Tag Archives: david niven

Candleshoe (1977)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Treasure hidden on estate.

            Jodie Foster stars as Casey a teen living on the tough streets of New York and reselling stolen items for a living. Her abilities come to the attention of small-time crook Harry Bundage (Leo McKern) who gets her to pretend that she is the long lost granddaughter of a rich matriarch by the name of Lady St. Edmund (Helen Hayes).  Bundage has become aware through a former servant that worked there that there is a trove of treasure hidden somewhere on the premises and it is up to Casey to follow the clues and find it.

I saw this movie when it was released in 1977 and the only thing I could remember from it was the little boy who would slide across the polished floors of the mansion. It’s a surprisingly elaborate plot for a children’s movie, but one that is engrossing and interesting. The characters are believable and diverse and it is fun seeing them evolve and learn to get along. Parents should find this as enjoyable as the kids. I was impressed with the way the filmmakers never talk down to their young audience and trust that they will be sophisticated enough to pick up on the little nuances and subtitles, which the film does have.  I found myself longing for this type of family entertainment again. It seems like the family films of today either have kids spewing out a lot of crude nasty things, or they are so sugary sweet and benign that they make you want to throw up, but this film nicely straddles the middle and it really works.

Jodie is great in the lead and the movie wouldn’t have worked as well with another actress in the role. The part nicely takes advantage of Foster’s confident, smart, streetwise persona and almost had me believing that the part was written specifically for her. Later I read how the original director for the film, David Swift, dropped out of the project because he felt Foster was ‘all wrong’ for the role even though I felt she was perfect and other viewers should feel the same.

Helen Hayes is okay in her role, however the character isn’t all that interesting, nor has that much to do. It seems like once she won the Academy Award for Airport in 1970, which helped revive her career, these were the typical ‘sweet old lady’ roles she was perpetually offered afterwards. However, when it comes to the caricature of an old lady Hayes is absolutely perfect almost to the point that it is hard to imagine her ever being young.

David Niven, who plays the butler named Priory, is engaging, but was starting to look frail and elderly. He gets a chance to play several different roles including that of the gardener and chauffeur. The Irish accent that he uses for the gardener part sounded very authentic and I was impressed. His best moment comes at the end when he takes on the McKern character in an imaginative and drawn out duel segment and watching his scared and nervous facial expressions during this is amusing.

I liked the other children who play the orphans that Lady St. Edmond adopts. They are cute in a nice genuine way without it being forced especially the young blonde haired boy named Bobby who speaks in a thick cockney accent. Veronica Quilligan plays Cluny one of the older children who are initially an adversary to Casey. She showed the most disciplined and realistic facial reactions to the action around her while the other kids had lost or vapid looks on their faces. Although she appeared to be about 13 or 14, the same age of the character that she played, I was shocked to find that she was actually 21 when the movie was made.

I was surprised that there wasn’t a car chase scene as every Disney movie from the 70’s seemed to have one. The action for what it is worth is sparse, but enjoyable without ever getting too cartoonish. The ending where the kids take on the band of adult crooks is good and the scene where their car is stopped on the tracks and the train comes just inches from Priory, who is shielding the vehicle, before stopping is a near classic.

I think adults who were kids during this era can watch this film again and still find it entertaining. The kids of today should find enjoyable as well although the ideal age would be between 8 and 14 as I think it is too slow paced for anyone younger.  The film also has a good life lesson in regards to teamwork and how working together and taking advantage of each other’s special talents and abilities can help achieve a common goal.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 16, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated G

Director: Norman Tokar

Studio: Buena Vista

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Eye of the Devil (1966)

eye of the devil 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Husband is a pagan.

Vineyard owner Philippe (David Niven) is called back to the castle of Bellenac when it is found that they are suffering from another dry season. Philippe’s wife Catherine (Deborah Kerr) and his two young children follow him there a few days later despite his insistence that they not come. Once there Catherine finds everyone’s behavior to be quite odd including a menacing brother and sister (David Hemmings, Sharon Tate) who make Catherine uneasy, but nothing prepares her for the real reason that her husband is there nor its shocking outcome.

