White Christmas (1954)

No Christmas cinema celebration can avoid White Christmas, and even though it is not as wonderful a film as several others on our watch-list, we still enjoy it every year, primarily because of Irving Berlin’s songs (not just the title tune) and Robert Alton’s choreography.  Of course, we also enjoy the good range of character actors, and some interesting Astaire connections, which we will explore below.

The screenplay by Norman Krasna, who also wrote the script for Bachelor Mother (1939), may be sentimental, but it also has an effective structure.  Both the script and Michael Curtiz’s direction capture the wistful memories that form the core of the song “White Christmas” and its special meaning to the troops overseas during World War II in 1944.  During both the opening and closing rendition of the song, Curtiz’s camera sweeps over the crowds to capture the faces of soldiers remembering home during the hardships of war, the same band of brothers re-united remembering their now cherished past, and finally a pair of buddies and sisters creating memories of new love.

PLOT SUMMARY

After the end of WWII, two Army friends, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, become show business headliners.  While ending a tour of their latest hit in Florida, they plan to head back to New York City to rehearse a new show but meet the Haines Sisters (Betty and Judy), another song and dance act, and romance blossoms.  Instead of New York, they head to Vermont, where the sisters are booked for the ski season.  But there is no snow in Vermont, and the near bankrupt inn is owned by their former commanding officer. To help their old general, Wallace and Davis move their next show’s rehearsals to the inn and then decide to invite the whole army division to the opening night to celebrate the general.  One of the sisters (Betty) mistakenly comes to believe that Bob is using the general’s troubles to get free publicity for the show and quits both the musical and her budding romance.  When she learns the truth, she returns for the Christmas Eve opening.  The successful gala closes with snow finally falling in Vermont for a white Christmas.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

The film begins on Christmas Eve 1944 and ends on Christmas Eve ten years later.  More than almost any other Christmas film the focus is on memories evoked by the holiday (and by the song).

CHARACTER ACTORS

Percy Helton (the train conductor) is the link to yesterday’s film, Miracle on 34th Street. Born in New York City in 1894, Helton started in vaudeville with his actor father, then started appearing on Broadway in 1906 as a juvenile, where he worked with famed directors George M. Cohan and David Belasco.  In one role, which required extended screaming, he permanently damaged his vocal chords, giving him a raspy voice that distinguished him for the rest of his career on stage and screen.  He had roles in films such as A Star Is Born (1954), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and Call Northside 777 (1948).  He had an extended role on TV as Homer Cratchit in The Beverly Hillbillies (1968-69).  As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Fred Astaire remembered Helton fondly as his sponsor for membership in the prestigious Lambs Club, saying years later “When I was made a Lamb, I felt as if I had been knighted.”

Sig Ruman (the landlord) is the link to tomorrow’s film, O. Henry’s Full House (1952), so we will save details about his career for that post.

Dean Jagger (General Waverly) had numerous fine roles in such films as Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) and Twelve O’clock High (1949). He had an extended role in TV’s Mr. Novak (1963-65).

Mary Wickes (Emma) will be seen soon as Nurse Preen in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942).  On the big screen she appeared in such films as Now, Voyager (1942) and The Mayor of 44th Street (1942). On the small screen she had extended roles in Make Room for Daddy (1956-58) and Dennis the Menace (1959-62).

George Chakiris appears as one of the male chorus dancers in the Carousel Club “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me” number. He had appeared as a dancer in such films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), Brigadoon (1954) and The Country Girl (1954). His break-out role came in  West Side Story (1961) as Bernardo, for which he won an Oscar as best supporting actor.

 

Grady Sutton (guest at inn party) has already been seen in a small role in the film In Name Only (1939).

Herb Vigran (Novello, the Florida night club manager) will also appear in tomorrow’s film, O. Henry’s Full House (1952).

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

Fred Astaire was offered the role of Phil Davis in White Christmas, but he rejected it, probably thinking that he was too old for another side-kick role opposite Bing Crosby and not wanting to do what might seem a re-make of Holiday Inn.  Donald O’Connor was also considered for the role, but it instead went to Danny Kaye.  Astaire had extensive connections, both past and future, with other members of the cast and creative team.

