Showing posts with the label 40's

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

Alright, cards on the table. This is one of those movies where spoilers are going to matter. But before we can get to things that shouldn't be spoiled, we need to address a handful that should. And by that, of course, I'm talking about the elements of this 1942 comedy that don't play so well in 2018.

We've got a couple brief but not minor racist sequences, a touch of misogyny, and at least one moment where - despite the anachronistic impossibility - you almost expect a character to pull out a smartphone, open Twitter, and type #MeToo. The moments in this movie that aged poorly aged very poorly.

But if you can look past them, the rest of this is a hilarious, fascinating, and unique holiday film. I'll get to why in a moment, but first I have to deliver on my promise:

*Spoiler Warning*

If you like old movies - hell, if you like comedies in general - this is worth tracking down. The less you know going in, the more fun you'll have with each twist and turn. And if …

Neptune's Daughter (1949)

This is not, by any reasonable definition, a Christmas movie, but we're going to cover it anyway. Why? Because while Neptune's Daughter isn't a Christmas movie, it had a significant impact on Christmas tradition, namely by introducing the song, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" to the world.

Baby, It's Cold Outside has been debated heavily in recent years, and this year's no different. It's arguably become the single most controversial holiday song in existence. Rather than retread points others have made, I thought it would be interesting to go back and actually look at it in its original context.
Okay, this wasn't actually its original context. Before being sung by Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams on the big screen, it was sung privately by Frank Loesser and Lynn Garland at dinner parties. If anyone has a time machine I could borrow, I'd love to go back and hear it performed in that context, as well. I'll also need to borrow a tux. And…

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

The Shop Around the Corner is an extremely influential black and white romantic comedy. It's based on the same source material that was updated and adapted into "You've Got Mail," which I should probably watch one of these days.

Like most movies of its era (or at least the ones that have endured), The Shop Around the Corner is a bit complicated. It's well regarded - Rotten Tomatoes has it at 100% - but it's also dated. Do I even need to say that the gender politics in a movie made in 1940 are less than ideal? I suppose they could be a lot worse. The male lead manipulates and lies to the woman for half the movie, and in the end, she's just glad to end up with him. But aside from that, she's generally portrayed as intelligent and capable. The premise requires that the two fall in love with each other's minds, rather than their bodies, though there are definitely some awkward jokes around their concerns as to what their mysterious love interests loo…

The Rocking Horse Winner (1949)

Based on a short story by D.H. Lawrence, The Rocking Horse Winner is a black-and-white movie straddling the line between drama, horror, and fantasy. I found it on a few lists of Christmas movies, though I'm not 100% certain I agree with its inclusion.

The movie either qualifies or fails to qualify solely based on its first twenty minutes, in which one of the lead characters, Paul, receives a rocking horse for Christmas. Granted, that's not entirely dissimilar to our justification for including Sleepless in Seattle. And there's something to be said for a movie that revolves around a haunted Christmas toy.

The tag attributes the gift to Father Christmas, though the movie never directly addresses where it comes from. Presumably, it was purchased by one or both of his parents or his uncle, though it's not an entirely unreasonable interpretation to take the tag at face value. That said, the rocking horse seems to be evil, so that's not the most generous reading towards…

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)

First, let's get this out of the way: I'm not really convinced this qualifies as a Christmas movie. We have a fairly convoluted series of litmus tests we use to determine whether or not a movie is fair game, and the only one Curse of the Cat People doesn't fail is the most subjective of the bunch - Christmas arguably plays a pivotal role in the story.

If this were a less interesting movie, I'd probably set it aside, but - frankly - it's unique enough that I'm willing to give it the benefit of the yuletide doubt. Besides, while I can't claim more than half the movie was set at or around Christmas, a solid third absolutely was, so it's not that much of a stretch.

The movie itself is somewhat complicated. It's fundamentally a story about imaginary friends and the value they can have for children. But it's also the sequel to a 1942 movie about a were-panther fighting against her past and ultimately losing her life. Incidentally, the first film, Cat…

Book Review: A Christmas Party (originally published as Envious Casca)

A Christmas Party (originally published as Envious Casca)
Georgette Heyer, 1941

Premise: When the far-flung Herriard clan comes together for Christmas, sparks fly. It's a classic locked-room mystery with the death of a wealthy patriarch and a house full of suspects.

