Star in the Night (1945)

Star in the Night is a 25-minute film that won an Academy Award for Short Subject. It's not hard to see why - despite a simple premise, it's sweet, clever, and surprisingly touching, even 75 years later.

That's not to say it doesn't contain a few aspects that aged poorly - they cast a white actor as a Mexican character, and an Italian character's accent is comically bad - but if you can overlook these issues, it's remarkably progressive in several respects.

The story is a modern (well, modern for 1945) retelling of the nativity in a motel in the middle of a desert in America on Christmas Eve. 

It starts with three cowboys riding across the desert at night. They're carrying a bunch of toys they just bought on a whim. Then, in the distance, they see a star.

Not a literal star, mind you: a gaudy, light-up display advertising a model. The main character is the owner, who's having trouble getting the star to work. He meets a hitchhiker, and the two argue about the holiday. The hitchhiker believes it makes people better, but the innkeeper disagrees. His customers are as belligerent, argumentative, and pushy over the holidays as ever. We see this as one by one the people staying there make unreasonable demands,

No surprise, but once the place is full, another car pulls up, this one carrying a young Mexican couple. And naturally, the woman is pregnant. The owners tell them they can stay in a shed in the back, but soon after this, the woman goes into labor.

One by one, the patrons step up, selflessly offering to help at personal cost. It works in part because the characters all start out as silly, one-dimensional jokes, only to develop depth as the film progresses. The same is true of the innkeeper, a mean, unyielding Italian immigrant who turns out to be more than he seems.

By the end, the cowboys show up and go to give their gifts to the newborn kid, while the innkeeper gives his coat to the hitchhiker he initially wanted nothing to do with.

Then he sees a calendar illustrating the birth of Christ and realizes... you get the idea. Frankly, it would have been better without highlighting that, but it's still damn good regardless.

There's not much to say about this. Aside from the ending and a few borderline racist casting choices, this is great. It would have been better if the Mexican couple was played by Mexican actors, but I appreciate that the characters were immigrants. 

More than that, I appreciate that this was using the nativity as a springboard for a moral about treating others better, particularly those who are different, as opposed to trying to force a religious message. This reads to me more as a story about shared humanity than Christ.

On top of that, this really is funny. The humor works throughout. Just all in all a great short. Fortunately, this seems easy to track down online, so if you've got a half-hour to kill, by all means consider this highly recommended.