Poor Little Orphan Annie only ten years old, and already a victim of the Peter Principle. A success in the comic strips, a hit on Broadway, she has now reached her level of incompetence in the movies.
Let's not blame a little girl, especially not a feisty one with red hair and freckles. John Huston has been a director for 50 years, or the combined lifetimes of five orphans, and still succumbs to the juvenile weakness of running every joke into the ground.
In the stage "Annie," for example, Daddy Warbucks tells Little Orphan Annie about making his first million -- "and in those days, that was a lot of money." It gets a big laugh. In the film version, he mentions the first million, then talks about making his first $100 million, and then delivers the line. Inflation or not, it's no longer funny.
Carol Burnett's Miss Hannigan has been transformed: the romantically suppressed old meanie whose heart melts to the adventures of Helen Trent, has turned into a falling-down drunk in tarty underwear who grabs every man who walks by, from the laundryman to Warbucks.
The orphans don't just have an occasional triumph of revenge against the hard-knocks life, but constantly tear the place apart with violent pillowfights and buckets emptied onto staircases. Albert Finney as Warbucks and Ann Reinking as his secretary don't shyly discover each other through their mutual interest in Annie. The prim secretary all too soon shakes her hair loose and prances around the breakfast table in a cocktail dress; he ogles her with such lines as "You're awfully pretty when you argue with me."
Some of the best songs have been given short shrift or, like "We Want to Thank You, Herbert Hoover" and "N.Y.C.," dropped altogether. A new one, "Dumb Dog," is nothing special. A long excerpt from the film "Camille" has been pointlessly added.
Aileen Quinn, as Annie, is peppy and cute, but she only rarely exhibits that combination of toughness and motherliness that makes Annie stand out among the orphans. (Toni Ann Gisondi, a smaller girl with a bigger voice, is more winning as a sidekick orphan named Molly.) And the bond between Annie and Daddy Warbucks, which ought to be a deep one based on their both having cynical exteriors and soft hearts, is negligible. There is, in fact, a plot switch in which Warbucks only adopts Annie to please his secretary, not because he wanted to or thought of it himself.
Those are some of the unfortunate aspects of the film. But all of that is compared to what "Annie" could have been, as proven in the Broadway show and its countless road companies.
Compared to the general run of children's films, it's still bright and attractive, and there are some clever bits, notably Geoffrey Holder's Punjab and the brief characterizations of Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters as Miss Hannigan's brother Rooster and his girlfriend. It's just enough to salvage the picture for the parents of little girls who are going to have to go to it anway. Let's just be glad they're not old enough to remember President and Mrs. Roosevelt, who are here represented as being respectively blond and pretty. ANNIE -- At AMC Skyline, Aspen Hill, NTI Marlow, NTI New Carrollton, NTI Tysons Center, NTI White Flint, Springfield Mall and Uptown.