Although several directors worked on this project including Michael Anderson the credit is ultimately given to J. Lee Thompson, who is probably best known for his frequent collaborations with Charles Bronson. Despite the different directors the film is very fluid and well produced. In fact it is the directing that makes this film high enjoyable. The lighting, editing, imagery and evocative camera work make this a near brilliant work from a visual level. Turning down the sound and appreciating it for its aesthetic style alone is more than enough and the on-location shooting done at the Chateau de Hautefort is excellent.

Tate is stunningly beautiful and the photography makes the most of it watching her sit out and get drenched by the rain is actually kind of sexy. She had bit parts in two films previous to this, but this is still credited as her official film debut.  Although her voice was dubbed she still is effective with a character that straddles the line between being sensual and creepy. The part where the Niven character viciously whips her while she wriggles around on the floor and then in the end turns around and smiles like she enjoyed it was year’s ahead-of-its-time and definitely pushing-the-envelope for that period.

Kerr came in to replace Kim Novak who was injured during filming and unable to complete the picture. Normally she always gives a superior performance, but her she seemed miscast. The only facial expression she seems able to show here is that of shock and fright and the character and scenario seems to be too much of an extension to the one that she did in The Innocents just a few years earlier. Both she and Niven seemed too old to be parents of such young children. He was already in his mid-fifties and she in her mid-forties and the film would have been better served had a young attractive couple in their 20’s been cast in the part.

Niven has always done so well being cast in likable roles that having him play someone with a dark personality doesn’t quite work and he looks uncomfortable in the part. Both Donald Pleasance and David Hemmings are underused and not given enough lines or screen-time.

The story itself is rather one-dimensional. The final sequence features some great shots and editing of Kerr running through some underground tunnels of the castle, but the outcome is quite predictable. The script lacks that added perspective or twist to make it truly memorable and is the weakest element in this otherwise visually arresting production.

eye of the devil 4

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 8, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Not Rated

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Bedtime Story (1964)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Con men fleece ladies.

Freddy Benson (Marlon Brando) enjoys conning his way into women’s beds. He uses all sorts of different ruses and has become so good at it he’s made it into a full-time profession. Then he meets Lawrence Jameson (David Niven) and is impressed because not only is Lawrence able to woo them for sex, but he is also able to get into their finances as well. The two work together for a while, but then there is a falling out and they become rivals instead. Along comes Janet Walker (Shirley Jones) a single woman with a supposedly rich father. The two then compete to see which one can con her best.

The movie itself is so-so, but Brando’s performance is excellent. He is far better known for his brooding dramatic performances, but the guy is amazingly engaging here. I loved every scene that he was in and found him to be consistently amusing. I was impressed with how at ease he was in doing comedy and this is a must for all Brando fans as you will see him doing something completely different from anything else he has done. I came away feeling he was perfect for comedy and wishing he had done more of it in his career.

The story though is contrived and formulaic in the worst way. The first hour is particularly tough going as the schemes the two men play are rather lame and something a fifth grader could see through. The women are portrayed as being utter morons and apparently so good-hearted that they will fall for any trick in the book. It would have given it a better balance had a few of them become wise to the men’s antics, but the fact that none of them do makes the whole thing seem horribly stereotyped and insulting to females everywhere. The humor is trite and unsophisticated and it should come as no surprise that the script was written by Paul Henning known for such ‘classics’ as ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’.

If you survive the boring and silly first hour things improve slightly during the second. The antics that Lawrence and Freddy pull on Janet are a little more clever and it is fun to see how each tries to one-up the other. Freddy pretends to be a man stricken to a wheel chair after he becomes traumatized from the rejection of a woman he loved. The only person who can cure him is a famous, but expensive psychiatrist that gets played by Lawrence. Larwrence’s initial examination of Freddy is funny as is the part where Freddy and his wheelchair go wildly out-of-control and crash into a countryside barn.

I was disappointed that there was no twist ending here as I was starting to think there would be and defiantly should have been. Instead it is just another ‘happy’ hollow Hollywood ending that was typical for that era and solidifying this as an empty lightweight exercise that barely deserves any attention at all if not for Brando’s performance.

In 1988 this film was remade as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels that starred Steve Martin and Michael Caine. That film will be reviewed tomorrow.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: June 10, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Ralph Levy

Studio: Universal

Available: VHS