Personally, my favorite thing about The Parent Trap is how the all-American twins played by Hayley Mills manage to speak in her posh, rounded British tones throughout. Not a dig against Mills’ acting or the strength of her dual performance in making a patently absurd premise work, more of a mere observation of an interesting directorial choice. I’m not sure if The Parent Trap really deserves to remain as beloved a property as it has remained since 1961, either through the original or the Lindsay Lohan remake, but it’s certainly an enjoyable bit of fluff.
If you can vibe with the toxic and strange premise, divorced parents hated each other so much that they separated their twins and moved to opposite coasts only for the twins to meet-up at summer camp and switch places to reunite their family, then you’ll be in for a pleasant viewing. It helps that Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith generate an intense sexual chemistry here that threatens to blow apart at any moment. You can easily believe that they would grow to hate each other enough to move as far away from each other as possible when the relationship crumbled. If half of the joy of watching this is in Mills’ dual role, then the other half is watching O’Hara and Keith verbally spare and rekindle their romance.
We never get an answer as to why the parents decided to split up the children and never mention the long-lost one ever again, and the film, perhaps wisely, just simply ignores this story beat. We don’t get an answer for what went wrong in the relationship itself, but watching them press each other’s trigger points gives subtle enough clues about it. It becomes glaringly obvious that the parents still love each other once their reunited, and the complication in the way of the happy reunion, a deliciously bitchy Joanna Barnes as dad’s new gold-digging girlfriend, must be swiftly dealt with. It’s a priest played by Leo G. Carroll that lands a stinger when he tells Barnes regarding O’Hara: “Delightful, charming woman…it’s amazing how he let her slip away from him.” Well, we all mistakes, and the mischievous pixies encompassed by Mills are here to restore familial order through trickery and cunning. The Parent Trap is both a description of the plot and a mission statement for the characters.