Vera-Ellen appeared as Astaire’s dance partner in two under-appreciated films Three Little Words (1950) and The Belle of New York (1952).

Barrie Chase plays the delicious role of the long-legged chorus girl Doris(“Mutual, I’m shure”) in White Christmas. A year later she would have background dancing role in the “International Playboy” number in Astaire’s Daddy Long Legs (1955) and then would have a more extensive dance role as Gabrielle in the “Too Bad (We Can’t Go Back to Moscow)” number in Astaire’s last musical, Silk Stockings (1957).  She then became Fred’s last regular dancing partner in an four TV specials, beginning with An Evening with Fred Astaire (1959) and continuing through The Fred Astaire Show (1968), and several episodes of The Hollywood Palace (1965-66), a TV variety show similar to The Ed Sullivan Show, that Astaire co-hosted in 1965 and 1966.

Robert Alton worked extensively with Astaire for more than a decade doing  choreography for  You’ll Never Get Rich (1941), Ziegfeld Follies (1945), Easter Parade (1948),  The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) and The Belle of New York (1952).

Herb Vigran played a night club owner again in Fred Astaire’s Let’s Dance (1950). He appeared with Astaire as one of the men on the train at the beginning of The Band Wagon (1953).

WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE

The night club scenes, the extended train trip, hints at New York City, the inn are all elements that we enjoy in any film. We also engage the back-stage glimpses both in Florida and Vermont, as well as those massive truck-size TV cameras in the Ed Harrison TV show sequence.  But finally it’s the music from the Irving Berlin songbook that brings us back to this film every year.

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

AMC is running the film so frequently during the next week that it will be hard NOT to see this film.

 

O. Henry’s Full House (1952)

This is a fascinating film for a wide variety of reasons.  First as one of the best examples of a minor cinema genre, the anthology film, which featured different directors creating separate short episodes then stitched together into a full-length film with some connecting theme.  Here the connection is that all five episodes are based on stories by O. Henry, the famous American short story writer from the early 1900s.  These stories were once very widely read and featured in secondary school textbooks. (I doubt if that is still the case.)  The tales range from the wildly comic (“The Ransom of Red Chief”) to the tragic (“The Last Leaf”) to the suspenseful (“The Clarion Call”) and the ironic (“The Cop and the Anthem”).  All feature excellent acting and directing.  I’ll focus on the one story that makes this a Christmas film: “The Gift of the Magi.”

PLOT SUMMARY

A struggling young married couple begins Christmas Eve morning dreaming about the gifts they would love to give each other but that they can’t afford.  The young wife is pregnant.  The young husband has a grinding, low-paying job as a bookkeeper.  They reminisce about the things that first attracted them to each other: her beautiful long hair and his wonderful pocket watch.  As they walk past stores, she sees a watch chain that would go perfectly with his watch. He sees a set of combs that would go perfectly with her hair.  But they know they can’t afford either gift.  Each then sells the thing most precious to them to buy a gift for the other, pointing to a sad, ironic conclusion that is happily reversed by their love.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

The story is set on Christmas Eve and emphasizes the theme of hope and the transforming power of love even in impoverished circumstances.

CHARACTER ACTORS

I will focus on the actors who appear in “The Gift of the Magi,” except for a few in other segments who have been in some of our earlier Christmas movies.

Sig Ruman (the jeweler) is the link to yesterday’s film, White Christmas (1954), where he played the landlord pursuing the Haines Sisters in the Florida night club.  He had outstanding roles as the prison camp guard in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 (1953) and a comic Nazi commandant in Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be (1942).  He played Dutchy in Howard Hawks’s Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and was constantly tricked by the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera (1935).

Fred Kelsey, who plays the street Santa Claus, is the link to the next film Christmas in Connecticut, so we will wait to discuss him more in that post.

Fritz Feld, who plays Maurice the hairdresser, will appear again in Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (1961).  He has a wonderful role as the psychologist befuddled by Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby (1938).

Frank Jaquet, who plays the butcher, was seen previously in Meet John Doe. He had nice small roles in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and The Thin Man Goes Home (1944).

