We first saw this film about a year ago when we were watching films from a lengthy catalog of screwball comedies. This film was noted as a late representative of that genre, which flourished in the 1930s and early 1940s. We weren’t overly impressed, but since it was set at Christmas we decided to give it a second try and added it to the 2018 holiday watch list. It probably will not make the 2019 list — for reasons I’ll go into at the end of today’s post. The film stars Jane Russell near the beginning of her film career, Groucho Marx approaching the end of his, and a scrawny Frank Sinatra still a few years shy of his break-out role in From Here to Eternity (1953). The film was actually shot three years before its 1951 release. There are two musical numbers, one a duet between Sinatra and Russell, and the other with Frank and Groucho. Both songs are by Jule Styne (who did the music for Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, which we saw two weeks ago) and famed lyricist Sammy Cahn, who collaborated with Styne three years later for the Oscar winning song “Three Coins in a Fountain.” The two also collaborated on the classic “Let It Snow” (1945) and “The Christmas Waltz” (1954). Unfortunately, the two songs in this movie have nothing to do with Christmas.
Johnny Dalton (Sinatra) is in love with his fellow bank teller “Mibs” Goodhue (Russell), but they can’t afford to get married on his meager salary. Their buddy Emile Keck (Groucho), a waiter at their favorite restaurant, jokingly suggests that Johnny rob the bank. On the way to work, Johnny interrupts two thugs beating up “Hot Horse” Harry, who runs a secret betting parlor. To show his appreciation, Harry gives Johnny $1,000 and with hot tips on some races and parlays it into $60,000. Johnny rushes back to the bank to learn that an audit has revealed $75,000 is missing and that the tellers are suspected. Fearing that he will be blamed since he now has the unexplainable money from gambling, he enlists the help of Emile. After some mix-ups, he learns that the audit is showing Mibs as the suspected embezzler, but Johnny proves that it’s a mistake, and the young couple is able to get married, even after the tax man collects a big portion of the winnings.
The film begins on Christmas Eve and continues through Christmas. There are a few Christmas trees, decorations at the bank, and a bell-ringing sidewalk Santa, who is actually a look-out for the illicit gambling parlor. The film is set in southern California, so there are palm trees rather than snow.
Frank Orth, who plays Mr. Kofer the landlord, also appeared as a landlord in yesterday’s film The Great Rupert (1950). Orth had numerous fine character roles, but my favorite is as Duffy, the city editor, in His Girl Friday (1940). He had a long vaudeville career before coming to Hollywood. His wife, Ann Codee, appeared with Astaire on the bill of a “Monster Benefit” for unemployed actors at the Ziegfeld Theatre on 12/7/1930.
Charles Coleman, who plays the second Santa Claus, will be in tomorrow’s film, A Christmas Carol (1938), so we will wait till that blog post to look at his career.
Harry Hayden, who plays bank manager Mr. McKissack, had roles in hundreds of films and TV series, including Incendiary Blonde (1945), The Thin Man Goes Home (1944), Hail the Conquering Hero (1944) and The Great McGinty (1940). We will see him again soon in Larceny Inc. (1942). He plays one of the radio announcers during the filibuster in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).
Fred Aldrich, who plays a policeman, will appear later in Lady on a Train (1945) and had a role in The Thin Man Goes Home (1944).
George Chandler, who plays the messenger delivering the fur coat, appeared in many classics, including It’s a Wonderful World (1939), Joy of Living (1938), Nothing Sacred (1937) and Footlight Parade (1933). He had an outstanding role as the son in the W.C. Fields short The Fatal Glass of Beer (1933).
Ida Moore, who plays the sewing room supervisor, has already been seen in The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) and will appear later in Good Sam (1947).
William Edmunds, who plays restaurant owner Mr. Baganucci, will be seen later in two Christmas classics starring Jimmy Stewart: as the waiter in The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and as Mr. Martini in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). He was also a bartender in Casablanca (1942).
Nestor Paiva, who plays “Hot Horse” Harry, had many character roles in TV series in the 1950s and 1960s. His film credits include Young Man with a Horn (1950), Mighty Joe Young (1949), and Another Thin Man (1939). He also played a store detective in Bachelor Mother (1939), which we saw earlier in the Christmas cinema catalog.
George Chandler appeared with Astaire in Broadway Melody of 1940.
Fred Aldrich appeared with Astaire as a Times Square hot dog vendor in The Band Wagon (1953) and as a pilot in The Sky’s the Limit (1943).
Harry Hayden appeared with Astaire in Ziegfeld Follies (1945).
William Edmunds appeared with Fred and Adele Astaire in vaudeville at Philadelphia’s Broadway Theatre in February 1914.
WHY WE DON’T LOVE THIS MOVIE
We certainly don’t hate this movie: it does have Groucho, after all, but he’s not at his best, probably because he doesn’t have a proper stuffed-shirt foil for his wisecracks. The plot is rather weak, and the film seems padded with thin comic business. Finally, the Christmas connection is also superficial. There is no Christmas spirit of hope and transformation. The film could just as well be set at any time of the year, and all that would be lost is the weak joke of the Santa Claus look-out.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM
Turner Classic Movies does not have this films scheduled in the coming months. A DVD is available from Amazon.