Tag Archives: Christmas

Holiday Affair (1949)

“And I want a girl that’ll drop everything and run to me, no matter what the score is.”

Every Xmas, I tell myself that I will watch a few christmas-themed films, but I usually don’t. This year, however, I managed to catch Holiday Affair, a 1949 film starring lovely Janet Leigh and her somewhat unlikely co-star Robert Mitchum. This delightful film aired on Turner Classic Movies, with the host Robert Osborne explaining that the film was quite a departure for Mitchum. Howard Hughes (RKO pictures), apparently wanted Mitchum to clean up his act after a drug bust in 1948. The intro didn’t mention that Mitchum’s fellow bustee was Lila Leeds. As part of her ‘correction process,’ she made the film She Shoulda Said No (AKA Wild Weed)–a cheesy film, unsurprisingly, about the evils of Marijuana. Lila was finished in Hollywood but Mitchum emerged unscathed.

Holiday Affair is set in the Xmas season in New York and concerns a plucky young war widow named Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) who lives alone with her son, Timmy (Gordon Gebert). Connie is a ‘comparison shopper’ and works undercover buying products that are scrutinized by a competitor and then returned. While buying a toy train, Connie is served by Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) who sells her the train before she dashes home. This initial encounter should be trivial, but it isn’t, and Steve Mason seems to drink in every detail about Connie–even if she’s distracted and in a great hurry.

Connie appears to have a simple home life, but there are complicated undercurrents. She’s courted by staid, responsible lawyer, Carl Davis (Wendell Corey), but she can’t let go of the memory of her dead husband. Carl wants Connie to marry him, but Connie isn’t sure….

When Connie returns the train to the department store the following day, she runs into Steve Mason again. He spots her as an employee of ‘comparison shopper,’ and he’s fired when he doesn’t ‘out’ her to his hovering supervisor. Connie feels responsible, and soon the two are off to lunch and a friendship begins. This friendship, of course, threatens Carl but delights Timmy.

With Robert Mitchum vs. Wendell Corey, the film’s conclusion is obvious from the outset, but it’s all so delightfully done, perfectly timed and realized. Unlike some Xmas films, Timmy isn’t too angelic (one scene pushes the boundary), but he throws a few fits and tantrums along the way which help the reality factor.

Connie isn’t the great interest here. Instead it’s the two men, In each other’s company (usually on Connie’s territory) their every action and word carries a deeper meaning. Carl, who’s understandably threatened by Steve tries to stake out prior ownership, and this leaves him in an unflattering light. Sympathies for Carl erode during these scenes as we cheer for Steve the underdog, who has materially, a lot less to offer. Mitchum, naturally, steals the film. Steve Mason is an intriguing character, and for him poverty seems a choice and a definite moral value decision. It’s interesting to see how others make judgments about Steve based on his loner, non-materialistic behaviour. But by far the best (and funniest) scene in the film includes a police lieutenant (Harry Morgan) who tries to unravel the complicated relationships revealed right before him.

Anyway, if you want a decent Christmas film that you haven’t watched a million times, keep your eyes open for this one.

From director Don Hartman.

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Remember the Night (1940)

 “My life is just one long round of whoopee.”

remember the nightIn Remember the Night, shoplifter Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) is caught trying to pawn a diamond bracelet she stole from a jeweler. She gets her day in court defended by an overly dramatic lawyer who claims she was hypnotized. Prosecuting attorney John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) requests a delay in the trial until after Christmas–he knows full well that he stands a better chance of gaining a conviction once the holidays are over. Consequently, Lee is supposed to spend Christmas in jail. Sargent begins to feel sorry for her and arranges for bail. Lee ends up on at Sargent’s home on Christmas Eve, and after discovering they’re both from Indiana, he agrees to drive her home for the holidays.

Lee gets a cold response at her family’s old homestead, so Sargent takes her home to his family farm for Christmas. Sargent’s home is idyllic–complete with an adoring mother (Beulah Bondi), loving Aunt Emma (Elizabeth Patterson), and Willie (Sterling Holloway), the harmless simpleton of a handyman.

When the film begins, Lee is as tough as nails, but once in the Sargent home, she begins to melt. The script (by Preston Sturges) is extremely well done, and while this film could have been incredibly corny, it isn’t. Once out of their environment and their roles, both Sargent and Lee take a good hard look at each other, and gain insight into their vastly different backgrounds. As a child, he was wanted and loved, and she was despised and rejected. While on the farm, her past becomes trivial. The film, fortunately, doesn’t try to turn her ‘conversion’ and his acceptance into a fairy-tale, but continues to confront the problems inherent in their relationship. Remember the Night is a great film for the Christmas season as it explores that bittersweet theme of going home for the holidays.