Harry Hayden (the employer A.J. Crump) is making another appearance. We have already seen him as the bank manager in Double Dynamite and will see him again in Larceny, Inc.

Irving Bacon (the father, Mr. Dorset, in “The Ransom Ransom of Red Chief”) has been seen several times already in Bachelor Mother, Holiday Inn and Meet John Doe. We will see him once more in Good Sam.

Philip Tonge (the man with umbrella in “The Cop and the Anthem”) played the toy department manager in Miracle on 34th Street.

Herb Vigran (one of the poker players in “The Clarion Call”) appeared as Novello, the Florida night club owner, in White Christmas.

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

The Astaire connections are a bit more tenuous in this film. The ones that are there (Harry Hayden, Philip Tonge and Alfred Newman – the music director), we have discussed in previous posts.

One distinctive element is that most of the stories are set in New York City, and in his introduction to “The Gift of the Magi” narrator John Steinbeck specifically mentions that the story is set in 1905.  This was the same year that Fred Astaire came to Manhattan.  The noisy elevated railroads depicted in the movie would have been some of the things the young Astaire would have encountered daily as he and his sister and mother started living on 23rd Street in the Flat Iron District.

WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE

“The Gift of the Magi” is a wonderful Christmas story that ends with love transforming what could have been a very sad conclusion into a happy one.  Each of the episodes is a little gem, with wonderful acting and expert direction.

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Turner Classic Movies regularly runs this film throughout the year.   It is scheduled again for December 23 at 11:45 a.m.

Fitzwilly (1967)

This is the first time we have watched this film, and if it had not had a Christmas connection we probably wouldn’t have.  Of course, we loved Dick van Dyke with his iconic 1960s sitcom, and who didn’t adore Barbara Feldon as Agent 99 in Get Smart? And Van Dyke did fine jobs in Mary Poppins and Bye, Bye Birdie, but how would they do as leads for a film?  We couldn’t find any character actor connections to the other films on our watch list, but we decided to go with Fitzwilly anyway. We found the film enjoyable but not completely engaging. The plot ticked along a bit too cleverly, but also dragged a bit in the middle.  We may keep it in future holiday film rotations but probably not as a must-see.  The final 15 minutes with the scene in Gimbel’s is lots of fun and makes a nice complement to other Christmas films with major department store connections, such as Bachelor Mother, Holiday Affair and, of course, Miracle on 34th Street. 

PLOT SUMMARY

Miss Victoria (Edith Evans) is wealthy philanthropist living on Riverside Drive in Manhattan.  Her large household staff is carefully managed by a dutiful Butler, Fitwilly (Dick van Dyke).  But it is all a façade.  Unbeknownst to herself and the outside world, Miss Vicky is penniless.  Fitzwilly and the rest of the staff have contrived to keep up pretenses by carrying out carefully planned criminal enterprises (essentially elaborate shoplifting schemes).  Juliet Nowell (Barbara Feldon) is hired by Miss Vicky to help edit a book she is writing, and Juliet soon is attracted romantically to Fitzwilly.  Juliet stumbles upon the truth about the household and encourages Fitzwilly to stop the thievery, which he agrees to do after one last big caper that will provide Miss Vicky enough money for the rest of her life.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

The last big heist is robbing Gimbel’s on Christmas Eve.  There are delightful scenes of retail chaos, and the film finishes with a surprising happy ending on Christmas Day.

CHARACTER ACTORS

Cecil Kellaway (Buckmaster) is one of my favorite character actors with a wonderful range.  He appears in such classics as I Married a Witch (1942) with Frederic Marsh and Veronica Lake, Harvey (1950) with Jimmy Stewart, Wuthering Heights (1939) with Laurence Olivier and Kitty (1945) with Paulette Goddard, where he plays painter Thomas Gainsborough.

John McGiver (Albert) is also an actor with a wonderful range.  He has a light comic touch but is better know for his dramatic appearances in Midnight Cowboy (1969) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962).

Edith Evans (Miss Victoria) was better known as a stage actress.  Her film roles include  Tom Jones (1963) and Scrooge (1970) with Albert Finney, where she played the Ghost of Christmas Past.

