Class-warfare and chemistry in cinema.

Yesterday I happened to see the movie Fitzwilly starring Dick Van Dyke and Barbara Feldon. For what was basically a simple romantic caper, it was surprisingly well-done. I’m about to spoil some elements of the plot, although it’s not one of those movies that you can’t enjoy if you know the plot.

Dick Van Dyke’s character is a butler who works for an old lady who thinks she is a very wealthy heiress, but in fact, unknown to her, her riches come solely from the fact that the butler and the rest of the staff are stealing and running cons to support her lifestyle. But, of course, the butler is only doing it because she was so kind to him, and he wants to repay her. Also, at one point in the movie, Barbara Feldon says something like “most of the places you robbed were big companies”, indicating that this mitigates the severity of the offense.

Well, it’s the old story, isn’t it? Robbing from the rich to give to the poor–or in this case, the would-be poor, except they are rich from the proceeds of all the robbery. I noticed that the reviewers at IMDb got into something of a debate over the morality of the movie, specifically whether the butler’s actions were good or not. Obviously, you don’t want to read too much into a wacky romantic comedy movie, but even so there are some interesting socioeconomic ideas to kick around in this movie.

What really impressed me, though, was the chemistry between Van Dyke and Feldon. They worked very well together, and it occurred to me that if the exact same film had been made with a different couple that lacked such chemistry, it would have fallen apart. It’s not really something that a writer or a director can account for, or that can be fixed in post-production. It’s sort of like charisma, I guess, in that it’s a “wild card” that can dramatically change the complexion of the whole piece.


  1. Too funny. I watched it too, then had to research it. I was wondering who else could have played the lead, though. They did look cute together.

  2. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the movie, but if I remember he does this because the old woman keeps giving away money that she doesn’t have. If you look at it as protecting a loved one from themselves there’s a certain logic to it. Dick Van Dyke seems to have been very easy to work with, if you look at how he clicked with Mary Tyler Moore in his TV show and Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins.

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