There was a time, lo these many years ago, of which I have long rhapsodized. A day when the Disney Channel played good movies from their own vaults instead of crap movies made six weeks ago. A time when the celebrities were people that someone over the age of fifteen still almost certainly new. A time of David Niven, Jodie Foster, David Niven, Helen Hayes, and David Niven. Plus another David Niven. Oh, how my sisters and I would look forward to the announcer telling us that we'd be seeing that list of people soon! We would forsake many other delights, and any Saturday night that promised us [i]Candleshoe[/i] was a Saturday night on which our viewing was set. It was a rare treat and a great pleasure--and nobody else seems at all familiar with the film, which is, to say the least, disheartening.
This was long ago, when Jodie Foster ran wild on the streets of Los Angeles. Yes--she'd already hustled on the streets of Manhattan. She'd already switched places with her mom on the streets of suburbia. She'd already had some 38 other credits--more, in fact, before than since. Jodie Foster was a busy child. At any rate, she is here Casey, or possibly Margaret St. Edmund, heiress to the British estate of Candleshoe. The unsavoury Harry Bundage (Leo McKern) has her taken off the streets and brought to London to take the place of the long-lost heiress, teaching her to play the part of a girl missing since she was four. The child had been abducted. Her father, who had abducted her, died in a car accident, and the girl was never found. And, naturally, many young heiresses have been brought forward ever since in order to get at the bounty of Candleshoe. Only, so far as most people know, there isn't any. Not anymore. Candleshoe is old, and there's not much money left. Except Harry's nutty cousin Grimsworthy (Vivian Pickles) discovered a clue to the legendary missing treasure of the family's old reprobate and black sheep, Lord Joshua St. Edmund. So they pick up Casey, who fits the description of the girl as near as anyone can, twelve years or so later, and haul her over. They slide her into Candleshoe neat as you please, and the treasure hunt is on.
The best acting in the film is that of Helen Hayes as old Lady St. Edmund. Lady St. Edmund's daughter has died, and she is left alone with her butler, Priory (David Niven, and we'll get to the other three of him anon), and the memory of the lost child. And when, as she believes, the lost child turns up, she can't help wanting to touch the girl, to brush her hand, to hug her. Oh, she's got four kids from a local orphanage to ease the pain, but they don't, not really; they're not her kids. She loves them. They love her. But I have little doubt that Candleshoe will not pass to them, and even if it would, it wouldn't be the same. None of them are the lost Margaret. Her friends have all died or moved away, and she can afford no servants, either. So Priory--I told you we'd get to do this--steps in. He is the butler, and he is the gardener they cannot afford, and he is the chauffeur they cannot afford, and he is the old India hand of the British Army who has moved into the area in time to keep an old woman company.
I will not, of course, get into the Valuable Lessons learned. I don't have to; you can see them all coming a mile off. The question is, [i]is[/i] Casey really Margaret? And the answer is, probably. However, there is no certainty in it to this movie. We don't even know how much the treasure really comes to. We don't know what life the orphans will have as they reach majority, though I suspect there will be room for Peter (Ian Sharrock), at least, in Casey's life. (Even though she'd already garnered an Oscar nod for playing a prostitute, Disney didn't let her kiss the boy.) And Casey has begun to genuinely love the others, though I think it will do Cluny (Veronica Quilligan) some good to learn how to ask instead of assuming. But, while I think it is certain that Casey will end by inheriting Candleshoe, we don't know anything else of the future.
I know. You didn't think Disney was like that. And that may be why this particularly Disney film is less-well known than the year before's [i]Freaky Friday[/i]. Jodie Foster wasn't playing cute, here. Could Casey have lasted in the system and on the streets? I think so, yes. I'm just not sure she could last with Lady St. Edmund if she hadn't begun to change herself already.