John Fiedler (Mr. Morton Dunne) is best known for his role as Mr. Peterson on TV’s The Bob Newhart Show. His films include 12 Angry Men (1957), True Grit (1969) and The Odd Couple (1969).

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

We really had to strain to find any connection to Mr. Astaire, but we found one: James Gonzalez (a Gimbel’s clerk) appeared as a ship passenger in Royal Wedding (1951).

WHY WE LOVE  LIKE THIS MOVIE

It was nice to see a film set in 1960s Manhattan, and the closing sequence in Gimbel’s is a wonderfully choreographed heist with loads of funny bits.

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Turner Classic Movies will show the film on December 25 at 1:30 p.m.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

This has long been one of our favorite Christmas films, primarily because of the star, Barbara Stanwyck, plus loads of other wonderful character actors, especially S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall.  Even without the Christmas setting, it would still be a fine screwball comedy.  If you have never seen it, add it to your Christmas list.

PLOT SUMMARY

Barbara Stanwyck plays a famous magazine writer, similar to today’s Martha Stewart, an expert on everything from cooking to interior decoration and family management.  Her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) convinces her to host an injured naval hero at her home for the holidays to see how happy a home life can be. Except it is all a fiction.  She doesn’t live on a Connecticut farm, she isn’t married, doesn’t have a baby, and she can’t cook. The plot involves the elaborate schemes to fool Greenstreet and the naval hero (Dennis Morgan), with whom Stanwyck soon falls in love. Of course, everything gets happily resolved at the last minute.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

The film takes place primarily on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and includes lots of snow and an elaborately decorated tree.

CHARACTER ACTORS

Fred Kelsey, who played the street Santa Claus in O. Henry’s Full House, is the link to this film, where he plays Harper.  He appears in several other films on the Christmas cinema list, including Never Say Goodbye (1945), Larceny Inc. (1942) and The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942). He appeared in two Busby Berkeley films: Footlight Parade (1933) and The Gold Diggers of 1933.

S.Z. Sakall (Felix Bassenak) will be the link to our next film, Never Say Goodbye (1946), so we will wait till then to discuss his career.

Reginald Gardiner (John Sloan) will be seen soon in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942).

Robert Shayne (editor Dudley Beecham) appeared primarily in TV roles, but he had a small part in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), as Cary Grant’s client meeting for drinks at the bar in the Plaza.

Una O’Connor (Norah) appeared in three Errol Flynn films: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938),  The Sea Hawk (1940) and The Adventures of Don Juan (1948). She appeared in two classic Universal horror films:  The Invisible Man (1933) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Frank Jenks (Sinkewicz) appeared as one of the city hall reporters in His Girl Friday (1940).

Dick Elliott (Judge Crowthers) will be seen two more times during Christmas: as the man on the porch in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and in Good Sam (1948). He appeared in another Capra film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and also had roles in Little Miss Broadway (1938) and Another Thin Man (1939).

Joyce Compton (nurse Mary Lee) was an absolute delight as the night club entertainer Dixie Lee (singing “Gone with the Wind” with special wind effects) in one of the best screwball comedies, The Awful Truth (1937).

Charles Arnt (Homer Higginbottom) will be seen shortly as the policeman in The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and in Remember the Night (1939). His other notable roles include Ball of Fire (1941) and After the Thin Man (1936).

Sydney Greenstreet (Mr. Yardley) is best known for his four films with Humphrey Bogart:  The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), Across the Pacific (1942) and Passage to Marseille (1944).

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

Fred Kelsey appeared in A Damsel in Distress (1937), the first RKO film Astaire did without Ginger Rogers.

Reginald Gardiner also appeared with Astaire in A Damsel in Distress.

Frank Jenks appeared in two Astaire films: Swing Time (1936) and Follow the Fleet (1936).

Dick Elliott played a train conductor in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939).

WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE

Just about everything: the scenes in Felix’s Manhattan eatery on Restaurant Row (West 46th Street), S.Z. Sakall’s pronunciation of “catastrophe” and BARBARA STANWYCK!

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Turner Classic Movies will show Christmas in Connecticut on December 22 at 10 p.m. and December 24 at 4 p.m.

Never Say Goodbye (1946)

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.

