Showing posts with the label 50's

The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

The Holly and the Ivy is a black and white British movie about a dysfunctional family coming together at Christmas to work out their differences. It's adapted from a stage play, which is fairly obvious watching the film: it's almost entirely set in a single building, and the dialogue is, well, actually good.

Like many plays, this is less driven by plot than by character interaction. Almost everyone's got a secret, and it all comes out as they talk to each other. Fortunately, the script has some solid characters, and the cast does good work.

The closest the movie comes to a main character is Jenny, a woman looking after her father, a parson with an academic mind. Unbeknownst to her father, Jenny wants to marry her boyfriend, but he's about to move to South America for work. She's unwilling to abandon her father, since he's got no one else to look after him.

Also in the mix is her younger sister, Margaret, who's harboring quite the secret backstory. Five yea…

The Christmas Visit / The New Year Voyage (1959)

I'm not entirely sure how to label this short animated Russian holiday special from 1959. The New Year Voyage is a more accurate translation of the Russian title, but it was released in the US under the names "The Christmas Visit" and "A Christmas Tree." The version we saw was dubbed into English and explicitly set at Christmas, though the original took place on New Year's. This isn't at all surprising - it was illegal to celebrate Christmas in the Soviet Union when this was produced. Despite that, the special is filled with trappings and elements that would feel at home in American Christmas specials from the same period.

The story follows a Russian boy whose father is stationed in Antarctica. It's Christmas Eve (New Year's Eve), and the child is distraught his father is going to wake to Christmas morning (New Year's Day) without a Christmas Tree (New Year's Tree).

The kid grabs his decorated tree and heads outside in the hopes of find…

Susan Slept Here (1954)

Susan Slept Here is a lighthearted romantic comedy from the classic age of cinema about statutory rape. And here I thought romantic comedies from the nineties were problematic.

The movie's two leads are Mark, played by Dick Powell, and the titular Susan, played by Debbie Reynolds. Mark is a Hollywood screenwriter with an Oscar to his name. Said statuette narrates the movie via voice-over. Think of it as a running gag devoid of humor or point.

Despite some success in his past, Mark's in a rut. He's not satisfied with the work he's doing, and he's not satisfied with his beautiful, rich girlfriend. On Christmas Eve, a police officer shows up with a seventeen-year-old delinquent, explaining that Mark had expressed interest a few years earlier in making a movie with a character like this. The cop caught the girl (Susan, obviously) after she attacked a sailor with a bottle, but he doesn't want her to spend the holidays in jail. Instead, he has the idea of relinquish…

The Great Rupert (1950)

Watching Christmas movies that you've never heard of is always an adventure. Sometimes you find something awful. Sometimes you find something astounding. Something wonderful.

The Great Rupert (later repackaged as A Christmas Wish) is a family film starring the inimitable Jimmy Durante, a ton of other talented comedic actors, and several living and deceased squirrels. Don't worry, it's not macabre. The plot hinges on the actions of a trained squirrel named Rupert, who is variously represented by live animals and extremely skillful stop-motion animation.

It's a hilarious movie, with a really sincere, charming quality to the humor. Erin even found the musical numbers compelling. There is very little wasted time - it's tightly plotted and beautifully made.

We have no idea why this movie has been mostly forgotten. It's easily as good or better than many "classic" Christmas films. As a bonus, the plot concerns an apparent miracle with a very prosaic, if si…

Dennis the Menace Christmas Episodes (1959 - 1961)

I know I saw a few episodes of this as a child, but I really can't remember any specifics. My assumption when we turned this on was that it was going to be painful - things from this era usually are, and I've burned by quite a few family-friendly comedies in the past.

However, this one left me pleasantly surprised for the most part: two of the three episodes were pretty good.

The Christmas Story (1959)

This episode from the series' first season revolves around Dennis's attempts to see his Christmas gifts early. Almost immediately, we're told that Dennis manages to find and examine his gifts early every year, which removes any sense of mystery. This year, his father's decided things will be different: rather than hiding Dennis's presents in their house, he brings them next door to Mr. Wilson's, who's more than happy to help thwart Dennis.

