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Showing posts with the label 70's

The Gift of Winter (1974)

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The Gift of Winter is a 1974 Canadian television Christmas special with very low production values that inexplicably stars Gilda Radner and Dan Aykroyd.

Presented as an origin story for snow, the story concerns a group of characters setting out to lodge a complaint against Winter (presented here as sort of a cross between a pagan deity, an ice giant, and a bureaucrat) due to the relentless, bleak season. The characters - and I'll get to them in a moment - are hoping Winter will cancel his season altogether and replace it with more spring or summer.

Well, most of the characters. Two of them are planning to assassinate Winter using dynamite.

"Characters" is almost too strong a word. These are almost better described as caricatures of 70's archetypes. They have names like Goodly, Nicely, Rotten, Malicious... you get the idea. Their personalities are tied to their designs, which are best described as stylized doodles made by a four-year-old. That's not intended as a…

The Easter Bunny is Comin' to Town (1977)

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Shockingly, this stop-motion Rankin-Bass special is not the same as the 1971 Here Comes Peter Cottontail. However, it is essentially identical to the 1970 special, Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The plots and setups are basically the same - they've just changed the character names and lowered the quality to make them distinct.
In this version of the Easter Bunny's origin, he's a baby rabbit located and adopted by a town of orphaned kids called "Kidville," because contrary to what the special's narrator would have us believe, there is clearly no God. He's discovered in the woods on Easter, so the kids call him, "Sunny," after the Easter Sun, which is not a thing. I'm pretty sure they're thinking of the Winter Solstice, which is (for all intents and purposes) Christmas.


Within a year, the bunny has enslaved the children of Kidville (at least that was my reading). For some reason, he convinces them they need to introduce capitalism and trad…

The Brady Bunch: The Voice of Christmas (1969)

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Despite going on for four abysmal seasons and spawning numerous spin-offs, the Bradys only seemed to produce two holiday-themed installments: this and the 1988 made-for-TV movie, A Very Brady Christmas, which we sat through two years ago. That means as soon as this article is over, we'll be free of the Bradys forever.

What I'm saying is Christmas miracles do exist.

Which is actually the thesis of this crappy episode. The premise centers around Carol Brady getting laryngitis right before the holidays. This is devastating to her, because she's supposed to sing "O Come All Ye Faithful" at church on Christmas. Just so we're clear, there's no, "because if she doesn't an orphanage will close" coming. The sum total of the stakes at play are that she won't get to sing like she wants to if she doesn't get better. That's it.

Naturally, everyone freaks out. The maid makes a family recipe that's supposed to cure laryngitis but mainly ju…

Mon oncle Antoine (1971)

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Apparently, Mon oncle Antoine is considered one of the best Canadian films ever produced. Honestly, I lack anywhere near enough cultural background to offer an informed opinion on that claim. For what it's worth, I found the movie interesting enough, despite an intentionally slow pace and meandering point-of-view.

For all intents and purposes, the plot doesn't even kick in until about halfway through. Prior to that, it feels like you're watching a series of vignettes about a few different groups of people living in rural Quebec in the 1940's. An asbestos mining operation serves as the backdrop and is pretty clearly significant to the movie's point, but you really need some knowledge of Canadian history to understand the connection. I skimmed a few Wikipedia articles after watching the movie, but I suspect the film would have had more impact if I had a more personal connection.

The short explanation is that there was a major asbestos strike in 1949 that effectively…

Revisiting Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)

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First of all, we've covered this already, over here. Lindsay wrote up a pretty glowing review for this and slapped on a "Highly Recommended" label, mainly because it managed to coalesce nearly the entire Rankin/Bass catalog into a single coherent Christmaverse and rebuild Rudolph's backstory using a mythic structure.

I'm not writing this as some sort of retraction, though upon rewatching, I do want to roll back the unconditional love we showered on it the first time around. While it accomplished everything listed above, that accounts for around fifteen minutes of its hour and thirty-seven minute run time. The rest oscillates between a series of mediocre love songs and a holiday-themed stop-motion circus show.