PLOT SUMMARY

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.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

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.

CHARACTER ACTORS

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.

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

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.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

With The Bishop’s Wife we come to what is not only one of our favorite Christmas movies but also perhaps the best film on the list, with the exception of It’s a Wonderful Life.  Why would this sentimental film fantasy about an oddly named angel (Dudley) helping an Episcopal bishop re-learn the true meaning of Christmas and that he loves his wife be such a top-notch film? First, it has so many skilled contributors.  It was expertly directed by Henry Koster, who was nominated for an Academy Award as best director for this film.  The script was written by Robert E. Sherwood, who had in the previous year done the screenplay for The Best Years of Our Lives and who had on his list of credits such varied films as Rebecca, Waterloo Bridge, Idiot’s Delight, The Petrified Forest and The Ghost Goes West.  The cinematographer was also one of Hollywood’s best, Gregg Toland, who was behind the camera for The Best Years of Our Lives, Citizen Kane and Wuthering Heights.  Toland’s deep-focus camera fills so many shots with ironic layers of meaning, as in the central scene where Dudley engages not only young Debbie with the story of David and the lion but also all of the other members of the bishop’s household.  The film score is by Hugo Friedhofer, whose credits include The Best Years of Our Lives, The Sun Also Rises and An Affair to Remember.  All that and I haven’t even mentioned Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta Young, nor one of the widest range of quality character actors of any of the films on our list.  Pay close attention to the sensitive, detailed and restrained performance given by Cary Grant.  At first glance, he seems stiff and far removed from the screwball slapstick of his roles in The Awful Truth, Bringing Up Baby and My Favorite Wife. But notice from the beginning his attraction to Loretta Young in front of the milliner’s store, his distracted glances at her framed photograph in the bishop’s office, and the times he resists touching her.

PLOT SUMMARY

Bishop Henry Brougham is so focused on raising funds for a new cathedral that he has lost contact with the most important things in his life: his wife, his daughter, and his old friends.  Distraught he prays for help, and the angel Dudley appears.  At first befuddled by Dudley, the bishop grows distrustful and jealous as his staff, his daughter, and especially his wife are attracted to this handsome, sensitive stranger. The bishop moves from frustration to jealousy to anger, realizing that he still loves his wife and is willing to fight for her.  Dudley leaves, as he promised, with no one remembering his visit but all finding new hope on Christmas Eve.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

The film begins a few days before Christmas and ends with a short, Dudley-inspired homily by the bishop on Christmas Eve.  The streets are filled with snow, Christmas carols, and shoppers.  There is a miraculously decorated Christmas tree and equally miraculous ice skating.

CHARACTER ACTORS

Eugene Borden (restaurant owner Michel) played a waiter at Luigi’s restaurant in Never Say Goodbye.  Borden had roles in many movie classics, including  Casablanca (1942), On the Town (1949) and An American in Paris (1951).

Montey Woolley (Professor Wutheridge) will be seen soon in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942). He appeared with Cary Grant in the bio-pic of Cole Porter, Night and Day (1946), where he plays himself, as a long-time friend of the famed songsmith.  He has a delightful small role in one of our favorite under-rated screwball comedies,  Midnight (1939), starring Claudette Colbert, John Barrymore and Don Ameche.

James Gleason shows a delightfully silly side to his character as the cab driver Sylvester. It is quite different from the mostly serious role he had in Meet John Doe.

Gladys Cooper (Mrs. Hamilton) had a long career in films such as Rebecca (1940), That Hamilton Woman (1941), Now, Voyager (1942) and My Fair Lady (1964). She appeared in a small role with Cary Grant in Mr. Lucky (1943).

Sara Haden (Mildred Cassaway) has already been seen in The Great Rupert and be seen again in The Shop Around the Corner.

Elsa Lanchester (Matilda) will be seen later in an eccentric role as Kim Novak’s aunt in  Bell, Book and Candle (1958).  She appears in another Christmas film, Come to the Stable (1949).  She also appeared in Mary Poppins (1964). Her most famous role was perhaps a dual one, as Mary Shelley and the monster’s mate in The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

If Karolyn Grimes (Debby) looks and sounds familiar, it’s because she played Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life.  She had another distinctive role in John Ford’s Rio Grande (1950).