But all this backfires when Dennis concocts a plan to locate his presents. Since his parents won't give him a…

We're No Angels (1955)

We're No Angels opens on Christmas Eve, 1895. in a small coastal town where three fugitives are hiding out, having just escaped from Devil's Island prison. As a brief aside, I kind of love that this movie was set exactly 60 years before it was made, and we're watching it exactly 60 years later.

The fugitives find their way to a shop with a leaking roof, which they offer to fix as a ruse to rob the place. From the roof, they hear the shopkeeper talking with his wife and daughter, and piece together that the family is trouble. The store isn't doing well, and the owner, who is the shopkeeper's cousin, is coming to inspect the books. The criminals gradually change their plans, using their talents to help out the family instead of themselves.

From the premise, it shouldn't be surprising to hear this was based on a play. Aside from a brief intro and epilogue, the entire movie took place in the shop and attached home, and the cast list is a short one. Pull out a coup…

Book Review: A Child's Christmas in Wales

A Child's Christmas in Wales
Dylan Thomas, 1950-1955 (depending on how you count)

I have seen this book on lists of classic Christmas stories for years now, but it just kept falling to the bottom of the to-read list.

It probably could have stayed there.

There's nothing wrong with it. It's a short story's worth of words poetically describing the activities and feelings of the holiday at a very particular place and time. It's pretty, especially the version I had with big color illustrations. But there's just not much to it other than nostalgia and pretty phrases. There are some very pretty phrases, admittedly.

There's food, and weather, and an amusing story about a fire scare fought with snowballs, and a brief interlude where young boys sing carols outside a creepy house. Whether the narrator is speaking to a general audience or one person was unclear; it seemed to shift without clear demarcation of any sort.

It comes from a piece originally written for radi…

Peace on Earth (1939) and Goodwill to Men (1955)

"Peace on Earth" is an animated short from 1939. It was made by Hugh Harman, one of the founders of the Warner Bros. animation studios. "Goodwill to Men" is a remake made by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera fourteen years later. The two pieces are extremely similar, so I'll talk about them together.

As works of animation, these are beyond topnotch. "Peace on Earth," in particular, is absolutely breathtaking. If this had been made a half-century later, it would still have been cutting edge. The remake is also great. You can drop every association you have with Hanna-Barbera: this is beautiful work. Both versions were clearly labors of love, stories the animators and directors clearly believed needed to be told.

If you've never seen these, the fact they exist is utterly shocking. In fact, if you've never seen either of these - and especially if you've never heard of them - you owe it to yourself to stop reading and watch the original. It…

The Liberace Show: The Christmas Show (1954)

Background information on this episode is hard to come by. Wikipedia has some notes on the series on the article about Liberace, but the show doesn't even have its own page. IMDB fares a little better, though not much. We're not actually sure if the year for this is correct - IMDB has it for 1953, but the stamp at the end of the version we saw said '54.

It's not difficult to understand why: very little of what we saw qualifies as memorable. Mostly, it was just Liberace playing the piano. Sometimes he was joined by other musicians. He didn't choose particularly interesting pieces, either, though some of the medleys were fun. But I definitely could have lived without listening to his generic rendition of "White Christmas." Come on - that was already cliche in 1954.

The episode played like a stage show, interspersed with the occasional camera trick. But most of the "effects" were theatrical in nature. The background would light up to display a fak…

Stalag 17 (1953)

Stalag 17 is considered a classic. Along with It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, it's on the IMDB's top 250 movies of all time (as a society, we really need to get A Christmas Story off that list). Between the IMDB and its 97% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it was pretty much a given this was going to be good. Well, this late in the season, we're ready for some good movies.

