Tag Archive for 'Holiday'

Holiday Affair

Holiday Affair (12/24/14) TCM (1949 **1/2) Directed by Don Hartman, starring Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh and Wendell Corey. Set at Christmas, an engaged “secret shopper” costs a salesman his job, and as an act of revenge, he falls madly in love with her. This was a strange film, aired by TCM as a little-known Holiday classic. While it may be set at Christmas, I can see why it’s not as beloved as, say, Miracle on 34th Street (1947). It was interesting seeing Janet Leigh in an early performance as a single mom who had lost her husband in WWII, but she never seemed particularly sympathetic to me. And Robert Michum came off less as a romantic leading man and more than a little creepy, bordering on menacing! It’s no wonder he was later cast in Night of the Hunter (1955) and Cape Fear (1962). To be honest, there was one point in the second act when I worried the story was going to head in a very disturbing direction.

It Happened on 5th Avenue

It Happened on 5th Avenue (12/24/14) TCM (1947 ***) Directed by Roy Del Ruth, starring Victor Moore, Don DeFore, Gale Storm, Charles Ruggles and Ann Harding. A homeless man squatting for the winter in a Manhattan mansion decides to share his secret residence, with unexpected results. This credulity-stretching film was presented as part of TCM’s lesser-known Christmas classics. And when I say it pulled at the seams of believability, I don’t mean that it contained fairies or magical beings, but that the situation (a rich man living in his own home, pretending to be a bum and taking a lot of shit from a vagrant) just never could have happened. Still, it’s a pleasant enough film, and it certainly had plenty to say about taking care of the less fortunate members of our society. There are far worse films one might watch during their winter holiday.

Brian Setzer Christmas Concert

Brian Setzer Christmas Concert (12/21/14) Nokia Live (2014 ****) Brian Setzer and his orchestra serve up a heaping plate of holiday goodness. I’m not sure when I’ve been to a concert nearly this fun. Prior to the show, I didn’t really know what to expect. What I got was a weird combination of Stray Cats hits and a traditional Christmas spectacular, all served up with a rockabilly big band. It was fun for the whole family, too. I went with my wife and her parents, and they absolutely had a blast, and I saw plenty of kids in the audience dancing away as well. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder, Setzer cried out “I feel like a Johnny Cash song” and launched into “Ring of Fire.” My hope is it becomes a Christmas tradition, and if he swings (sorry) by this way again next year I imagine we all may find ourselves in the audience again.

The Lemon Drop Kid

The Lemon Drop Kid (12/23/12) TCM (1951 **1/2) Directed by Sydney Lanfield, based on the story by Damon Runyon, starring Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell. A small-time racetrack con man with an oral fixation has until Christmas to pay a mobster named Moose Moran $10,000. This film’s main claim to fame is that it introduced the song “Silver Bells” to the great American holiday songbook. The song was written with the deliberate intent to compete with Hope’s frequent partner Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas,” which of course went on to become the most recorded song of all time. As for the film, as likable as Bob Hope was, I had a hard time getting over the story’s built-in unlikability for his character, whose goal was to save his own skin by using a bunch of little old ladies as pawns in a bunko scheme that would leave them all out in the cold… on Christmas!

White Christmas

White Christmas (12/20/12) AMC (1954 ***) Directed by Michael Curtiz, starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. Two song-and-dance men (plus their love interests) decide to “put on a show” in a quaint Vermont inn to help out their former WWII commanding general. This movie was clearly intended to cash in on the popularity of the song “White Christmas,” which had been introduced in the film Holiday Inn (1942), starring Crosby and Fred Astaire. White Christmas (the movie) borrowed many of the elements from the earlier film, including its setting in a New England Inn. The casting of the female leads was curious. Vera Ellen was clearly cast for her dancing ability and the fact that she wouldn’t outshine Rosemary Clooney in the looks department. As beautiful as her voice was, George Clooney’s aunt Rosemary wasn’t exactly a bombshell in the same league as Marilyn Monroe. She was attractive, but not in a traditional leading lady sense. Further, Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby were definitely out of their depths in some of the dance numbers, but it was fun to watch Kaye do his damnedest to keep up with Vera Ellen. Along those lines, keep an eye peeled for a young George Chakiris (West Side Story‘s Bernardo) as one of the dancers. On a side-note, this was the first time in a long time I’d watched a movie on AMC and thank God I DVR’d it. With all the commercials, the running time was stretched from two hours to nearly three!

Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street (12/28/11) TCM (1947 ****) Written and directed by George Seaton, based on a story by Valentine Davies, starring Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and a little newcomer named Natalie Wood. A delusional psychotic believing himself to be Santa Claus casts a spell over every innocent soul he meets, making them believe in GOODWILL, HOPE and CHRISTMAS MAGIC! Were I making a list of my top Christmas films, this one would go very close to the top, maybe even at position #1. Why? It not only provided an entertaining story with wonderful characters and performances, but it was very effective at making the “meaning of Christmas” (the belief that doing good is good for the bottom line) meaningful in the modern world. Also, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that part of the human condition means occasionally believing in things that are a bit crazy. Though it’s been remade many times and even colorized, the original (and delightful) Miracle on 34th Street remains worthy of its status as a holiday tradition.

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story (12/8/11) TCM (1983 ***) Directed by Bob Clark, based on the novel In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd (who also narrated), starring Peter Billingsly, Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin. All Ralphie wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun. You’d just better hope he doesn’t shoot his eye out! When I first watched this movie on cable in the mid-1980s I wasn’t particularly impressed by it. But in the nearly 30 years since then, this movie has become a “beloved yuletide tradition.” But does it deserve that status? I’ll admit there was much in the “Kid’s eye view” of the movie for me to identify with, but there just wasn’t much to the film’s story as a whole. In fact — and I know some might want to punch me in the face for what I’m about to write — the whole build-up throughout the film of the BB gun? The pay-off for that was completely anticlimactic and more than a little disappointing. And I don’t think that’s only because I’m reviewing this film with 21st Century eyes. Look, if you’re looking for a family-friendly film to hoist onto the pedestal of “Holiday Perennial,” I suppose you could do worse than this lightweight little film. But let’s not go confusing it with REAL Christmas Classics like Miracle on 34th Street (1947) or It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)!

Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street (11/30/09) TV-FMC (1973 **) Directed by Fielder Cook, starring Sebastian Cabot, Jane Alexander and David Hartman, with a supporting cast worth mentioning: Roddy McDowall, Jim Backus, James Gregory, Conrad Janis, David Doyle and Tom Bosley. A friendly old gent named Kris Kringle gets a job at Macy’s and goes on trial to prove he’s really the one and only Santa Claus. Make no mistake, this made-for-TV film was not the “good” 1947 version that starred Edmund Gwenn and Maureen O’Hara. But where else can you see David Doyle AND Tom Bosley in the same film? I have the vaguest memories of watching this borderline abomination when it was originally aired. Ripe for MST3K treatment, this film demonstrated why David Hartman’s acting career never quite took off as well as David Doyle’s impressive capacity for over-acting.

Elf

Elf (7/12/06) Netflix (2003 ***½) Directed by Jon Favreau. I last watched Elf on 11/9/03, nearly three years ago, but it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s been that long. This is probably the best movie Will Ferrell has ever made and the role he was born to play. He played the childlike adopted elf Buddy with pure energy and perfect comedic timing. If I compiled a list of the ten best Christmas-themed movies of all time, Elf would be on it. There was a lightness and exuberance throughout the film that made even a cynical heart like mine want to sing Christmas carols. The only thing keeping me from giving it a four-star rating is I feel it missed an opportunity for hitting some deeper emotional notes. I can see how making its emotional chords more poignant might have run counter to its light-hearted comedic tone. However, even acknowledging that, I still imagine an alternate universe version of Elf in which it was possible to achieve both without diminishing either.

Bad Santa

Bad Santa (2/5/05) Netflix (2003 ***) Directed by Terry Zwigoff, starring Billy Bob Thornton, with Bernie Mac and John Ritter. What’s not to like about an alcoholic safe-cracking Santa Claus? Well, it took me a long time to warm up to this movie. Roger Ebert recommended it and it was directed by Zwigoff, who directed Crumb and Ghost World, both of which I enjoyed. It wasn’t a great movie, but I will say this: I was certainly far more interested in the characters by the end than I was at the beginning.