Even though this felt like deja vu, (how many times have I read/seen this plot?) I enjoyed it thoroughly, mostly because the characters were so interesting.

The characters are more colorful and complex than I've found in many mysteries of this style. Joseph the affable aging actor who's masterminding the party, his stolid wife Maud and her obsession with reading biographies, Paula and the aspiring playwright she drags to the party. We spend the most time shadowing cousin Mathilde who's stylish and practical, down-to-earth and gently sardonic in the face of ludicrous situations.

I spotted the murderer right away, (seriously, have I read this story before?) but there was enough fun in watching the characters p…

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

I think this movie was recommended on some list of little-known Christmas films, even though Christmas doesn’t fully show up until after the halfway point.

We open on a tour bus traveling down Fifth Avenue, with an announcer pointing out the houses of New York’s wealthiest families. A man in a shabby outfit with a dog and a cane is walking down the street. Once the bus passes, he sneaks through a loose board into a backyard and down through a manhole, coming up (somehow) inside the boarded-up mansion.

It turns out this is Aloysius McKeever, a homeless man with high class taste. He lives in this house secretly while the owner, real estate and business mogul Michael O’Connor, is in Virginia for the winter.

Meanwhile, the last tenant is being thrown out of a building scheduled to be torn down for one of O’Connor’s projects. This is Jim Bullock, a young unemployed veteran with nowhere to go. McKeever runs across him in the park and takes him back to his secret mansion. Jim thinks McKee…

Meet John Doe (1941)

Even going by our standards, Meet John Doe qualifies as a Christmas movie on something of a technicality. Only the last few minutes actually occur around the holidays, and even then they're almost incidental. However, the movie goes out of its way to tie the season into its premise in order to build something of a heavy-handed metaphor.

I'll cut to the chase: Meet John Doe is a Christmas movie because "John Doe" is Jesus.

Well, sort of. It's slightly more complicated than that, but not as much as I'd have liked. The movie has a relatively strong opening, centering on Barbara Stanwyck's character, Ann. She plays a newspaper columnist who's just been laid off. As her final act, she writes a fake editorial letter written by an average Joe, who's fed up with the way "the little guy" is treated in society. The letter concludes with "Joe" vowing to jump off of City Hall on Christmas Eve.

The letter gets a huge amount of publicity. I…

Christmas in July (1940)

Christmas in July is an extremely odd black & white comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges, who adapted it from a play he wrote in the 1930's, which wouldn't actually be produced on stage until 1988.

Astonishingly, all of that is less convoluted than the movie's plot. That isn't a criticism (though I will have a few later on) - the movie's refusal to follow convention makes it more interesting than most comedies I've seen from the period. Apparently, Sturges is remembered as something of experimental filmmaker, testing his boundaries and playing with structure in his comedies, at least if I'm understanding the Wikipedia article I just skimmed. That certainly seems fair: Christmas in July definitely played with expectation, tone, and theme.

The story centers on Jimmy, a young man interested in advertising who has entered a contest to create a slogan for a coffee company. The contest carries a twenty-five thousand dollar prize, but the movie esta…

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

I read and watch a lot of things. Most of us do, today. Which is why it's so special to find something I've never seen that is this magnificent.

I had a general awareness of Meet Me in St. Louis. I know the Trolley Song. I know the history of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (more on that later). But I'd never sat down and actually watched the movie.

Now I want a copy to put into permanent rotation. This isn't just me speaking as a lifelong fan of movie musicals; Erin loved this film as well.

For one thing, it's beautiful. The Technicolor is sumptuous, the use of light and shadow evocative and delicate. The sets and costumes are extremely detailed (it is a period piece, after all).

The writing and performance is wonderful. The script is clever and quick and the comedy hasn't diminished with time one smidgen.

The plot is simple and charming. It's based loosely on a series of short reminiscences about living in St. Louis in early 1900's, and follows o…

3 Godfathers (1948)

3 Godfathers is one of many adaptations of Three Godfathers, which seems to be the quintessential Christmas Western. The premise is relatively simple: three criminals adopt an orphaned child in the desert and attempt to get him to safety. If you're rolling your eyes at the obvious parallels to the wise men, rest assured the characters notice and address this in both this version and the 1913 story it's based on. It's worth noting that the fantastic Tokyo Godfathers was inspired by this, as well.