This is, indeed, worth seeing, providing you're a fan of the era. The movie is well written and directed with a genuine sense of mystery and suspense broken up by occasional comic relief. The entire movie takes place inside a German POW camp during World War II. It's a few weeks before Christmas, and the Americans held there are continuously undermined in their attempts to escape or conceal information from their captors. The consequences aren't sugar coated, either: the movie opens with two of their number being gunned down in an escape attempt.

It becomes apparent they'…

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Earlier this season I stumbled upon a list of ‘alternative christmas movies’. As I expected, some of them we’d seen, and a few others were already on our list, but there were a couple films that had flown under our radar so far, either because we didn’t realize they were set at Christmas, or didn’t think that would be enough to qualify them as fodder for this project.

This is one we’d never even heard of.

Bell, Book and Candle is set at Christmas, all right, and Christmas and snow, decorations and music are enough of the setting to merit it a place here, but it’s so much more. This movie is about witches in New York. Kim Novak plays a witch who decides to seduce the guy upstairs (Jimmy Stewart) away from another woman with the help of a little magic and the assistance of her cat. Her friends in the magic community both help and hinder her as the relationship goes on.

The movie has ups and downs: a few comedy bits with odd sound effect choices, a sequence or two that’s poorly paced, a…

The Colgate Comedy Hour: The Abbott and Costello Christmas Show (1952)

Depending on whether you believe the DVD cover or the episode, this is either called "The Abbott and Costello Christmas Special" or "The Colgate Comedy Hour." Personally, I think Colgate should have ponied up the cash to endorse the DVD release, so the titles matched.

In fact, while we're on the subject, I think it's time we brought back giving TV shows directly over to corporate sponsors and letting them fill an hour every week with whatever they think will get the most viewers. Think about it: Google could dump some serious cash into an hour long drama.

Regardless of what you call this, it was an hour-long comedy variety show. There were dancers, acrobats, and comedy. The dancing and acrobatics aged a bit better than the comedy, though that's almost a compliment. Time turns good routines into old ones, after all.

Abbott and Costello were clearly talented, and they did an impressive job selling some bizarre holiday-inspired scenarios. They played heav…

The Frank Sinatra Show: Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank (1957)

This episode of "The Frank Sinatra Show" was included as an extra on a DVD set of Bing Crosby Christmas specials. I went to Wikipedia to determine what "The Frank Sinatra Show" was, and learned there's no clear answer to that question. It sounds like it was basically a thirty minute segment where ABC gave Sinatra free reign to do whatever the hell he wanted to. Apparently, what he wanted to do this week was hang out with Bing Crosby and sing Christmas songs.

There's some quipping between songs, but no real story. They exchange gifts - each gives the other a Christmas album they recorded - and then go caroling in a grey sound stage that's supposed to be an English street... I think. That section was pretty odd.
The outside set was blatantly fake: elements were less developed than you'd want to put in a live stage performance. I suspect it would have been less conspicuous in black and white - this episode was filmed in color, though I can't imagi…

White Christmas (1954)

As White Christmas opens, the film proudly announces that it was produced in VistaVision, which research tells me means that it was filmed in a special widescreen process that gave exceptionally high resolution for its time. While the Netflix version that we watched occasionally lost some of that gorgeous resolution, the care and artistry that went into this picture was still very apparent.

The plot is simple on the surface: Burl Ives and Danny Kaye play a pair of friends and showbiz business partners who fall for a pair of sisters who are a singing duo. On that level, it seems similar to Holiday Inn, the classic holiday musical which White Christmas (the song) originated in. But the experience here is miles above the earlier film.

For starters, all the characters are actually characters. The pair of guys are army buddies as well as business partners and that affects the plot throughout. The secondary romantic pair make it their business to get the primary pair together, and it was a…

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…

Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion: The Boy Who Found Christmas (1955)

What. The. Hell. Is. This. Shit.

I mean, besides awful. It’s clearly awful. This show stars Buster Crabbe, a guy who would definitely take a different name if he were working in Hollywood today. And his son. And a comic character actor playing himself, sort of, which makes no sense, but nothing here makes sense. But let’s get back to the fact that there is no excuse for how terrible the kid is.

