Tuesday, February 8, 2022


Rebecca Deniston at Taking Up Room is hosting The John Williams Blogathon to commemorate the occasion of the composer's 90th Birthday on February 8th. The celebration begins HERE

Dick Van Dyke plays the title character in Fitzwilly, 1967. Fitzwilly is an informal nickname for Claude R. Fitzwilliam, the very formal butler to Miss Victoria Woodworth played by Edith Evans. The beloved "Miss Vicky" was brought up in wealth and privilege by a father who had nothing left to bequeath at the time of his passing.

Miss Woodworth's staff led by that supreme organizer Fitzwilly intend to see that she continues to live in wealth and privilege. The money for Miss Vicky's charitable whims, as well as her project of a phonetic dictionary for those who cannot spell, is obtained through theft of high-end goods which are sold through their own thrift shop. Note: the thrift shop is named after St. Dismas, the penitent thief on the cross at Calvary. The conscience of our larcenous band remains clear as insurance firms take care of any "victims." 

Fitzwilly began his criminal organization with the best of intentions and while he does not stray into other areas of criminality, he does rather fancy himself quite the mastermind. There is no denying he enjoys the excitement that comes with his enterprise. When Miss Vicky hires an assistant to work on her dictionary things start to unravel in Fitzwilly's well-oiled machine. Barbara Feldon plays Juliet Nowell, an intuitive young woman who senses something is "off" in the household. Juliet's strong sense of morality and her burgeoning romance with Fitzwilly is not conducive to a well-oiled machine.

The Fitzwilly screenplay was written by Caftan Woman favourite Isobel Lennert (The Sundowners, Holiday Affair) based on Poyntz Tyler's 1960 novel A Garden of Cucumbers and was directed by Delbert Mann (Marty, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs).

The cast of the movie is filled with familiar and always welcome character actors from John Fiedler and John McIver to Anne Seymour and Helen Kleeb. Your favourite is probably among Miss Vicky's obliging staff including 26-year-old (Look at that baby face!) Sam Waterston.

The best of heist films always feature that one last job and the Fitzwilly gang's one last job is a doozy. They mean to rob Gimbels Department Store on Christmas Eve to offset possible losses from another job and assure Miss Vicky's continued comfort for the "rest of her natural." The Gimbels scene is a masterpiece of blocking and a nostalgic treat for those of us who remember that era of shopping. Read Jacqueline T. Lynch's take at Another Old Movie Blog

Fitzwilly is an amusing and clever movie set at Christmas.  Its appeal comes from the unique story, mid-century setting, and cast of character actor greats. A large part of its charm lies with the score by Johnny Williams.

Composer, conductor, arranger, performer John Williams accomplished all of those duties with the U.S. Air Force, jazz clubs, and Hollywood studios creating classic television scores for the likes of Wagon Train, Ben Casey, and Gilligan's Island garnering six Emmy nominations and three trophies for Heidi, 1969, Jane Eyre, 1972, and Great Performances, 2009.

His first film score was for Daddy-O, 1958, and progressed through the neo-noir The Killers, 1964, the contemporary western None But the Brave, 1965, How to Steal a Million, 1966, and the similarly themed good guy thieves comedy Fitzwilly. Fans can take it from there as the beloved movie scores and the awards racked up for John Williams.

The score for Fitzwilly has an underlying West Coast Jazz vibe layered with a quasi-martial swing which highlights the precision of the capers with the cheeky bounce of the comedy. When this theme is repeated later in the film in a more minor mood it supports the unlooked-for sleuthing of Miss Julia and the tension in the Gimbels heist. HERE is the main theme to whet your appetite for the engaging movie and score. 

Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, John Williams

The love theme for the movie is the delightful Make Me Rainbows by Johnny Williams with lyrics by Marilyn Bergman (November 10, 1928 - January 8, 2022) and Alan Bergman. If you recall or are a fan of this era of movie music, then you are a fan of the Bergmans with eight Emmy nominations, four wins, and 13 Oscar nominations, three wins.

Here is Make Me Rainbows performed by the studio singers from the soundtrack. It floats lazily behind Fitzwilly and Julia's first date and has become a jazz standard.

You may find another favourite version among these fine vocalists. Here is Nancy Wilson from her 1968 album, Easy, and a lovely version by Sue Matthews

Let's invite the gentlemen up to the microphone. Vic Damone took a turn in the 1967 album The Damone Type of Thing. Here is Frank D'Rone from his 1968 album Brand New Morning. You'll find many more versions available as singers love the tune and it is constantly being rediscovered.


  1. I have always loved Fitzwilly. It is a bit different from other caper films in that the robberies aren't being committed out of greed, but somewhat more noble motivations. It has such a perfect cast! And I love John Williams' score.

  2. I left a comment but I think it wasn't published! Anyway, as I was saying, I enjoyed reading that review of a film I had never heard of before! It sounds like the kind of story I would enjoy tho, so I'll definitely add it to my list. Thanks for making me discover it! More to it, it's very appropriate that you published that on February 8 as it is not only John Williams's birth date, but Edith Evans's as well! :)

  3. I have not seen Fitzwilly in many years, but recall it being one of Dick Van Dyke's more successful theatrical films. It seems like he often got stuck with subpar material (e.g., Lt. Robin Crusoe) with some notable exceptions (Mary Poppins, of course). I'm not sure why Barbara Feldon didn't have a more successful screen career. Perhaps, it was by choice. She was very good in the 1975 beauty pageant satire Smile.

  4. Paddy Lee, I hope that you are doing well and everything is on the up and up.

    I enjoyed your choice for a Johnny Williams composed movie. I think FITZWILLY(filmed 1966, released 1967) is a delightful heist and an odd ball Christmas movie. I first recall viewing this movie at Christmas time on the NBC SATURDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES in 1973. Dick Van Dyke is one of my all-time favorite comedians and he was on a roll in movies from 1963-71. Also, the wonderful Classic TV sitcom THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW(1961-66). Amazingly he is still with us at ninety-six years young and continues to work.

    Dick Van Dyke scores as the somewhat stuffy butler on the outside, but inside he is pure larcenous, or is he? I don't want to give away too much, but I think FITZWILLY is well worth taking a look see.

  5. I never heard of Fitzwilly before your review, but now I think I've got to find it--it looks cute. And it's definitely another layer to Williams as far as it leaning jazz more than symphonic. Thanks again for joining the blogathon with this great review, Paddy Lee--it was wonderful as always!

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  8. Paddy, thanks so much for the nod, and for the wonderful description of John Williams' score. It's a fun movie with many enjoyable elements, not the least of which, as you note, is Williams' music. A great contribution to this blogathon.

  9. Fitzwilly is new to me, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm not always a fan of Dick van Dyke on the big screen, but it sounds like he's a good fit here. But even if he's not, surely the John Williams's score will carry an audience member a long way.

    Hope all is well with you.

  10. Fitzwilly sounds like a treat for around the holidays or when a heist film is on the menu. Lovely review as always!

  11. This looks like a perfect add to my watch list. The timing is perfect, since as the "sports guy," football season will be over in about six hours, it's three weeks until the college basketball tournament, and base ball seem to get it's act together :)

  12. Paddy Lee, I'm concerned about your health and I hope that you will be okay very soon. I wish the best for you.

    Walter S.

  13. Want to know something completely nuts? I had never really heard of this movie before! But wow, it sounds like such a ME movie -- a bit zany, lots of heisting... I will have to seek it out!




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