We have now arrived at severak of the essential Christmas films on our list. Never Say Goodbye has become one of our favorites since we first encountered it about five years ago. The central reason is the delight of seeing Errol Flynn not as the usual swashbuckler but as someone with a skillful comic touch. He mixes romance, precise timing and slapstick into a fine, if underrated, screwball comedy. There is a wonderful crew of character actors that include some of Hollywood’s finest.
Artist Philip Gayley and his former wife, Ellen, swap custody of their child, Flip, every six months. Flip has been corresponding with a Marine fighting in the South Pacific during World War II and has pretended to be her mother to spice up the letters. On the first anniversary of their divorce, Phil and Ellen’s love is rekindling, until Ellen sees that Philip has misled her about one of his models. A few months later as Christmas approaches, Phil seems to have turned over a new leaf, painting only landscapes in Central Park. Missing his wife and his daughter, he crashes Ellen’s Christmas Eve party dressed as Santa Claus. Despite the disruption, Ellen realizes she still loves Phil and on Christmas Day goes to his apartment only to find that model again. Ellen returns to her home to find the Marine, who has returned from the war and come to meet her. They go out on the town, where Phil sees them and jealously follows them back to Ellen’s home. The distraught Flip confides in the Marine about how painfully she misses her mother and father and then runs away. Philip and Ellen are reunited with Flip and realize that they belong together and remarry.
The central action occurs on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There are some wonderfully comic scenes of dueling Santa Clauses and a crashing Christmas tree. And this is the second film in which the old-fashioned holiday drink, the Tom and Jerry, is shown being served on Christmas Eve. The other was Beyond Tomorrow. The drink will be referenced in a third film later on our watch list, but we’ll keep you guessing until then.
S.Z. Sakall (Luigi) also appeared as a restaurant owner in yesterday’s film, Christmas in Connecticut. Sakall had roles in some of the best Hollwyood films during the 1940s, including Casablanca (1942) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). His comic talents are on display in two other wonderful comedies, The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), which stars Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn, and Ball of Fire (1941), which stars Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. Sakall also had a prime role in In the Good Old Summertime, the musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner, which we will be seeing soon on our Christmas watch list.
Eugene Borden (a waiter at Luigi’s) will be the link to our next film, The Bishop’s Wife (1947), so we will wait for that post to give details about his career.
Lucile Watson (Mrs. Hamilton) made a specialty of playing elderly mothers, as in The Women (1939) and The Thin Man Goes Home (1944).
Forrest Tucker (Marine Fenwick Lonkowski) is best known for his starring role 20 years later in TV’s F Troop (1965-67). He had a lead role as a scientist in my favorite bad horror film, The Crawling Eye (1958).
Peggy Knudsen (Nancy Graham) never achieved the stardom that her glamorous image promised. She made a brief appearance as Mona Mars (the missing gambler’s wife) in The Big Sleep (1946), starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Incidentally, that’s actually Humphrey Bogart doing the voice-over, when Errol Flynn pretends to be a gangster threatening Forrest Tucker.
Another extraneous historical connection: the sketches in the film are all done by artist Zoe Mozert, a famous 1940s pulp artist, whose most famous work may be the notorious poster for The Outlaw (1943), starring Jane Russell.
Hattie McDaniel (Cozy) won her greatest fame and an Oscar for best supporting actress in Gone with the Wind (1939), but she had wonderful roles in Nothing Sacred (1937) and Saratoga (1937), which starred Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.
Patti Brady (Flip) appeared again with S.Z. Sakall in Two Guys from Milwaukee (1946).
Billy Benedict (messenger boy) played similar roles in some of my favorite films: The Talk of the Town (1942), Lucky Partners (1940), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Theodora Goes Wild (1936) and Libeled Lady (1936).
Charles Coleman (Withers) has already been seen twice on our Christmas cinema list: In Name Only (1939) and A Christmas Carol (1938)
Arthur Shields (mounted policeman McCarthy) is best known as a member of director John Ford’s stock company of character actors, appearing in such films as How Green Was My Valley (1941) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). He played the Anglican vicar in The Quiet Man (1952), which also featured his brother Barry Fitzgerald.
We mentioned Charles Coleman’s three film appearances with Astaire in the post for A Christmas Carol (1935).
Billy Benedict appeared with Astaire in Second Chorus (1942).
Hattie McDaniel appeared with Astaire in Carefree (1938).
Lucile Watson again played a troublesome, elderly mother in Let’s Dance (1950).
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
Beyond the delightful surprise of seeing Errol Flynn in a comedy, we love this film because of the Manhattan setting and some extended scenes in Central Park. The director may use some stolen slapstick bits, such as the fake mirror scene most famously played by Groucho and Harpo in Duck Soup (1933) (though that was borrowed from a 1919 Harold Lloyd film, The Marathon), but he freshens the routine by having it done in Santa Claus suits. S.K. “Cuddles” Sakall has perhaps his best extended role in this film, and we never tire of his warm personality and comic skills.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM
Turner Classic Movies is showing Never Say Goodbye on demand via its WatchTCM app through December 26 at midnight.