Fitzwilly mixes up crime and romance in this 1967 comedy starring Dick Van Dyke and Get Smart‘s Barbara Feldon in leading roles.
After the passing of Walter Mirisch over the weekend, I decided to watch a film he produced in tribute. While In the Heat of the Night would probably be the best choice, I made it a new-to-me film instead with the Dick Van Dyke comedy. It just so happened that I had the film on hand because of its Kino Lorber Studio Classics release in summer 2021. My viewing might be better late than never but the film offers audiences a fun time.
In this film, Claude Fitzwilliam (Dick Van Dyke) is a college-educated butler who doubles as a con artist. He’s been helping the staff run all sorts of cons so that heiress Miss Victoria Woodworth (Edith Evans) can continue living her wealthy lifestyle. On paper, she’s wealthy but in reality, her late father left her only $180. As such, Fitzwilly oversees all sorts of swindling, including the St. Dismas thrift shop. Everything changes when Miss Vicki hires a new secretary, Juliet Nowell (Barbara Feldon). She starts foiling many operations in place so Fitzwilly starts courting her in hopes that she quits. It’s nothing but a ruse at first but they soon fall in love.
The film becomes a comedy of errors when Juliet finds evidence of crimes being committed. However, she soon becomes an accomplice in all of it because she mailed off a $50K check without running it by Fitzwilly. That’s a problem and so the staff starts planning to rob $190K worth of items from Gimbels on December 24. Oh, boy. This is just a laugh riot waiting to happen. Oh, it definitely lives up to whatever expectations you have. Between the last minute shoppers and carolers, what could possibly go wrong?!? Of course, there’s more news but I’ll let you watch the film and find out what happens.
One plus to watching this comedy is listening to an early score in the career of maestro John Williams. Williams turns in a catchy march for the film’s main theme. He also collaborates with Alan and Marilyn Bergman for the first time on Fitzwilly‘s love theme, “Make Me Rainbows.” What’s most surprising is that there are barely any Xmas tunes in the film until the carols during the robbery at the end. Speaking of the robbery, Williams lets it go unscored, which is for the best as all sorts of chaos transpires on screen. If you’re a Williams completist, this film is towards the end of the 60s comedies scored by Williams.
In another universe, the screen adaptation of A Garden of Cucumbers might have starred Cary Grant or Alec Guinness. I could see Guinness in the role at that point in his career but Grant feels like the type that might have been too old for the role. As an actor, Dick Van Dyke was more of a TV star than film star. He did films but he didn’t really become the big screen star that he had the potential to be. In fact, the actor went through the entire 1980s without performing in a movie. He made an appearance in 1990’s Dick Tracy and then there was nothing again until a few documentaries in the early 2000s. In fact, he didn’t appear in a live-action role until Night at the Museum in 2006. To put it simply, his TV (including TV movies) work kept him busy.
Fitzwilly isn’t a great film by any means but it’s entertaining and funny enough to sit back and enjoy the performances from Dick Van Dyke, Barbara Feldon, and company.
- Audio commentary by Filmmaker/Historian Michael Schlesinger and Film Archivist Stan Taffel
- Theatrical Trailer
DIRECTOR: Delbart Mann
SCREENWRITER: Isobel Lennart
CAST: Dick Van Dyke, Barbara Feldon, John McGiver, Harry Townes, John Fiedler, Norman Fell, and Edith Evans
United Artists released Fitzwilly in theaters on December 20, 1967. Grade: 3.5/5
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