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FITZWILLY (director: Delbert Mann; screenwriters: Isobel Lennart/based on the novel “A Garden of Cucumbers” by Poyntz Tyler; cinematographer: Joseph Biroc; editor: Ralph E. Winters; music: John Williams; cast: Dick Van Dyke (Claude Fitzwilliam), Barbara Feldon (Juliet Nowell), John McGiver (Albert), Edith Evans (Miss Victoria Woodworth), Harry Townes (Mr. Nowell), Cecil Kellaway (Buckmaster), John McGiver (Albert), Norman Fell (Oderblatz), Sam Waterston (Oliver), Harry Townes (Mr. Nowell), Dennis Cooney (Assistant D.A. Elliot Adams), Stephen Strimpell (Byron Casey), John Fiedler (Mr. Morton Dunne), Noam Pitlik (Charles); Runtime:103; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter Mirisch;United Artists; 1967)
“Somewhat innovative but not funny enough to rise above routine.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An amoral family/caper comedy about a good-hearted scheming Park Avenue butler, Fitzwilly (Dick Van Dyke), who takes great pleasure in robbing the rich to keep in the style she’s accustomed his aging and kindly philanthropist employer, Victoria Woodworth (Dame Edith Evans, noted British actress), who doesn’t realize she’s been broke since her millionaire husband died. It’s based on the novel “A Garden of Cucumbers” by Poyntz Tyler and written by Isobel Lennart. Director Delbert Mann (“The Touch of Mink”/”Mister Buddwing”/”The Dark at the Top of the Stairs”) keeps it somewhat innovative but not funny enough to rise above routine.

Williams College grad Fitzwilly, coming from a family with a long-line of butlers, leads the loyal household staff of 12 in Robin-Hood style theft, including the ex-minister guilt-ridden footman (John McGiver), as they maintain her lifestyle and philanthropy by ingenious schemes to rob department stores like Lord & Taylor’s and B. Altman’s. When Vicky hires a new part-time secretary, Juliet Nowell (Barbara Feldon), a brainy Columbia University college student, to help her put together a dictionary for poor spellers, she gets in the way of the butler’s schemes and soon catches on that there’s something not kosher about the set-up. But a romance develops after getting off to a bad start, and Julia doesn’t drop a dime on the illegal scheme. It also leads to the frantic climatic headline scene of a Christmas Eve raid on Gimbel’s department store, which is initiated when one of Miss Vickie’s big contributions escapes Fitzwilly’s attention and this risky action is called for to cover the deficit.

This minor work has a talented supporting cast carrying out this hokum, which allows it to be watchable despite not getting too many laughs out of its premise. Van Dyke hit the jackpot on TV on The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66), as would Feldon appearing on television’s comedy serial Get Smart (1965-1970).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”