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.

Bye Bye Birdie

Bye Bye Birdie. Columbia Pictures 1963.

Before watching the movie:

I seem to have moved from a situation where post-1980s films are more abundant to one where there are hardly any to choose from.  Lucky I found Bye Bye Birdie, one of the more popular musicals of the first stage-to-screen push.

I always assumed that Conrad Birdie, the Elvis Presley expy of the story, was a more central character than the synopses I’ve seen make him out to be. It’s all about him, but he sounds more like a Macguffin than a lead player. The actor who plays him isn’t billed specially, and has a name I don’t recognize.

I’m not quite sure why this film/musical has resonated enough to endure in ways others haven’t. It’s not a Grease, but it’s not a… well, the less well-known ones didn’t usually get adapted into films. I can’t really think of a musical film on a lower tier, but I’m sure there are multiple tiers of obscurity yet below this.

Anyway, big stars, big show, and the 1960s before things got tense (well, before the tension got into the mainstream). Some more good clean fun.

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Fitzwilly

Fitzwilly. The Mirisch Corporation 1967.

Before watching the movie:

I never realized how little I’ve seen of Dick Van Dyke’s work, or the fact that most of it is in television. Even more than Peter Sellers, Dick Van Dyke is just kind of an institution. It strikes me that his best work is in his films of the 1960s and 70s, because those show off not only his comic skill but also often the physicality he didn’t have opportunities to express in domestic sitcoms and is probably no longer capable of. I’m not saying I necessarily expect him to dance on rooftops in this film, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some slapstick for him to get into.

What sort of movie is this? Well, once again I’d never heard of it, but I’m expecting a madcap web of lies caper, and possibly some screwball elements.

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