Holiday Rewind: Fitzwilly

I strongly associate this movie with a sweaty, empty apartment because I originally reviewed it during a broke summer internship where streaming video was my only luxury. There was nothing signalling to me going in that this was a Christmassy movie, all I knew was that it starred Dick Van Dyke and it was some kind of caper maybe. And at this point, I never really remember much more than that it’s a Christmassy movie, Fitzwilly is running some kind of kind-hearted scam, and I liked it a whole lot more than I expected, to the point that I included my original review (which I made so early in the run of this blog that I hadn’t fully developed my standards for movie poster graphics and so it has a relatively tiny poster) in at least three different bundles of recommended back catalog reading/watching. Over the years I’ve occasionally felt a little disappointed that I didn’t run it at Christmas because I recall it being such a good Christmas movie nobody remembers. So, does it live up to my recollections?

Fitzwilly. The Mirisch Corporation 1967.

Claude Fitzwilliam has been elderly heiress Victoria Woolworth’s butler as long as he was old enough to run the household, after his father, her previous butler, died and Miss Vicky raised him. Miss Vicky’s father spent all of her inheritance, but Fitzwilly has made it his and his staff’s mission to keep her from knowing this, and to that end has developed an elaborate network of thievery charging expensive goods to other wealthy people and companies and diverting them to his “charity” thrift shops. Aside from the considerable expense of maintaining the house and staff and lifestyle Miss Vicky is accustomed to, the biggest hindrance to this scheme is her great passion for philanthropy, as she is constantly writing checks for thousands of dollars to any noble cause she comes across, most, but not all, being intercepted by Fitzwilly’s staff. A new complication enters this operation when Miss Vicky hires a secretary for her dictionary project who is not handpicked and briefed by Fitzwilly, but a straight and narrow college grad Juliet Nowell, who has to be kept from learning anything about the charade, and in the process comes to worry that Fitzwilly’s job as a butler isn’t appropriately challenging for someone with his mind and education. Under Juliet and Miss Vicky’s noses, Fitzwilly’s gang has to execute their biggest job ever, redecorating a house in Florida for a contact who spent most of the money his employers gave him on himself, in exchange for the remaining $75k, enough money to keep Miss Vicky in her lifestyle for the rest of her life.

For most of the movie I feel like my memory has oversold the amount to which it’s a Christmas movie, however the climax is in a busy department store on Christmas Eve and features carol singers, so it gets there eventually. Until that point it doesn’t even feel much like winter.

The two things this movie runs on are Dick Van Dyke’s charisma and to a somewhat lesser extent, the verbal fencing going on every time Fitzwilly and Juliet interact. Their scenes together are often dazzling displays of conversational agility and both actors meet the requirements of the dialogue expertly.

This is a comedic caper with a chapter that has as much Christmas in it as A Christmas Story, but it’s a much better fit to expectations to watch it for the heisting than for the Christmas.

The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin. Walt Disney Pictures 1967.

Before watching the movie:

This is another one it’s hard to find much description that doesn’t just recap the entire plot, so I wasn’t sure if it was something I wanted to see for a while. A rich Boston kid running away to Gold Rush California to have adventures? Eh, not too exciting. The kid getting accompanied by his family’s very buttoned-up butler out of concern for his safety, and the butler is played by Roddy McDowall? This is somewhat more relevant to my interests.

I suspect this is going to have more of an episodic structure, as the Disney equivalent of a pulp Western adventure. Apparently it’s a musical, which could go either way. Being based on a book, there will probably be a decent amount of substance, but mostly I expect loosely connected Western-themed hijinks and barely justified showstopper songs.

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The Old Dark House (1963)

The Old Dark House.
Columbia Pictures 1963.

Before watching the movie:

I learned of this movie from a preshow for some spooky movie at a theater where they play classic videos along the theme of the movie during seating. A horror comedy starring… Tom Poston? The quirky old neighbor on like a dozen 80s/90s sitcoms? In a slasher comedy of errors? Well, why not? For one thing, apparently this is a remake nobody asked for, but I’m not burdened by the expectations of the 1932 movie, so I’ll probably enjoy it more than it was enjoyed at the time.