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Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

“He’s sending me a sailor for Christmas.”

Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is a popular columnist for Smart Housekeeping Magazine. Her articles are supposedly written from the Connecticut farm she shares with her husband and her baby. She’s considered a domestic goddess by her millions of fans, and housewives all over America idolize her lifestyle and culinary talents. Her columns describe the wonderful seven-course meals she cooks and serves, her herb garden, and even her spinning wheel. But there’s a big problem–in reality, Elizabeth is single, lives in New York, and can’t even fry an egg.

When Elizabeth’s bombastic publisher Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) insists on inviting himself and war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) home to Elizabeth’s Connecticut farm for Christmas, she schemes to fabricate the life she brags about in her column with the assistance of a faithful friend, Hungarian restaurateur Felix (S.Z. Sakall) and would-be lover, stuffy architect John Sloane (Reginald Gardiner). Unfortunately, Sloane, who’s been waiting in the wings for Elizabeth for years, see this as an opportunity to press his long-rejected marriage proposal, and Elizabeth feels pressure to give in and accept. Elizabeth acts as a hostess for Yardley and Jones at Sloane’s idyllic Connecticut home. Felix has Elizabeth’s best interests at heart, and while he’s supposed to assist in the deception, he’s also devilishly good at stirring trouble, and he’s an excellent foil for Greenstreet’s character.

Smoothly directed by Peter Godfrey, a lively comedy of errors ensues that includes borrowed babies, pancake tossing, and even kidnapping. The humour here is light, good natured and forgiving of all the characters’ flaws, and a great deal of the fun is generated by Elizabeth’s complete lack of domesticity. Barbara Stanwyck is marvelous as always, and it’s wonderful to see her in a comedy role. Christmas in Connecticut finally made it to DVD, and DVD extras include the trailer, and the short Star in the Night.

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Joyeux Noel (2005)

“Something odd is afoot.”

Joyeux Noel is based on a series of real life-incidents that occurred during WWI on Xmas Eve 1914. According to many sources, on several locations along the front, soldiers from opposing sides put down their arms and mingled. Joyeux Noel takes true incidents that took place and then blends them into a story–focusing on just one tiny area where French, Scottish and German troops are involved in the brutal war from the filth and squalor of their trenches.

The film begins with very brief sketches of exactly how some of the film’s major protagonists found themselves wallowing in the blood and gore of WWI. There are two Scottish brothers who eagerly embraced war–with one brother welcoming volunteering with the phrase, “At last, something’s happening in our lives.” And there’s the German opera singer Sprink (Benno Furmann) who leaves his career and his beautiful lover and singing partner Anna Sorenson (Diane Kruger) in order to enlist.

The worlds the soldiers left behind are soon replaced with the horrors of the trenches. A senseless, suicidal assault led by the French and the Scots on the Germans results in mangled bodies of the dead lying in the snow. Some men die and some men survive. And then it’s Xmas Eve in the trenches, and each side attempts to eek out a meager sense of celebration for a few hours at least. The Germans, led by Horstmayer (Daniel Bruhl) have received a number of Xmas trees, and they attempt to decorate their trench. A spontaneous event takes place, and the three sides declare a truce and mingle.

The film’s strong pacifist message resonates long after the story concludes, and the plot makes it clear that the officers who are later held accountable feel a strong sense of camaraderie with their fellow soldiers–while they feel remote from the higher-ups who issue orders from the comfort of palaces well behind the lines. Naturally, the military hierarchy will not tolerate fraternization between opposing forces–after all it threatens their war and may even lead to humanization of the enemy. And the film does an excellent job of conveying the fact that the Xmas Eve incidents are viewed with horror and are seen as threats to the continuance of hostilities. Soldiers ‘contaminated’ by the event must be isolated, removed and punished.

The film’s subplot romance between the opera singers unfortunately lessens the film’s power. The story here of the spontaneous connections created by the soldiers who are in theory engaged in a battle to the death–but see themselves as fellow victims of tyrannical decisions–is so fantastic it almost seems too hard to believe. The element of the romance spoilt the story and lessened the film’s power by pulling away the focus from the men and the commonality of their experience. Directed by Christian Carion, the film is in French, German and English.

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