This typically bland/technically shoddy bit of family-fare from the post-Walt doldrums @ Disney Studios should (at least) work. An updated variation on LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY, it puts a teenage Jody Foster in as the streetwise kid & unlikely heir, and adds a couple of okay twists. #1: Foster’s working a con game & really on the hunt for buried treasure inside the old mansion; and #2: it turns out that her new ‘grandparent’ is flat broke. It sounds hopelessly old-fashioned, yet a straight 1980 tv adaptation of FAUNTLEROY, with Ricky Schroder & Alec Guinness, was hugely successful.* Like so much Disney product under the reign of Walt’s son-in-law, Ron Miller (and regular megger Norman Tokar), this feels both unnecessary & retrograde. You know something’s seriously off right from the prologue when Foster refers to Rudolph Valentino in a wisecrack. Valentino? As lady of the manor & her butler, Helen Hayes & David Niven twinkle alarmingly once we hit the old sod, while Foster gets to tangle with a quartet of foster kids who happily do all the upkeep on the mansion. (Like those mice in CINDERELLA/’50, but with lower voices.) To his credit, Niven manages to keep his dignity even when the script has him masquerading as the rest of the household staff. Foster, on the other hand, makes (and even looks) like Mickey Rooney in some dim ‘30s vehicle with completely mechanical sit-com reactions for every occasion. To her credit, she stayed off the screen for four years after this, returning all grown up.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *While the Schroder/Guinness FAUNTLEROY hasn’t shown up on DVD, the old Selznick production from 1936, with Freddie Bartholomew & Mickey Rooney, is more than okay. And Mary Pickford’s 1921 silent version is even better.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Of all the towering theater actresses from her generation, Helen Hayes, the ‘Queen of the American Stage,’ left by far the largest sampling of her work on screen. Yet nothing helps us see what all the fuss was about.