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Film / Candleshoe

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Candleshoe is a Disney live action comedy film from 1977, directed by Norman Tokar and adapted from the novel Christmas at Candleshoe by Michael Innes, aka J. I. M. Stewart.

Jodie Foster – who at fourteen years old already had "Oscar-nominated" attached to her name, thanks to Taxi Driver – stars as Casey Brown, a street-smart and cynical foster kid living in Los Angeles. One day, Casey is discovered by con man Harry Bundage (Leo McKern), who realizes that she is the perfect double for Margaret, the long-lost granddaughter of Lady Gwendolyn St. Edmund (Helen Hayes), whose stately English manor, Candleshoe, is alleged to contain a hidden treasure in pirate gold. Bundage, who along with his partner-in-crime Clara Grimsworthy (Vivian Pickles) needs someone on the inside to go through the necessary Linked List Clue Methodology, sees Casey as just the juvenile delinquent for the job. In exchange for a cut of the loot and a red Ferrari, she agrees to travel to England, where Lady St. Edmund welcomes "Margaret" back home.

But after joining the household, Casey discovers a terrible truth: Lady St. Edmund is penniless, and Candleshoe is on the verge of foreclosure. The only servant left is the butler, Priory (David Niven), who tries to hide the truth from Lady St. Edmund by pretending to be all the rest of the household staff. A group of local orphans taken in by the Lady (Veronica Quilligan, Ian Sharrock, Sarah Tamakuni, David Samuels) do most of the upkeep on the house and keep Candleshoe in the black by selling food grown on the estate at the local market, knowing that if Candleshoe is lost, Lady St. Edmund will be sent to a retirement home and they'll be returned to the orphanage.

Of course, Casey couldn't care less about any of this. She's in it for the money. At least that's what she keeps telling herself. But as Casey becomes a part of the first real home she's ever known, she decides to find the treasure in order to save Candleshoe—even if it means admitting she's nothing but a fraud.

Tropes associated with this film include:

