unnerving, nonetheless. History is funny; this bizarre and inadvertant moment might place THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI in the history books forever.
But what marks NEW… HEIDI as a classic overall is the inclusion of a passel of songs by Buz Kohan, ranging from the haunting to the lamentable. Even better, almost everyone in the cast gets to sing something!
We start off with a winsome theme song, “On the Mountain” sung by both Heidi and her Grandfather. “Please Let Her Stay” features an impressive, and poignant split-screen duet between Heidi and Grandfather. Ives’ first solo, however, “Wherever Their is Heidi, There is Love”, seems terribly off-key. Soon, Elizabeth and Heidi sing another lovely duet, about “The Simple Things”, utilizing some impressive montage and choreography. Wyler and his love-starved secretary Mady warble the sexist, regressive “That Man!”, and “Women!”, two sorry tunes which could have easily been lifted from any number of obscure 1960 Broadway flops! The girls return in good form with another cheeky duet, “I Miss Christmas”, and its sequel, “This is Christmas!”, both done in a high-energy way, very much in fact, like similar tunes from the Broadway smash “Annie”. Finally, Heidi musically ponders, “Why Can’t He See?”, about Grandfather, as he replies, naturally, “Why Can’t I See?”.
Warts and all, we love THE NEW ADVENTURES OF HEIDI. The location shooting, the infectious songs, and of course the compelling presence of Ms. Kurtzman all make this a most desirable and unique addition to Heidi film catalog. NEW… HEIDI has the uncanny ability to evoke both the spirit of the original Johanna Spyri tale, as well as the singular mythos of the mid-1970’s, no mean feat indeed. There is really nothing else like it, and we here at www.kiddiematinee.com are terribly fond of it.
Originally shown as an “NBC Thanksgiving Holiday Special Presentation” 1978, NEW… HEIDI has (perhaps) sadly been relegated to the budget-label public-domain netherworld, where it surfaces on many different VHS and DVD incarnations. This is fine, but for the fact that they all seem to be using the same 16mm print, replete with scratches, splices, color shift and missing tail credits. This movie is just screaming for a special edition DVD reissue, with commentary by Ms. Kurtzman (who has since gone on to memorable adult acting roles, as well as becoming an accomplished filmmaker).
Heidi (Katy Kurtzman) sings an anthem to her beloved mountains, while Peter (Sean Marshall) listens.
Heidi adores her mountain home.
Heidi’s Grandfather (Burl Ives) sings an anthem to his beloved mountains.
Heidi drinks her milk like a good girl.
After dinner, Heidi and Grandfather sit by the fire, and work on their crafts.
Heidi is worried about her grandfather’s failing sight.
Heidi and Peter encounter the terrible “Wild Man of the Mountain”!
Grandfather walks to Dorfli.
Dorfli village square.
Heidi and her grandfather sing a duet on the eve of their sorrowful parting.
Heidi rides with her new friend Elizabeth Wyler (Sherrie Wills), and her governess Mady (Maryln Mason), in the Wyler’s new Mercedes-Benz.
Elizabeth shows Heidi around her palatial home.
Heidi in Manhattan!