Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fitzwilly (1967)

For the rest of the month, I intend to review Christmas films, and while Fitzwilly isn't a traditional feel-good holiday movie, it does take place entirely at Christmastime, so I figured I'd put it in, especially since Turner Classic Movies was featuring it on their lineup of Christmas movies. This film is so rare, moreover, that it deserves to be reviewed while it's still fresh in my mind.

This charmer stars Dick Van Dyke as the butler Fitzwilliam, affectionately known to his employer Miss Vicki as Fitzwilly. The son of a butler, Fitzwilly was taken  in by Miss Vicki when his parents died suddenly and was given an Ivy League education to complement his considerable mental faculties. Out of filial devotion to Miss Vicki, he looks after her as both her butler and the steward of her estate.

Unbeknown to Miss Vicki, she has gone broke giving away her money to charities, so in order to support her in the manner to which she is accustomed, Fitzwilly starts pulling elaborate heists and scams, all of which Miss Vicki remains in ignorance. Ironically, almost all the money Fitzwilly makes gets given by Miss Vicki to charities, so he can never amass enough capital to give up the life of crime. In addition we get the feeling that Fiztwilly enjoys the thrill of heist, so it's not much of a sacrifice on his part.

The whole arrangement comes into jeopardy, however, when  Miss Vicki hires a secretary named Juliet--played by Get Smart's Barbara Feldon--to edit the book she's writing. At first she loathes Fitzwilly's controlling ways, but sensing a deeper story hidden underneath his unorthodox way of running the houshold, she soon finds herself falling in love with the cunning butler. Her investigations, however, nearly prove fatal to the gang's thieving operations. When she learns the truth of the source of Miss Vicki's income, Juliet makes Fitzwilly promise to give up his life of crime before they get married, so he plans one last grand heist to ensure that Miss Vicki will never have to worry about money again.

Being a simple face, this film doesn't need a believable premise to be enjoyable, and it succeeds in providing us with plenty of amusing situations and some really ingenious heists. It's a not laugh-out-loud funny movie, but it certainly holds our interest for an hour and a half. Barbara Feldon and Dick Van Dyke prove themselves to be just as entertaining on the big screen as they were on the small, and I especially appreciate that there's no estrangement between their characters when she finds out the truth about his job because that's such a cliche. In addition the character actors never fail to delight, especially Edith Evans as Miss Vicki and John McGiver as the butler Albert.

I give this film a 6.7 out of 10. It's not brilliant, but it's smart enough to be one of Blackadder's cunning plans.

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