VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the February 21, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.
I have to tell you, the hunt for this movie felt like the old days of trying to find a movie and for the return of that feeling, something that’s hard to come by in the days of streaming and instant gratification.
Bridget (Kimberley Partridge) is all that’s left of the romance that her grandmother had between Nick (David Niven) or Charley (Art Carney). Yes, even all those years ago, people didn’t know who the father was. Her daughter died, she adopted Bridget but now that she’s gone, the executor of her estate finds both men and they lived much richer lives when she loved them.
Nick is struggling through the twilight of a never was entertainment career and Charley is a photographer who never had the success that he felt he was owed. Into these two flawed old men comes a young girl who must choose which one is her grandfather and which will get the fortune in her grandmother’s will.
Maggie Smith is quite good in this as the girl’s governess Miss Anderson and Catherine Hicks (Child’s Play) is also fun as Sable, a way too young for the older boys girl.
Directed by Bryan Forbes (he also directed The Naked Face for Cannon and, of course, The Stepford Wives), who co-wrote it with Pittsburgh native Gwen Davis, this movie paid off my weeks of looking for it with the kind of charm you expect from a Saturday late afternoon basic cable watch in the winter, the kind where you have the blankets just so and don’t feel like getting off the couch just yet. Credit for that goes to Niven and Carney, two masters of comedic timing who fit together perfectly.
What’s amazing is that this is a Golden Harvest production. Yes, the same people who made One Armed Boxer, Enter the Dragon, The Man from Hong Kong, Game of Death, Megaforce, Deadly Eyes, Mr. Vampire and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as hundreds of other great films.
This was made in Monte Carlo, not far from Niven’s house La Fleur du Cap Mansion. Due to his failing health — he had just started to show the first signs of Motor Neuron Disease — it was best they stayed near his home.
Better Late Than Never has always been hard to see. It had difficulty getting a theatrical release and never played theaters in Britain. It eventually aired on TV on Christmas Day 1983.
I actually saw this one in a theater back in St. Paul, Minnesota, in its brief, tiny U.S. release. I agree that it’s a pleasant enough time-killer with a likeable cast, though Niven doesn’t look well. It’s creaky and dated today because of a little something called DNA testing. It never had a DVD release in North America.