Michael Innes, who is best known for his novels featuring detective Sir John Appleby, was a prolific author for over fifty years (1930s-1980s). In 1953, he penned a little book entitled Christmas at Candleshoe which Walt Disney Studios subsequently produced as a family motion picture in 1977. Like many book-to-film adaptations, the film barely resembles its source; but, judging from Goodreads reader’s comments about the original book, this is to its credit.
Candleshoe is the name of a beautiful Elizabethan estate in England. Its owner, Lady St. Edmund (Helen Hayes), has been searching for her long-lost granddaughter Margaret for many years and has had a number of imposters come forward claiming to be this girl, the heir to Candleshoe.
Con-artist Harry Bundage (Leo McKern) discovers Casey (Jodie Foster), a tough-talking wayward teenager in Los Angeles who has all of Margaret’s birthmarks in their proper places and sees in her his ticket to a fortune. Unlike other cons, his primary intention is not to collect any reward for “finding” Margaret, but rather to use Casey as an agent inside Candleshoe to hunt for the real treasure – Captain Joshua St. Edmund’s buried pirate treasure.
Candleshoe is a fun family film that combines a Disney-esque Jolly Ol’ England charm with Hollywood’s fascination for a good treasure yarn. Helen Hayes is delightful as the prim and proper Lady St. Edmund…one almost forgets that she is an American playing an Englishwoman. Yet, it is Sir David Niven who is given the juiciest role, that of Priory, the faithful butler. He has known for many years of Candleshoe’s thread-bare financial situation and, being the loyal sort that he is, decides to keep this information from Lady St. Edmund and takes over all of the duties of the house singlehandedly. Using multiple disguises, he becomes the chauffeur, cook, gardener, and Lady St. Edmund’s dear friend “the major” as well.
Director Norman Tokar (Leave it to Beaver) had thirteen other Disney feature films under his belt by the time he made Candleshoe. He was excellent working with children and brought out great performances from Jodie Foster and the other child actors (Veronica Quilligan, Ian Sharrock, Sarah Tamakuni,and David Samuels). Also in the cast is Vivian Pickles, John Alderson, Michael Balfour, and Sydney Bromley.
The character of Casey was tomboyish and thoroughly selfish, and yet Jodie Foster still managed to make her quite likable. Through her experience at Candleshoe, Casey learns that by being self-reliant and skeptical of others during her youth, she missed out on the nurturing environment of a stable home life. She sees in Lady St. Edmund a surrogate grandmother and, in a tear-inducing finale, confesses that having others to love and care for is indeed better than looking out solely for oneself.
Candleshoe was filmed on location in England in the beautiful town of Hambleden in Buckinghamshire where two personal favorites, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Murder Is Easy (1981) were also filmed. It is such a charming village and its proximity to Pinewood studios – where many Disney films were shot – made it ideal for location filming.
Constance Metzinger runs the website Silver Scenes, “a blog for classic film lovers.”