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The Creation of the Humanoids

The Creation of the Humanoids.
Genie Productions 1962.

Before watching the movie:

The log line that I read said something about robots putting humans in immortal synthetic bodies so they don’t go extinct, which sounds nice of them and I don’t see how this gets spun as a horror movie.

A little more in-depth description refers to humans getting entirely too dependent on the robots and factions trying to keep the robots from becoming “too human” and taking over, which sounds like the kind of allegory that robots as a science fiction concept were invented from.

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Sergeant Deadhead

Sergeant Deadhead. Alta Vista Productions 1965.

Before watching the movie:

From how hard the movie is trying to be sold as a wacky comedy, I would expect that the change that Avalon’s undergoes in space would be really wacky, like he comes back really loopy, or having switched minds with his simian copilot. At the very least, “Deadhead” suggests to me an “idiot comes turns smart” story, which isn’t necessarily funny. But the summary I read says that he returns with a more “aggressive” personality. That doesn’t necessarily sound funny. Maybe it’s funny because he’s aggressive like a chihuahua, overconfident in his abilities.

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Gorgo

Gorgo. King Brothers Productions 1961.

Before watching the movie:

I’m sure nobody wanted audiences to think this was Godzilla with a bit of a King Kong plot. It’s a giant monster movie, but this time in London because it’s a UK production. That’s about all that one can expect, I guess. Specifically, the monster is taken back to London from the place it was found to be shown off, but its mother comes and stomps everything.

Western kaiju movie. I don’t know what more to say. Some of the names are slightly familiar but I couldn’t place them to anything specific.

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Eight on the Lam

Eight on the Lam.
Hope Enterprises 1967

Before watching the movie:

I keep thinking of this as a large-cast bank heist movie and it isn’t. That’s probably because I keep connecting it to Bank Shot, and it doesn’t really have much in common with that movie.

The cast is pretty exciting though. Hope, Winters, and Diller all together might be an interesting mixture.

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What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?

What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?
The Mirisch Company 1966.

Before watching the movie:

The two keywords that got me interested are “Blake Edwards” and “James Coburn”. There are quite a lot of WWII farces around by now, and I’m certainly no stranger to them, but a Blake Edwards farce sounds highly promising, and I’ve enjoyed James Coburn in comedies from the time as well.

From what I’ve seen, I’m not sure the title has much to do with how the story is told, unless all of the summaries I’ve read completely ignore a framing device. The unreliable narrator aspect shown on this poster is a good starting point for what I’d want to do with a story with a title like that, but I don’t expect to see it in the movie.

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The Wackiest Ship in the Army

The Wackiest Ship in the Army.
Columbia Pictures 1960.

Before watching the movie:

Every time I see this title, I get a little disappointed it’s not The Ship with the Flat Tire, which apparently didn’t amount to much of anything outside of the enjoyment of the few who read it and has probably been out of print since the 60s.

This looks like a pretty standard farce with a misfit crew and a leaky boat, but Jack Lemmon will probably give it a good turn. What will make it distinctive is how colorful the eccentric characters are.

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Cinderfella

Cinderfella Paramount Pictures 1960.

Before watching the movie:

It seems a natural fit that a comedian who often plays meek nice guys would eventually land in a genderbent fairytale. If Jerry Lewis has a specialty in stories, it may well be nebbish men’s wish fulfilment fantasies, and few stories are more wish fulfilment than Cinderella.

In an era where we’re taking our traditionally white male role model character roles and trying to be conscious about putting more women and people of color there, it may seem a little backward to turn one of the canon fairytale princesses into Jerry Lewis, but I think the reason I’m not too discomforted by it is that Cinderella is a pretty classical feminine role type, and it’s not a position one would expect to find a fictional man who is the protagonist in. So it’s an underutilized permutation that stands exploring in media.

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