The kid is truly terrible; both at acting and in the story. The 3 minutes of plot in this 30 minute slog tell the story of how this brat, disappointed that the train with his christmas presents is stuck in a sandstorm, runs off to try to bring the packages himself. Alone. Through the desert.

The whole base turns out to look for the kid, and we get some really boring footage of the kid, I guess scared by being alone? I don’t know. I didn’t feel bad for him and I’m sorry he didn’t die alone in the desert for being a thoughtless moron. But instead, the adults catch up with him and forgive him …

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show: Gracie's Relatives (1951)

The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show was a 1950's sitcom. It seams to fall within fairly common parameters for the time: the comedy is primarily built around one character being shockingly oblivious to their surroundings and misinterpreting even the most common of phrases. Grace Allen is the proverbial screwball here, while her husband, George Burns, plays the straight man.

Despite being an old joke, the writing was surprisingly clever. On top of that, Burns and Allen were great on screen. In particular, George Burns had an astonishing amount of presence. He served as narrator in addition to star, and he commanded attention.
The plot of this episode was pretty straightforward: it revolved around Gracie's sister and her three children coming to visit for Christmas. Needless to say, hijinks ensue. 
One of the more bizarre artifacts was product placement for Carnation Evaporated Milk. I say "product placement," but that's a misnomer: it was really a full commerci…

Dragnet Holiday Episodes (1952, 1953, 1954)

Oh man, I like this show. I haven’t actually seen too many of these original black-and-white episodes, but I really enjoyed these. I like the writing, the little flashes of wit, and the straightforward style with a minimum of fuss or drama. Once you are used to the deadpan style, I think it makes the subtle moments of action or drama really resonate. Dragnet’s not to everyone’s taste, but they’re solid, well-produced, cleverly scripted stories.

Dragnet: The Big Little Jesus (1953)
The first one we watched was also the most religious. And yet, except for maybe a split second here or there, it didn’t bother me. Sergeant Friday and his partner Smith investigate the theft of a Baby Jesus statue from a church. This is a sweet episode, clearly playing on the holiday themes. Everything turns out fine in the end, while it has enough of Friday’s dry-as-can-be wit to keep me interested and amused.

Dragnet: The Big .22 Rifle for Christmas (1952)
This is a well known episode, because they got lett…

The Adventures of Robin Hood: Christmas Goose (1957)

Ah yes, the olden days, when Christmas was a time of mingling between the upper and lower classes, and the lords and the peasants sang together unless the peasants were pissed off. Early Britain: a time of terribly inaccurate costume choices and horrible child acting.

This was a very odd program. It must be in the public domain or very cheap, because it’s on two of our collections of Classic TV Christmas episodes.

Like most of the programs I’ve seen from this time, there is little-to-no visible indication of snow, winter, or nighttime, even when it would seem that those things would be relevant. The “acting” is all around ridiculous and the production values are trying to be better than they are.

In any case, this story follows an annoying young peasant lad, Davie, who has a lilting soprano and an unnatural affection for a goose who he’s decided is his only friend. When the new local manor lord objects to Davie gathering mistletoe in his game preserve, Mildred the goose darts underfo…

Date With the Angels: The Christmas Show (1957)

Seeing a young Betty White was even stranger than seeing a young George Burns in the Burns and Allen Show. Unfortunately, that dissonance was by far the best part of this thing.

The respect I lost for White from her involvement in this show was quickly rekindled when I looked on Wikipedia for some context: it turns out this series suffered from interference from its sponsor, which resulted in any interesting elements being pulled. Apparently, Betty White has since disowned this thing, which absolves her of any culpability in my book.
The plot of this episode revolved around an elderly neighbor who wanted to feel useful. Vicki Angel got him a job at a nearby store's toy department run by a miserly curmudgeon, despite the fact that her neighbor really wasn't mentally capable of... well anything. He was put to work as the store's Santa Claus, despite clearly being unqualified. Since the store lacked even the most basic of security measures or managerial oversight, he was abl…