Dick Van Dyke plays the title role of Fitzwilly, an eccentric philanthropist’s dutiful servant. Along with the rest of the staff, they resort to thievery in order to keep their now-penniless employer living in style.
In short, Fitzwilly is a very sweet, enjoyable comedy starring Dick van Dyke as the head butler in a wealthy woman’s mansion. She’s a kind, sweet, and generous woman. Unknown to her, she’s also broke. She doesn’t know, because her faithful servants commit a variety of swindles, hustles, and outright thefts to keep the household afloat financially. They all consider her to be family. None so more than Fitzwilly. After his mother’s death when he was a child, she became a mother to him. And, after his father’s death, he became head butler. And he’s determined to keep finances going, until she passes away from old age.
But she keeps being generous … literally to a fault. And then she hires a young secretary, to help her finish her literary work … A dictionary for people who don’t know how to spell. And the secretary becomes suspicious about what’s going on in the household …
What makes Fitzwilly so special is the cast. All of the staff are kind, loving people, fleshed out. Characters that the audience care about.
Cast of characters
- Dick Van Dyke – (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mary Poppins) Claude Fitzwilliam, the Fitzwilly of the title. Head butler, and leader of the “gang”. He’s desperately trying to keep the household afloat. He’s also trying to keep people from being hurt by their various swindles. And despite his best efforts, he’s falling in love with …
- Barbara Feldon – (Get Smart, No Deposit No Return) Juliet Nowell. The very nice young lady that Miss Woodworth hires as a secretary. At first, she’s unaware of the financial situation. But slowly, she begins realizing various minor odd things about the household. And, begins falling in love with the outwardly-stern Fitzwilly, especially as she begins learning his backstory.
- John McGiver (Bachelor in Paradise) – Albert. One of the senior servants, and one of my favorite characters. A defrocked clergyman, whom the kindly Miss Woodworth gave a second chance. In return, he’s very loyal to her. But, his feelings of guilt over the crew’s actions build, until by the end of the film …
- Edith Evans – Miss Victoria Woodworth. The elderly woman, whose staff love enough that they’re willing to risk imprisonment. A kind, loving, older woman.
- Harry Townes – Mr. Nowell. Juliet’s father, who has an ongoing game with a friend of his. This actually becomes relevant later on.
- John Fiedler – Mr. Morton Dunne
- Anne Seymour – Grimsby, part of the staff.
- Norman Fell – Oberblatz. “Where’s the money?” The worker at Gimbel’s who’s paranoid about their being robbed on Christmas Eve. Until it happens.
- Cecil Kellaway (The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The Mummy’s Hand) – Buckmaster. One of my favorite character actors, who’s one of Fitzwilly’s “gang”.
- Make Me Rainbows, Lyrics by Marilyn Bergman and Alan Bergman, Music by John Williams
- Good King Wenceslas
- We Wish You a Merry Christmas
- Jingle Bells
- God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen
- Deck the Halls
- Fitzwilly’s fictional thrift store is named for St. Dismas. In the Biblical story of the crucifixion, he was the “good thief,” in Christian tradition. He is not actually named in the scriptures.
- Fitzwilly is based on Poyntz Tyler’s 1960 novel, “A Garden of Cucumbers”. That title refers to Isaiah 1:8 in the Bible.