“I ain’t depressed,” tough street kid Casey explains. “I’m delinquent. There’s a difference, you know?” Had all of Candleshoe, the live-action Disney flick that tells Casey’s story, risen to the droll level of this dialogue, the movie would have been much more entertaining. Alas, the passable film coasts on the strength of glossy production values and skillful performances as the filmmakers substitute unnecessarily intricate plotting for actual storytelling. Based on a novel by Michael Innes, Candleshoe is one of those Disney pictures that twists itself into narrative knots while trying to generate an offbeat spin on a familiar formula. At its core, the movie presents the standard Disney gimmick of a wild kid becoming tame thanks to the acceptance of a loving family. Yet Candleshoe also includes con-artist schemes, an elaborate heist, a kidnapping angle, sweet kids attending to a dotty aunt, transatlantic travel, and a vivacious butler who masqueredes as different people in order to convince his employer that her estate is still solvent. Candleshoe only rarely breaks from the exhausting work of providing exposition long enough to offer such simple pleasures as slapstick and verbal comedy. So, while the movie isn’t bad—since it’s harmless and moderately intelligent—it’s leaden and slow when it should be light and speedy.
Anyway, Jodie Foster, at her precocious best, plays Casey, an American street kid living in a dingy foster home. One evening, she’s “purchased” by English crook Bundage (Leo McKern). Turns out Casey vaguely resembles the long-lost niece of a wealthy Brit, Lady St. Edmund (Helen Hayes). Bundage hopes to insert Casey into Lady St. Edmund’s estate, Candleshoe, so Casey can find a buried treasure. Casey agrees to pretend she’s the long-lost niece in exchange for a cut of the take. Yet once Casey arrives at Candleshoe, she falls in love with the family—Lady St. Edmund; her resourceful butler, Priory (David Niven); and several children. Meanwhile, Casey discovers that Candleshoe is bankrupt, so she joins in with family schemes to keep the place afloat without revealing the financial trouble to Lady St. Edmund. Inevitably, some moments in Candleshoe are charming,simply because the actors are so good. Hayes provides warmth, Foster provides spunk,McKern provides menace, and Niven provides wit. Yet Candleshoe trudges when it should soar, never taking flight until the moderately entertaining slapstick-fight finale.