Saturday, April 30, 2022

Way Down Cellar ( 1968 )

Three boys discover a secret tunnel under the vacant lot where they practice football and find that it leads to the old Burden house, where a gang of crooks is printing counterfeit money. 

Butch Patrick stars in Way Down Cellar, a made-for-tv movie that first aired on Walt Disney's The Wonderful World of Color in 1968. Butch was an established star of The Munsters and, when the series ended in 1966, he continued to have guest star roles in television series like I Dream of Jeannie, Gunsmoke, and Family Affair. This was one of two television films that Butch made for Walt Disney Studios that year, the other being The Young Loner

In Way Down Cellar, Butch Patrick plays Frank Wilson, a new boy in town, who quickly finds two chums, Beans and Skeeter ( Sheldon Collins, Lindy Davis ), who share his passion for flag football. The boys like to practice on the vacant lot next to the Burden house even though they know that the new owner of the place, Ethan Markus ( Ben Wright ), is rather mean and takes their footballs. When one of the boys accidentally falls into a trap in the ground, they discover an old tunnel dating back to the Revolutionary War that leads right to the basement of the Burden house. There they hear strange noises and bravely decide to investigate one evening when their parents are away....unfortunately, their snooping leads to capture!

Many of the films that were made for The Wonderful World of Color were aimed at a juvenile audience but entertained adults as well. Way Down Cellar is rather short on adult entertainment but it includes all the elements that you would want to see in a children's mystery - a secret tunnel, an intelligent crook ( with a bumbling sidekick ), some engaging lead characters, and a simple plot. 

The film was based on a book by Philip Strong ( State Fair ) which Herman Groves adapted for the screen. He did a lot of work for Disney, including the more engaging juvenile classic - Alvin the Magnificent aka The Whiz Kid and the Mystery at Riverton ( 1973 )

Way Down Cellar was shot on the Walt Disney Studio backlot so Disney fans will recognize familiar houses that reappeared in other Disney films. Car enthusiasts would also enjoy seeing the 1966 Lincoln Continental that one of the counterfeiters drive. 

Ben Wright is great as Ethan Markus, the elegant crook, but the best performance is by Richard Bakalyan, a favorite Disney character actor. Also in the cast is Frank McHugh as the sheriff, Grace Lee Whitney ( Yeoman Rand on Star Trek ), and David McLean as Frank's dad, Professor Wilson. 

Way Down Cellar is yet another film that Disney has yet to release on DVD or via streaming, but you can catch it here, thanks to a generous fan. 


  1. I watched The Wonderful World of Color every week (and The Munsters, too), but I don't remember this episode. That made this review a very fun read. What kid doesn't want to discover a secret tunnel (providing it harbors no nasty secrets, mind you)?

    1. I'm still discovering "new" Wonderful World of Color movies....just when you think you've seen them all, another one shows up!