A forgotten Holiday Classic: Fitzwilly

The 1960’s brought about a myriad of “caper films” in which the protagonists of the film set about attempting elaborate cons. Perhaps the most heart warming caper movie to ever come along is 1967’s Fitzwilly, starring the incredibly talented, and equally lovable, Dick Van Dyke. The title of the film refers to a shortened version of Van Dyke’s name in the film, Claude Fitzwilliam. Fitzwilly is the head butler in charge of the household of a Miss Victoria Woodworth, an eccentric elderly woman who spends her days doling out large checks to various charities as well as spearheading her own projects; most notably throughout the film she is writing an incredibly extensive dictionary for illiterate people. The only problem is that, though she is acustomed to a lavish lifestyle, her father left her exactly $200 at his death. Fitzwilly and the other staff spend their time coming up with and executing a number of cons and robberies in order to maintain Miss Woodworth’s, as well as their own, style of living. Miss Woodworth is oblivious the entire movie, completely believing that she is fabulously wealthy.
Fitzwilly is an odd movie in that, while it boasts an incredibly loveable cast, the story is humorous and would easily be categorized as a family movie, it is a shining example of a morally ambiguous film. As kind as the protagonist is, he isn’t stealing to simply aid in the survival of a poor old woman, rather he is stealing so she can maintain an existence of pure excess. Sure she gives large sums away to charity, and lets not forget that those companies that Fitzwilly and his band of high societal miscreants rip off are completely covered by insurance. The line is blurred to the point that you find yourself cheering for the bad guys. Though this occurrence is increasingly familiar and acceptable in the current cinematic climate, it wasn’t so common in the 1960s.
While it is certainly hazy in a moral context, Fitzwilly offers a fun and often overlooked holiday cinematic treat. The movie in the past has been increasingly difficult to find, I first watched it in a Film History class in college, and remember thinking it was pretty fun. Recently I noticed it streaming on Netflix, so my wife and I gave it a shot and I came to this conclusion: it is a forgotten family classic. Dick Van Dyke pervades the screen with all the charm he brought to the Disney films he became known for, while at the same time displaying a touch of the sinister with his criminal mastermind like antics. The supporting cast is also a blast to watch, particularly John McGiver who plays the increasingly remorseful priest-turned-thief. Barbara Feldon plays the love interest who almost brings the entire operation to it’s knees, a suitable adversary/ romantic interest for Van Dyke’s Fitzwilly.
It’s a fun little movie that gives off a strong sense of nostalgia, even after the first viewing. It harkens to the fact that, though certain movies will remain in the classic family canon (Marry Poppins, Swiss Family Robinsons etc.) there is a vast amount of movies that time has chosen to brush over. Fitzwilly is one of the unlucky movies to have fallen to the wayside which isĀ  in no way due to it’s quality or entertainment value.