Fitzwilly (1967): Romantic Comedy, Starring Dick Van Dyke, Edith Evans, and Barbara Feldon

Delbert Mann, better known for directing melodramas, made Fitzwilly, a romantic comedy, based on Poyntz Tyler’s 1960 novel A Garden of Cucumbers, adapted for the screen by Isobel Lennart; the novel’s title refers to Isaiah 1:8.  

Fitzwilly 1967.jpg

Film poster by Frank Frazetta

Fitzwilliam serves as butler to Miss Victoria Woodworth (Edith Evans), an old heiress whose wealth is a myth; her financier father left her just $180. “Fitzwilly” is heading the household staff on thefts, raids and swindles, like operating the fictional charity and thrift shop, St. Dismas.Dick Van Dyke plays the protagonist, Claude Fitzwilliam, an unusually intelligent and educated mastermind of a butler.

The staff’s secret operations threaten to unravel, when Miss Vicki hires an assistant, Juliet Nowell (Barbara Feldon in her first film), to create a dictionary of phonetic misspellings of words. Upon learning that Fitzwilly graduated from Williams College, she suggests he does something “worthy,” like joining the Peace Corps.

When Juliet inadvertently foils some operations, Fitzwilly wishes to get rid of her. He plans to court her in order to induce her to quit, but as predicted, they fall in love.

When Juliet stumbles upon evidence of Fitzwilly’s past crimes, she confronts him. Fitzwilly proposes marriage, agreeing to end the criminal acts, but due to Juliet’s interference, the household is $75,000 short of funds, and they have to raise the money by Christmas.  As a result, the Woodworth staff plans a robbery of Gimbels department store on Christmas Eve.

The operation is initially successful, but staff member Albert (John McGiver) allows to be caught to “atone” for his sins, but refuses to implicate others. Miss Woodworth blackmails the assistant district attorney into engineering a suspended sentence on a lesser charge, and offers to write a counter check to cover the loss

In the movieish happy ending, Fitzwilly toasts his engagement to Juliet with her father, further relieved when Miss Vicki’s dictionary is rewritten as a screenplay sold to Hollywood for $500,000.

The movie was a moderate success at the box-office, largely due to the popularity of its star, Dick Van Dyke, then at the peak of his career.


Directed by Delbert Mann
Produced by Walter Mirisch
Screenplay by Isobel Lennart, based on A Garden of Cucumbers 1960 novel, by Poyntz Tyler
Music by John Williams
Cinematography Joseph Biroc
Edited by Ralph Winters

Production company: Mirisch Corporation

Distributed by United Artists

Release date: December 20, 1967

Running time: 102 minutes
Box office $2,100,000