  • Absurdly Ineffective Barricade: The group does the usual "toss the villains out and move the furniture to block the door" stunt, only to have the baddies reappear through the open door at the opposite end of the room.
    • To be fair, the group knew the barricade wouldn't last long; they were hoping to buy time until the police arrived. They just forgot about the other door.
  • Actor Allusion: Helen Hayes as Lady Gwendolyn entertaining a girl that fraudulently claims to be her long-lost relative, then choosing to take her in anyway after the matter is left ambiguous, is a Whole-Plot Reference to her previous role as the Dowager Empress in Anastasia.
  • All Asians Know Martial Arts: Anna, as signaled by stereotypical "Oriental riff". Casey even says "You gotta be kidding" just before Anna takes her out with a kung-fu chop. It's then subverted in that Anna more uses Confusion Fu via the "You gotta be kidding" to give her an opening to perform a version of a chop that most kids at the time could've picked up from cartoons and then shove Casey down the hill.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: At the very end, Lady St. Edmund says to Casey, "I don't mind in the least that you lied to me when you first came to Candleshoe... but I would be very hurt if you lied to me now. Do you really want to go back to Los Angeles?" Casey breaks down crying.
  • Ashface: What happens to Grimesworthy when Casey shoves her into the fireplace. In fact, it might not have been so bad, except that what looks like a whole bucket's worth of ash tumbles down on her for no reason.
  • Becoming the Mask: Done subtly with Casey, who begins to embrace her role when the people of Candleshoe treat her with genuine kindness.
  • Brick Joke: Casey originally agrees to help Bundage in exchange for ten percent of the treasure and a red Ferrari. Later, while she's recovering in the hospital, Casey is looking at a car catalog with a red Ferrari on the cover.
  • Broken Bird: At fourteen, Casey has already undergone enough emotional trauma from her multiple failed foster assignments to turn her jaded and cynical. It takes a great deal of positive reinforcement from the adults at Candleshoe (and some tough love from the other children) to convince her to reveal her softer side.
  • Cat Fight: Casey has one with the other girls at the manor, complete with the Rule of Pool (it's actually a lake in this case).
  • Chekhov's Gag:
    • Near the beginning of the film, there's a brief joke about the Great Hall floor being slippery. At the end of the climax, Casey uses this to defeat the villains.
    • During the opening credits, Casey uses a similar trick to trip up a rival gang of kids in L.A.
  • Comedic Underwear Exposure: Grimesworthy is shoved into the fireplace, revealing her enormous white knickers.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: With no parents and only a string of rotten foster homes to look forward to, Casey is more than willing to go along with Harry's scheme. Her inability to remember her birth parents also makes it more ambiguous whether or not she is the real Margaret.
  • Destination Defenestration: Lady St. Edmund gives the thieves a stern telling-off after chucking them out the window.
  • The Determinator: Forced to dismiss the rest of the staff due to financial constraints, Priory becomes versatile nearly to the point of absurdity. On any given day, his duties range from housekeeping, chauffeuring, cooking, gardening, mechanical and electrical maintenance, plumbing, fund-raising, entertaining (and sometimes masquerading as) guests, as well as being omnipresent enough to be effective in his original role as butler. The brutal workload doesn’t appear to faze him, his only complaint on the subject having to do with not being able to do more.
    Casey: The gardener's not good at plumbing?
    Priory: The gardener's not much good at gardening.
  • Driving a Desk:
    • Used when Bundage is driving Casey to Candleshoe for the first time. When they get onto the actual property of the manor, the interior shots of the car change to being real, making the fakeness of the earlier shots all the more obvious.
    • A single shot near the climax of the film, where Priory stands in the path of an oncoming locomotive, is pretty obviously this.
  • The Family for the Whole Family: Bundage's gang of crooks at the end of the film are exactly as competent as you'd expect a gang of crooks to be in a Disney film.
  • Fighting Irish: Cluny finally has enough of Casey blowing off chores and throws down on her. It doesn't go so well for her.
  • Grande Dame: The elderly Lady St. Edmund is the last remaining heir of Candleshoe (with the exception of the long-lost Margaret).
  • Hates Wearing Dresses: Casey is disgusted when Bundage hands her a dress and she looks decidedly awkward when she's forced to wear one to Candleshoe. While Cluny and Anna always dress in pinafores, Casey sticks to her blue jeans.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "Listen, Miss Clever Dick!" "Clever dick" is a British expression meaning roughly the same thing as "smart aleck".
  • Hidden Badass: Priory’s spontaneous hand-to-hand combat with Bundage pales in comparison to his willingness to park Lady St. Edmund’s car on the train tracks to stop a speeding train from taking off with the last clue of Captain Joshua’s treasure hunt. When Lady St. Edmund refuses to get out of the car, Priory’s only recourse is to tip his hat to her, signal the oncoming train with a polite finger, then bodily place himself between the train and the car. Save for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sigh of relief, his only response to the train grinding to a halt literally a handsbreadth away from the vehicle is to politely ask the conductor if they could trouble him for a look in his baggage van.
    Lady. St. Edmund: Thank you, Priory.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The final clue leads to the statue of Captain St. Edmund in the great hall—the first thing Casey sees at Candleshoe
  • Hollywood Darkness: Some day-for-night filming is used in the scene when Bundage steals the tax money.
  • I Choose to Stay: Casey, after some coaxing. Also could apply to Priory, who remains with Candleshoe after all the other servants must be dismissed, even though he has to do all the work on a butler's wages.
  • Identical Stranger/Prince and Pauper: Casey is not only the correct age to play Margaret, but has several critical identifying scars.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Lady St. Edmund, an elderly gentlewoman with nothing left except her ancestral estate.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Casey goes in prepared to rob Candleshoe blind, but softens quickly once she sees how much Lady St. Edmund cares for the place and how hard everyone works to retain it.
  • Land Poor: Lady St. Edmund has nothing left of value except for her estate.
  • Linked List Clue Methodology: The four clues that lead to the treasure.
  • Moody Mount: Priory rides a horse that is rather difficult to control, although it's unclear as to whether it really is moody or if Priory is just that bad at horsemanship.
  • Mood Whiplash: Bundage is presented as a pompous buffoon whom the streetwise Casey easily walks all over. Then about halfway through our jolly treasure hunt, he cracks Casey's skull and tries to run her over with his car, leaving her hospitalized. While not graphic, it's a surprisingly dark moment in such a lighthearted romp of a film.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: The audience is led to believe that Lady St. Edmund is so utterly oblivious, she’s unable to notice that not only are there no visible staff other than Priory in the manor, Priory is filling each of the vacated positions with little more than fake mustaches and a handful of accents. Turns out that she was aware of the kindly deception the entire time, and was only playing along out of gratitude for Priory’s hard work and compassion.
  • Old Retainer: Priory is the only servant loyal enough to remain after all the others must be let go. Not only is he doing his own job for practically no wages, he's doing everyone else's job for actually no wages.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The ending leaves one wondering, is Casey actually the girl she pretended to be? There's both evidence for and against Casey being Margaret.
    • Given that Margaret was allergic to strawberries and Casey clearly isn't, this would suggest she isn't Margaret. On the other hand, it wouldn't be the first time someone outgrew childhood allergies. Casey also hates rice pudding while Margaret loved it, although her tastes could've changed over time.
    • Casey remembers nothing about her early childhood, which could possibly be explained by her young age at the time and her potentially blocking out memories due to physical and emotional trauma from the accident.
    • It's never explained where she got her scars from; they could've been caused by falling off a horse and catching her shoulder on barbed wire, which is what happened to Margaret, but given she grew up in some rough and unloving foster homes, she could've gotten the scars a different way.
  • Separated by a Common Language: Casey has no clue what Peter means when he tells her the phone is "engaged".
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Casey's foster parents are not only negligent alcoholics, but expect Casey to earn her keep by handing over the fruits of her shoplifting, while saying nothing about her skipping school to do so. They also don't seem averse to hitting her when she mouths off, and their apartment is filthy and seems too small for three people. When we first see Casey, she's wearing oversize, castoff clothing, her hair is unwashed and oily, and she's covered with dirt and bruises. Any social worker who looked into this situation would intervene.
  • Superdickery: The original advertising seemed intent on portraying Casey in the worst possible light. Consider the Tagline, "For 10% of the action and a red Ferrari, she'd con her own grandmother." Apart from the curiosity factor, this is probably an attempt by Disney to seem "cool" in the midst of the 1970s Anti-Hero trend. To be fair, this approach avoids giving away the ending, not that it'll be a huge surprise to anyone who's seen a Disney movie before.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Casey goes from being in on the con to genuinely caring about the future of Candleshoe and its occupants.
  • Trash the Set: In the climax, Harry's goons are taking the place apart with sledgehammers and pickaxes.
  • Wig, Dress, Accent: How Priory fakes the rest of Candleshoe's staff. At one point when Lady St. Edmund fires one of his alter egos, Priory (as himself) begs her not to, on the grounds that he would "be very hard to replace."
  • Would Hurt a Child: Bundage at first comes off as a flustered, barely-competent hustler who needs a street urchin to run his cons for him. His willingness to resort to violence is foreshadowed when he slaps Casey for her smart mouth at the beginning of their acquaintance. Once his desperation to pay off his loans reaches critical mass, he demonstrates that he is willing to do anything to get his hands on the money even stealing bake sale money from orphans and running Casey off the road with his car when she tries to take it back, leaving her unconscious in a ditch.