We had only seen a few snippets of this oddly funny film on Turner Classic Movies in the past, and we weren’t even sure of its Christmas connection, but now it will most surely be on next year’s list. Edward G. Robinson dressed as Santa Claus while smoking a large cigar is worth the price of admission! The whole film plays off the stereotyped gangster characters that Robinson and others in the cast had developed for years in previous films.
After being turned down for a loan, three con-men decide to rob the bank by buying a neighboring luggage store and digging into the vault. But their legitimate cover becomes of greater interest, and they decide to go straight until their past starts to catch up with them.
It doesn’t look like a Christmas movie until the final scenes, when the bank heist conflicts with busy Christmas luggage sales, and the now honest crooks try to use Santa Claus to delay the efforts of another set of violent thieves. The story culminates on Christmas Eve, which is why one of the alternative titles for the film when it was released was “The Night before Christmas,” which was also the title of the play on which the film was based.
Jane Wyman (Denny Costello) early in her career played one of the socialites in My Man Godfrey (1936) and then moved beyond bit parts with films such as The Lost Weekend (1945), Night and Day (1946) and Stage Fright (1950). On TV in the 1980s she had an extended role as Angela Channing on Falcon Crest.
Broderick Crawford (Jug Martin) followed small parts such as this with starring roles in All the King’s Men (1949), Born Yesterday (1950) and TV’s Highway Patrol (1955-59).
Jack Carson (Jeff Randolph) had a remarkably long and varied career with films such as Stage Door (1937), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Having Wonderful Time (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Lucky Partners (1941), Love Crazy (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Mildred Pierce (1945) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958).
Edward Brophy (Weepy Davis) has been seen in The Thin Man, It Happened on Fifth Avenue, and Bundle of Joy.
Anthony Quinn (Leo Dexter) began his career with small roles in Blood and Sand (1941), The Black Swan (1942) and The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), and then moved to major roles in Last Train from Gun Hill (1959), Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Zorba the Greek (1964). If you have never seen Federico Fellini’s La Strada (1954), you will be amazed at the wonderful performance that Quinn gives in that film.
Harry Davenport (Homer Bigelow) has already been seen briefly in Meet John Doe (1940). His varied roles have come in such films as You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Too Many Husbands (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), Lucky Partners (1940), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. His most famous role is as Dr. Meade in Gone with the Wind (1939).
John Qualen (Sam Bachrach) also had a long and varied career with roles in Nothing Sacred (1937), The Mad Miss Manton (1938), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), Casablanca (1942) and The Searchers (1956).
Grant Mitchell (Mr. Aspinwall) has been seen previously in The Man Who Came to Dinner and It Happened on Fifth Avenue.
Jackie Gleason (Hobart the soda jerk) is so amazingly young in this film. Of course, he is best known for TV’s The Honeymooners and later films such as Smoky and the Bandit and The Hustler.
Fortunio Bonanova (Anton Copoulos) has a small, nearly silent role in this film. His resume is also long and varied, including Citizen Kane (1941), The Mark of Zorro (1940), Blood and Sand (1941), The Black Swan (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), Five Graves to Cairo (1943), Going My Way (1944) and Double Indemnity (1944).
Chester Clute (Mr. Buchanan) has been seen previously in Bachelor Mother, Remember the Night and It Happened on Fifth Avenue.
Harry Hayden (mission leader) has been seen in Good Sam, O. Henry’s Full House and Double Dynamite.
Fred Kesley (Mr. Bronson) has been seen in O. Henry’s Full House, Christmas in Connecticut, Never Say Goodbye and The Man Who Came to Dinner.
William Hopper (traffic policeman) is, of course, best known for his extended role as detective Paul Drake in Perry Mason. He had roles as a reporter in such classics as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). His mother was the gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, and his father was a top-notch Broadway and vaudeville actor, DeWolf Hopper.
Broderick Crawford’s connection with the Astaires comes through his parents. His mother was Helen Broderick, who co-starred with the Astaires in The Band Wagon on Broadway and in the films Top Hat (1935) and Swing Time (1936). Helen and her husband, Lester Crawford, appeared on vaudeville stages with Fred and Adele in 1915 (Baltimore) and 1917 (Brooklyn).
Jack Carson appeared with Fred Astaire in A Damsel in Distress (1937) and Carefree (1938).
WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE
It is certainly not a great film, but it is a solid, funny film with fine comic bits and some wonderful surprises. Its being set in Manhattan with scenes of subway construction also added to its appeal.
WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM
Turner Classic Movies will next show the film on March 30, 2019, at Noon (ET).