This version seems to be one of the most famous. It's actually the second time John Ford adapted the story for film. In 1919, he made a version named "Marked Men," and even that was a remake of a 1916 version made by Edward LeSaint. Bother the 1916 and 1919 versions starred Harry Carey, who died the year before 3 Godfathers was made. The movie's dedicated to him, and it features his son, Harry Carey, Jr. as the youngest of the godfathers.

But the star of the movi…

Bush Christmas (1947)

Bush Christmas is an 1947 kid's adventure set in Australia. The movie's filmed on location, which is the most positive thing I have to say about the production.

I understand where the movie's set, but I'm a little unclear on when. This opens with school wrapping for Christmas break, and the children immediately grab their horses for the ride home. I really can't say for certain that there weren't areas in rural Australia where kids used horses to commute to and from school in 1947, but it seems a little antiquated. My assumption is that this was supposed to be set in the past. Maybe early 1930's? The clothes look fairly modern, and there were a few cars, so it couldn't have been much earlier than that.

Instead of going directly home like good children, a few of them go for a ride. On the way, they run into a pair of horse thieves. The kids, mistaking them for something else, accidentally mention their father owns a valuable mare. The robbers send them o…

Beyond Tomorrow (1940)

I found Beyond Tomorrow listed on a list of theatrically released Christmas movies I found on Wikipedia that we're using as a checklist. I didn't remember ever hearing about it, so I added it to my Netflix queue. But before it came up, I found a copy in one of our bins of unwatched Christmas DVD's. Actually, I found two copies; one in a compilation, and another remastered version.

I'm starting to think we should invest the time to re-organize our collection.

I should probably mention that the remastered version was also re-branded as "Beyond Christmas." That was released in 2004 and included a color version along with the original. I'm not sure if their were legal reasons for the title change or if they just thought it would sell better with the word "Christmas" stamped across the top.

The movie has a lot in common with Bell, Book and Candle and The Bishop's Wife, though it seems to be even less well known. It's a shame, because - aside…

Book Review: Walt Disney's Christmas Classics

Walt Disney's Christmas Classics
Various, 2009 (comics mostly originally from 1940’s)

Well, nuts. I was looking forward to this one, because I’ve had good luck with classic Disney comics in the past. Unfortunately, this book is a real mixed lot.

This collection contains 9 stories, ranging from just 2 pages to 8-16 each. The best one by far is “Santa’s Stormy Visit”, a Donald Duck story by Carl Barks. This story from 1946 follows the misadventures of Donald as he tries to give his nephews a nice Christmas, although they’re living in a lighthouse and can’t get to shore in time to buy presents. It’s funny and sweet.

Also notable is “Christmas on Bear Mountain”, another Carl Barks story from 1947. This story is historically important as the first appearance of Scrooge McDuck. Scrooge decides to test Donald’s bravery by letting him use a cabin for Christmas that he claims is in bear country, while he plans to dress up as a bear to scare them. However, in the meantime, actual bears get…

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

There’s a lot to enjoy about this old-school romantic comedy, but enough dated bits that I can’t recommend it without reservation.

Discharged soldier (and ‘hero’ for some unspecified reason) Jefferson Jones is recovering in hospital and dreaming about solid food. He flirts with a nurse to get better treatment, but she takes him seriously and proposes they get married. He claims to not have any context for a real home, and she decides to call in a favor to send him to the cozy farm home of matronly author and famous cook, Elizabeth Lane, for Christmas.

Cue the twist that sets up the plot.

Elizabeth Lane is not a woman with a family on a Connecticut farm. She’s a single writer living in a tiny New York apartment. She gets her ‘brilliant’ recipes through an arrangement with a friend, the chef at the restaurant downstairs, because she can’t so much as boil water. She and her manager try to get her out of the host-a-soldier-for-Christmas deal, but her publisher doesn’t know that her artic…

The Bishop's Wife (1948)

Neither Erin nor I can recall which of us added this to the Netflix queue, so we were going in a bit blind, and were delightfully surprised.

