The average filmgoer connects the Disney name primarily with the Mouse House's animated features. Indeed, Disney itself doesn't do much to dispel that association, especially when its live-action family fare consists of remakes of animated films or forgettable projects such as "Disney's The Kid." Alas, 'tis a pity, for Disney once turned out quality, non-animated films.

The money-grubbing execs at Buena Vista don't give their own library of titles any respect. For example, rather than releasing the Hayley Mills version of "The Parent Trap," they flood the market with the uninspired 1998 retread. However, Disney's loss is Anchor Bay's gain, for the independent licensor has picked up a wonderful little film called "Candleshoe" for distribution on home video. It's a treat to have this 1977 gem on DVD as the quality on the previous VHS tape was atrocious.

"Candleshoe" stars a very young Jodie Foster as a tomboy orphan. We first see Casey Brown carousing with a bunch of boys and making trouble in the streets of Los Angeles. Later, one of those "tough guy enforcer" types picks her up at her foster home and takes her to Harry Bundage (Leo McKern).

Harry is a con man, and he has evidence that Casey may be Lady Margaret Courtney, the fourth marchioness of the English estate Candleshoe. Margaret's father brought her to America when she was an infant, and she disappeared after her father died in a car crash. Casey happens to fit Margaret's description (certain body marks, old photos), so Harry wants to shoehorn her into life at Candleshoe.

Casey goes along with Harry's plan. Apparently, there is gold hidden on the estate grounds, and Harry makes a deal with Casey (in addition to a cut of the treasure, she wants a Ferrari!). So, off they go to England, where Harry teaches Casey everything there is to know about being Margaret.

Candleshoe belongs to Lady Gwendolyn St. Edmund (the late, great Helen Hayes), and she lives in the house with her butler Priory (the late, great David Niven) and a gaggle of children from the local orphanage. Slowly, Casey is charmed by their world, and she begins to act just like one of the family... however, does she genuinely care for the people at Candleshoe, or she out for the hustle?

The movie is a charming creation adapted from the book "Christmas at Candleshoe." While you probably won't recognize any of the people listed in the credits (except for the actors), the film shines as an example of solid craftsmanship. Back in the good old days, despite the breakdown of the studio system, technical crew members worked their way up from assistant positions to become principal directors and producers. The solid work on display puts contemporary junk like "Highlander: Endgame" to shame.

An early 1999 release, "Candleshoe" was mastered for video prior to Anchor Bay's commitment to anamorphic encoding. Framed at 1.66:1, this isn't meant to be a widescreen extravaganza, so it's just as well that we don't have an anamorphic transfer. However, the two-decade old print shows signs of fading, and dust is readily apparently. Film grain is kept low, but digital edge enhancement is noticeable enough to emphasize object contrast a bit unnaturally. There is a full-frame transfer included on the reverse side of the disc.

The audio comes in Dolby mono, so there's little to say. Dialogue is clear, and hiss is kept to a minimum. Sure, the disc won't be used as demo material, but for what it is, it's a serviceable track.

There are no extras whatsoever. Oh, sure, there are 19 chapter stops, and you can choose between the widescreen and the full-frame versions, but aren't these pedestrian standards for the DVD format? A two-page insert provides some background information about the cast and crew; I think the text is culled from the film's original press release.

Entertainment Value:
Admittedly, no one will be impressed by the DVD of "Candleshoe." Still, one has to thank Anchor Bay for going around picking up film treasures forgotten by others and putting them out for fans to treasure and for new-timers to discover. As this is a low-profile film, I'm not going to quibble. Thank the stars that Anchor Bay didn't forget "Candleshoe."

Here is your chance to see Jodie Foster in an unheralded film. Miss Foster won two Academy Awards for acting, and one can see from "Candleshoe" that her talent has been with her all along. Unlike some actors who have to build up their knowledge of the craft, Foster's intuition allows her inhabit any role with conviction and believability. Some have called her an "acting machine," but if I were Jodie, I would take that as a compliment.


Film Value