Blu-ray Review: Savannah Smiles (1982)

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A family comedy about an accidental kidnapping is an odd concept to say the least but a kidnapping comedy inspired by Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion is an altogether different thing as actor turned writer/producer Mark Miller proved with this 1980 release, Savannah Smiles.

Reminiscent less of Grand Illusion than a long lost 1930s comedy complete with a palatable Depression era friendly “money doesn't buy happiness” theme, time has not done many favors for French director Pierre De Moro’s nostalgic comedy about a precocious six-year-old girl who hides out with two crooks-on-the-lam after running away from her wealthy home.

Not edgy enough to attract a studio and perhaps just a little too risky to appeal to ticket buyers acclimated to Walt Disney’s instantly identifiable kiddie comedies, Miller’s self-financed feature (which was named after his daughter and muse), plays like a saccharine blend of Smokey and the Bandit, Paper Moon, and The Kid.

A fairy tale by way of the Three Stooges, though largely predictable and plot-free, the film’s winning original songs from Ken Sutherland coupled with Miller and Donovan Scott’s gamely performances as the accidental kidnappers turned temporary surrogate parents of adorable Bridgette Andersen’s eponymous lead keep us watching by the time the film wins you over in its heart-tugging final scenes.

Newly released as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from MVD Visual, don’t let the vintage cover design (and included poster) befitting of its original video store era fool you as Savannah Smiles looks better than ever in a 2K transfer from its original 35mm film source, on loan from Washington D.C.’s Library of Congress.

Offering viewers three behind-the-scenes documentary featurettes on different aspects of the title, MVD Visual serves up a bittersweet tribute to the gone-much-too-soon Andersen, whom I grew up watching repeatedly on a well-worn VHS recording of the Wonderful World of Disney’s made-for-TV movie The Parent Trap II.

And while I’m sure that De Moro’s Gen X cult family classic has similarly devoted fans, unfortunately even the sharpest restoration is unable to erase the flaws of Miller’s Grand Illusion inspired genre free-for-all.

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