Obviously the main reason I want to revisit this now is to focus in on the "Christmas in July" elements we more or less skipped over the first time. Also, there are 31 days in July, we're doing our best to hold to our post-a-day commitment, an…

Book Review: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Barbara Robinson, 1972

I have been seeing this book on lists of favorite Christmas books since we started the Mainlining project. But reading the back cover blurb made it sound entirely like a cheese-fest, overly religious, or otherwise sanctimonious, so I'd been putting it off.

I have to admit, though, for an eighty-page book written for young readers, this is impressively subversive. Although, it probably seemed less so in 1972.

The plot regards a group of unruly siblings who take over the Christmas pageant in a small town. In doing so, they force the townspeople to confront the reality behind the rote recitation of the myth. This may come as close as any religious-ish story ever has of evoking actual emotion in my cold, dead soul.

The most interesting thing is the narrator. The story is told in the first person, by a young girl. Her opinions and asides add color, humor and context.

The narrator is observant enough to report on all the things th…

The Little Drummer Boy Book II (1976)

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Somehow, in year six, there are still Rankin-Bass stop-motion Christmas specials that we hadn't seen. I don't know how this happened either.

This one is just as boring as its predecessor, but it does have nicer animation.

It picks up where the first left off, Baby Jesus suitably entertained by Aaron and his magic drum. Aaron wants to do something more (further undermining the message of the original song) and Melchior drags him off to town to help look for some bellmaker.

Melchior looks a bit more Middle-Ages-Europe king than first-century-Damascus king to my eye. Just saying.

The bellmaker, Simeon, has been telling people that Jesus is coming, and while they haven't believed him, he has cast a set of giant silver bells in preparation.

At this point, Erin can attest that I gave the screen some incredible side-eye at the idea that they would co-opt, even just by reference, one of my favorite holiday songs for this dreck, but it never went further than that reference.

Some…

Scooby-Doo! 13 Spooky Tales: Holiday Chills and Thrills (2012)

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This DVD compilation includes Christmas or winter themed episodes from across the dozen or so incarnations of Scooby Doo over the years. Unfortunately, the majority are less Christmas than winter, and we already reviewed one episode, A Scooby-Doo Christmas, a few years ago. We're going to review the other two Christmas centered episodes, Haunted Holidays and The Nutcracker Scoob, on their own. That leaves ten of dubious holiday connection.

We almost didn't write these up at all, but a few included some holiday allusions or references, plus the snowy visuals were certainly evocative of Christmas. Ultimately, we decided to cover them together, along with some discussion of how each ties to the holidays, if at all.

First, though, let's talk about this "13 Spooky Tales" line. They released several of these DVD sets with different themes about the same time, each collecting ostensibly similar episodes throughout the years. In this case, even the math to get to 13 epi…

Mork & Mindy: Mork's First Christmas (1978)

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As far as I can remember, this is the first episode of Mork & Mindy I've ever seen. It was a fairly significant show in that it was Robin Williams's first major role. For better or worse, the series also paved the way for shows like Alf, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and even things like Invader Zim.

If you've never seen Mork & Mindy, the series is a bizarre spin-off of a character who appeared in what was originally a dream episode of Happy Days. Mork is an alien who's come to Earth to observe humanity, and the vast majority of jokes concern his odd behavior and misunderstandings of our nature and customs.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say the Christmas episode was probably fairly representative of the first season of the show (my understanding is that it transformed pretty dramatically from season to season in an attempt to hold ratings). The episode opens with Mork initially mistaking Christmas for some sort of contagion. They run with this joke for a minu…

The Partridge Family: Don’t Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa (1971)

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Oh man, The Partridge Family. I’ve had sort of a lingering urge to see The Partridge Family again since Shirley Jones appeared in style on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me last year.



I hope you enjoyed that, because this episode was not what I would call a winner. If you’re blissfully unaware, The Partridge Family was a sitcom about a single mother with five kids who become a traveling musical act to support their family. So the episode opens with, what else, a song. And it’s not bad. I mean, none of the people on film are singing, but the song is just a corny 70’s pop version of a holiday tune.

