Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. Candleshoe

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Candleshoe

Year: 1977

Source materials: based on the Michael Innes novel Christmas at Candleshoe. Innes is a pseudonym for J.I.M. Stewart.

Plot: Con-artist Harry Bundage believes that the lost treasure of pirate captain Joshua St. Edmund is hidden at Candleshoe, the large country estate of Lady St. Edmund. Thanks to Harry’s cousin Clara, a corrupt former cleaning woman at Candleshoe, Harry has the captain’s first clue; Harry recruits street-smart American foster child Casey Brown, employing her to pose as Lady St. Edmund’s granddaughter, the Honourable Margaret, 4th Marchioness of Candleshoe, who disappeared at age four. Casey is the right age to pass for the long-lost Margaret and possesses several identifying scars that young Margaret was known to have. Casey agrees to go along with the con and discover further clues in exchange for a cut of the treasure.

Lady St. Edmund, however, is living in genteel poverty, and Casey quickly learns that Candleshoe itself is constantly on the verge of being unable to pay its taxes. Priory, the estate’s butler (who is forced to pose as various members of the household to conceal that all the other servants have been let go) manages to keep one step ahead of foreclosure by pawning the house’s antiques, conducting tours of the estate, and selling produce at market.

Four local orphans adopted by Lady St. Edmund assist Priory. Casey eventually becomes part of the family and decides to find the treasure for the benefit of Candleshoe, rather than for Harry. This nearly costs the girl her life when she is seriously injured trying to prevent Harry from stealing money from Lady St. Edmund. Casey, now unconscious with a severe concussion, is taken to a hospital, and remains there for several days.

Meanwhile, without the money Harry has stolen, Candleshoe is unable to pay its taxes and is within days of foreclosure. When Casey learns that Lady St. Edmund is preparing to go to a retirement home and send the children back to the orphanage, she breaks down and tells them about the treasure.

After unraveling the final clue together, the household returns to Candleshoe to find Harry and his crew tearing the place apart to find the hidden treasure. Casey, Priory, and the children manage to fight off the thieves until the police arrive, inadvertently discovering the treasure in the process. With Candleshoe safe and her scheme discovered, Casey, feeling she has no right to stay, prepares to return to Los Angeles, but is stopped by Lady St. Edmund, who offers her a real home at Candleshoe. Casey expresses doubt, wondering what will happen if Lady St. Edmund’s real granddaughter ever returns, but she is eventually persuaded to return to Candleshoe with Lady St. Edmund. The ending is ambiguous as to whether Casey truly is the real Margaret.

The four clues revealed in the hunt for the treasure:

  • “For the sunrise student there is treasure among books.” (Refers to a message in a stained-glass window that can only be seen in the Candleshoe library at sunrise.)
  • “The paths of glory lead but to the grave.” (A reference to the poem “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray.)
  • “He followed the eclipse for riches and fame; and, if ye would prosper, do ye the same.” (Refers to a painting of Captain St. Edmund’s ship, the Eclipse.)
  • “Underfoot, in the great hall. Look high, look low, discover all.” (Refers to a statue of Captain St. Edmund in Candleshoe’s great hall. The statue’s foot is propped on a chest in which the treasure is hidden.)

Background: Compton Wynyates, in Warwickshire, the home of Spencer, 7th Marquess of Northampton, posed as the fictional estate of Candleshoe. The Severn Valley Railway that runs between the midland towns of Bridgnorth and Kidderminister in the United Kingdom was used as a location in the film. Jodie Foster only had three weeks break between the end of production on Freaky Friday and the start of principal photography on Candleshoe.

Cast: Jodie Foster and David Niven return.

Helen Hayes as Lady Gwendolyn St. Edmund. She received the nickname “First Lady of American Theatre” and was one of 16 people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony Award (an EGOT). Her sound film debut was The Sin of Madelon Claudet, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She followed that with starring roles in Arrowsmith, Farewell to Arms, The White Sister, Another Language, What Every Woman Knows, Vanessa: Her Love Story, My Son John and Anastasia, and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as an elderly stowaway in the disaster film Airport. She followed that up with several roles in Disney films such as Herbie Rides Again, and One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing.

  • Emmy- Schlitz Playhouse of Stars for the episode “Not a Chance”
  • Grammy-Best Spoken Word Recording – Great American Documents
  • Oscar- The Sin of Madelon Claudet, Airport
  • Tony- Happy Birthday, Time Remembered

Leo McKern as Harry Bundage. Notable roles he portrayed include Clang in Help!,  Thomas Cromwell in A Man for All Seasons, Tom Ryan in Ryan’s Daughter, Paddy Button in The Blue Lagoon, Dr. Grogan in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Father Imperius in Ladyhawke, and the role that made him a household name as an actor, Horace Rumpole, whom he played in Rumpole of the Bailey. He also portrayed Carl Bugenhagen in the first and second installments of The Omen series. Vivian Pickles as Clara Grimsworthy. She appeared in Isadora Duncan, the Biggest Dancer in the World, Harold and Maude, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Play Dirty, The Looking Glass War, Hello-Goodbye, Nicholas and Alexandra, O Lucky Man! and  Britannia Hospital.

This also marks the uncredited film debut of stuntman, stand-in, and actor Kiran Shah. His credits include Superman Superman II, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Dark Crystal, Return of the Jedi, Legend, Aliens, The Sign of Four, Bullseye!, Braveheart, Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Gothic, Doctor Who, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

My take: Jodie Foster was the rare child actor that never seemed like she was performing, she was just natural. David Niven is especially fun. The final fight between the thieves and the children is particularly fun, with Niven and McKern facing off.

Available on Disney +?: Yes

Next Week:  The Journey of Natty Gann