The Bishop’s Wife opens by introducing Cary Grant, who proceeds to step in front of speeding cars while helping old men across the street and rescuing babies and more or less being possibly-magical. He takes a casual eavesdropper’s interest in the woes of a beautiful young woman, Julia, who happens to be the bishop’s wife.

Then we meet the bishop, Henry, at home. Henry is trying raise money to get a new cathedral built, and due to the process and stress of doing so, he’s screwing up his relationship with his family and his faith. He prays for guidance. He gets Cary Grant.

Grant says that his name is Dudley, and that he’s an angel sent to help the bishop. The bishop is naturally skeptical of this.

Dudley proceeds to act as the bishop’s ‘assistant’, even though mainly what he does is charm every woman on screen, including Julia. Once Henry realiz…

Christmas Music From Old Time Radio

I stumbled across this the other day, and it’s AMAZING.

It’s a compilation, in podcast form, of a bunch of classic radio recordings of Christmas songs which originally aired between 1944 and 1952. They aren’t all winners, but they’re really interesting recordings.

At least listen and marvel at the very beginning: Bing Crosby reciting the “GI Night Before Christmas.” Talk about your gallows humor... The “Jingle Jive” is a great version of Jingle Bells. Whenever the Sportsmen quartet comes on, you know they’re going to shill Lucky Strikes cigarettes. You get a bit of Bing Crosby and Jimmy Stewart singing Baby, It’s Cold Outside together.

The “Rudolph Jive” is amazing. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer would have just become popular in 1950, and Bing Crosby and Judy Garland see nothing odd about making adult jokes and adding a totally great ending to the song.

These are all live radio recordings, I think, so sometimes the sing…

Holiday Inn (1942)

You could make a case that Holiday Inn isn't actually a Christmas movie, since it actually takes place over an entire year and devotes a substantial amount of time to several different holidays. The movie does begin and end at Christmas (actually, it encompasses three Christmases, thanks to a sort of preface starting a year before the real action starts), but the film's real credentials are a tad more specific.

Holiday Inn's real claim to fame comes from one of its songs, a short piece called "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas." Maybe you've heard of it.

The movie's plot centers around a pair of entertainers competing for the affections of a woman. The movie's title (and gimmick) revolves around an inn opened by one of the two competitors which is only open during holidays.

The movie has some decent twists and turns, and some good song and dance numbers. It cleverly pushes against the boundary of the fourth wall when movie producers create a supp…

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1948)

Note the year of release - this isn't the famous Rankin/Bass stop-motion special, but rather a short directed by Max Fleischer. It's only about 8 minutes long, and it's an earlier adaptation of the song.

I've known for a while that there were multiple versions of Rudolph out there, but somehow I missed that this was directed by Fleischer. If you're not a big fan of animation, he's the guy responsible for the Popeye cartoons, as well as the extremely influential Superman animated shorts.

His take on Rudolph is, if nothing else, extremely bizarre. The story starts with Rudolph shunned for his nose by his peers, as you'd expect. What I didn't expect was the level of anthropomorphism used. These Reindeer walk upright, live in houses, and speak. The coach's whistle in the Rankin/Bass special seems realistic in comparison.

In fact, Santa's the only human in the short. He comes across Rudolph when he's dropping off gifts in his town then enlists h…

It's a Wonderful Life? Not for that guy.

I haven't been feeling too Grinchy yet this year, but bashing It's a Wonderful Life feels like a good place to start. I have such oddly mixed feelings about this movie.

I sympathize.

I appreciate the overt message: each of us touches others' lives in ways we can never imagine, and you don't have to have a perfect life for life to be worth living. I'm just not as fond of the packaging.

Spoilers follow.

First off, of course I find all the beginning narration with the talking nebulas completely idiotic. I actually considered for a while whether the movie might be better without the supernatural elements, which is an odd idea for me. But Erin gave me a horrified look when I floated the idea by him, so I guess I can't say that.

It's well done. Well filmed, mostly well acted, parts were funny, but I just didn't enjoy watching the film. I found the pace slow, and the characters felt always on the edge of slapstick, never like real people. Like the people in Roc…