The family packs up after this gig and is headed home for Christmas. In an unlikely turn of events, their bus breaks down in a Hollywood backlot. Sorry, I meant a ghost town, complete with one picturesque local living alone with a donkey.

The donkey’s only in one scene. Maybe his agent was a good negotiator.

So they can’t get help, and the old guy invites the mom and young kids inside while the ol…

Raggedy Ann and Andy in The Great Santa Claus Caper (1978)

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Okay, I had no memory of ever having seen this, but it was very familiar by the end, which makes me think I must have seen it at some point. In the annals of Christmas TV Specials, there’s a reason this one doesn’t make the list of classics. However, there are bits that are clever, and it’s nice and short.

The special opens by introducing us to our villain, Alexander Graham Wolf, aka Big Bad. He’s got some sort of weird plan involving the North Pole and Santa, and it’s all very unclear. It’s clear enough, though, to reindeer Comet, who zips off for reinforcements to save Christmas. Since she can’t carry anything too heavy, Comet chooses two rag dolls and a rag doll dog for her helpers. Not the smartest member of the team, our Comet.

They get back to the North Pole to investigate. Santa and company have all gone to bed (at like six hours to Christmas! This was the most unbelievable part of this for me), so Wolfy has free run of the workshop. He sets up a giant expanding machine-

I thi…

The Six Million Dollar Man: A Bionic Christmas Carol (1976)

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Let's say you're a TV producer in the 1970's, and you're holding the rights to a science-fiction/spy thriller novel you want to adapt for television. Do you go with the original title of the work, "Cyborg," or do you name it "The Six Million Dollar Man?"

That, in a nutshell, is why most TV sucked in the 1970's.

This episode opens the day before Christmas. Steve Austin, the Cyborg Six Million Dollar Man, is sent on a mission to investigate possible sabotage at a company contracted to develop gear necessary for a mission to Mars.

Just so no one gets any ideas, no on goes to Mars in this episode. That probably would have been cool.

The company's problems, surprisingly, aren't due to sabotage. Instead, they're caused by the owner's adherence to the absolute minimums specified by the contract.

Also, he's Scrooge. His name is changed to Budge, but he's clearly Scrooge. He even lives in a mansion built to resemble every version…

Book Review: Miracle and Other Christmas Stories

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Miracle and Other Christmas Stories Connie Willis, 1979

Crossposted from The Blue Fairy’s Bookshelf

Awww, man! More disappointing Christmas stories. I went into this one with high hopes, because Willis’ story “Pony” was one of my favorites in Christmas on Ganymede. Unfortunately, it was one of my favorites here, too.

It starts strong, with an introduction that was worth borrowing the book from the library for, just for the snark about Hans Christian *overrated hack* Andersen and the list of other recommended stories and movies, some of which weren’t on our radar yet! Sure, she thinks The/A Christmas Story is actually quality, and that's just wrong, whether you’re talking about the myth as literature or the movie as cinema (she likes both). But Willis is a Hugo winner! Surely, there are some good genre stories in here, right?

Sort of.

Lets run through the contents, shall we?

“Miracle”
Starts strong, woman receives visit from accidentally conjured hippy Spirit of Christmas Presents, m…

Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979)

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Whoa.

WHOA.

We just watched the epitome of stop-motion Christmas specials. I know, I know, you don’t believe me yet. Just give me a minute.

You know Rudolph, and Frosty, and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, and Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and The Year Without a Santa Claus. But did you know that every last one of these takes place in a vast shared universe, which involves still more epic figures deserving of winter myth-making? No? Then you haven’t seen this one.

For me, Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July retroactively improves all the specials that came before it.

The premise is straightforward on the surface. An evil wizard who used to rule the Arctic wants to destroy Santa’s hold on winter, and to do so, he decides to take down Rudolph, using his friendship with Frosty as a lever against the young reindeer.

Oh, and we happen to establish the source and purpose of Rudolph’s magic, which I don’t want to spoil for you. What? You didn’t think Rudolph…

Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas (1977)

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From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

The last, and possibly the most famous, of Crosby’s Christmas specials. Between the time that it was filmed and the time that it aired, he passed away.

It takes some inspiration from that first 1961 special: Crosby and family are invited to England by a distant relative for the holidays, and it’s mostly an excuse to have a group of British stars pop in and out. One of them plays 3 or 4 different characters, half of them in drag. That’s… slightly odd. I’m guessing there’s a reference that we’re missing.

This special is filmed on an actual set, which is a nice change, although it feels sort of like it should have a laugh track. The fact that it doesn’t actually adds an odd poignancy, because it’s unclear whether some things are intended to be funny. Crosby seems markedly older, but also more invested in his songs and scene partners.

Early on you get the scene that you’re watching the special for, if you’re w…

Bing Crosby and the Sounds of Christmas (1971)

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From Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

The third Bing Crosby special we watched, and it’s a doozy. At least I guess this one had a coherent theme.

This time around, Crosby is joined by his second wife and kids. I’m glad the trend of show business families performing together has gone mostly out of style. It just feels so forced. Just cast some dang kids! Also appearing are Mary Costa and Robert Goulet.

Everyone’s on deck for a boring opening number, in some of the ugliest costumes yet. The lighting design and set work are pretty decent though. There’s an interesting tension here between the idea of “live” television and scripted. Obviously this is all pre-recorded and a lot of it is lip-synced, but certain cuts and set moves are purposely intended to mask the fact that you’re not watching live.

Robert Goulet sings a boring, but booming, “Do You Hear…”, and then he and Crosby do an extremely odd extended song/sequence based loosely on an O’Henry …

Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Volume 2 - The Christmas Specials

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This is a collection of four of Bing Crosby's Christmas specials. I'm not going to go into detail about the individual content of each episode here - we'll do that in separate reviews. Instead, I wanted to talk a little about the experience of watching this as a whole.

I'd expected the experience to be tedious, which I suppose it was at times. Not what I want to discuss right now, though. It was also occasionally funny, interesting bizarre....
Not the subject, either.
What I want to talk about is a narrative that you can't help but notice watching this thing. The specials on this collection were from 1961 to 1977; that means he was nearing 60 when the first of these aired. His days as a major movie star were behind him, and his fans were aging. I'm sure a lot of the guests in his first special were famous at the time, but damned if I've heard of many.
Crosby almost always has a sort of laid-back style to his acting and singing, as if he knows it doesn'…

Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972, 1973, or 1974, depending on who you ask)

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Nothing says "Christmas" like absurdly low-budget horror.

Silent Night, Bloody Night (not to be confused with Silent Night, Deadly Night, which I still have to get around to) is a cheaply made horror movie revolving around an abandoned mansion in Massachusetts. If I cared one bit about spoiling this thing, I wouldn't tell you that the mansion used to be an asylum, a fact which only comes out in a flashback making up the majority of the movie's last act, nor would I let it slip that the asylum's supposedly dead owner is actually less dead than everyone supposes. But if didn't reveal all that, this review would be absurdly short, so you see my dilemma.

Before they reveal the mansion or town's dark history, we're treated to a Psycho-style bait-and-switch. A big city lawyer comes to town with his mistress (the movie makes a point of having him call home at one point, in case we didn't know he was married) to offer some of the locals a chance to buy th…

Halloween is Grinch Night (1977)

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Halloween is Grinch Night was made in the late 70's, presumably in an attempt by Dr. Seuss to cash in on the popularity of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It is in no way a great work of art, but it's nowhere near as bad as the last part of the "trilogy", The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat.

There's very little plot to this thing. Mostly, it's a series of Seussical rhymes and jokes (almost all of which are below the expectations we've formed for the good Doctor). The special focuses on a Who named Euchariah who gets lost on Grinch Night and runs into the Grinch. He allows the Grinch to subject him to various horrors in order to buy time until daylight.

When I say horrors, I'm referring to a magic cart apparently full of specters, ghosts, and illusions; sort of a portable haunted house. The sequence is a little unpleasant, actually, not from the content but from the premise of a young child allowing a creepy man to subject him to scary things in th…