Regis Toomey (Mr. Miller) was previously seen in Meet John Doe and will be seen again in Come to the Stable.

Robert Anderson (the snowball captain) is another link to It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), where he played the young George Bailey.

Tito Vuolo (Maggenti, the tree shop owner) appeared with Cary Grant as Zucco in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948). He appeared as Mozzarella in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959).  One of his finest small bits is as Luis, the waiter promoting sea bass in Shadow of the Thin Man (1941).

Edgar Dearing (the cop on the beat) played an Irish policeman in numerous films.  We saw him previously in Christmas Eve (1947). He had similar roles in The Awful Truth (1937), After the Thin Man (1936), You Can’t Take It With You (1938), Sullivan’s Travels (1941) and Shadow of the Thin Man (1941).

Sarah Edwards (Mrs. Duffy, the organist) has already been seen as Mrs. Hawkins in Meet John Doe. We will see her soon as Mary Hatch’s mother in It’s a Wonderful Life and as the first customer rejecting the music box in The Shop Around the Corner.  Her other roles include a train passenger in The Thin Man Goes Home, the attorney’s wife in The Awful Truth and Mrs. Burton in Tom, Dick and Harry, which starred Ginger Rogers.

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

Eugene Borden appeared with Fred Astaire in Yolanda and the Thief (1945) and Silk Stockings (1957).

Karolyn Grimes had a role in Blue Skies (1946).

Edgar Dearing appeared with Astaire in The Broadway Melody of 1940 and Swing Time (1936).

WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE

As I said earlier, it’s one of the best all-around films on our Christmas list. It’s got Cary Grant in it, who incidentally was originally cast as the bishop! I also love the connections to It’s a Wonderful Life (the oddly named angels and the three character actors mentioned earlier).  And then there’s Elsa Lanchester’s wonderful line: “Nobody expects him to be normal, he’s a bishop.”

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Turner Classic Movies will show The Bishop’s Wife on December 24 at 8 p.m.

Remember the Night (1940)

Remember the Night has become one of my favorite films not only at Christmas but throughout the year.  First and foremost it has Barbara Stanwyck, who in 1940 was hitting full stride with a string of fantastic comedies that also showed her dramatic capabilities.  Shortly after this film she made The Lady Eve (1940), followed by Meet John Doe (1941) and Ball of Fire (1941).  All were done with top-notch directors: Preston Sturges, Frank Capra and Howard Hawks.  Four years later she would stun everyone under Billy Wilder’s direction in Double Indemnity (1944), which co-starred Fred MacMurray, who is the second reason I love Remember the Night. If you are used to MacMurray only from TV’s My Three Sons, then you must see Remember and Double to see what skills he had as actor in both romantic comedy and film noir.  My third reason for loving this film is the script by Preston Sturges and how it provided the catalyst to his career as a director.  Long recognized as a skilled writer for such films as The Power and the Glory, Easy Living and The Good Fairy, Sturges had grown increasingly upset with directors who tinkered with his scripts.  Mitchell Leisen, who directed both Easy Living and Remember the Night, was Sturges’ main antagonist. Ironically, Leisen is the fourth reason I love this film.  Remember the Night first introduced me to Leisen’s work, which includes some true gems: Easy Living (1937), Midnight (19439), Kitty (1945) and The Mating Season (1951).  Finally, of course, this film has a wonderful group of character actors who help bring this film so richly to life and who reappear in several fine Christmas films.

PLOT SUMMARY

Lee Leander (Stanwyck) has been arrested for stealing a bracelet from a Fifth Avenue jewelry store.  It’s her third offense, and assistant district attorney John Sergeant (MacMurray) has been tapped to convict her.  Sensing that the jury is feeling forgiving just before Christmas, he has the trial postponed till after the new year but then feels guilty for leaving Lee in jail for the holidays and arranges her bail.  Realizing that they are both from Indiana, he offers to take her home for the holidays.  In a particularly dark scene, Sergeant learns how much Lee’s mother hates her, so he offers to take her to visit his family.  Lee begins to fall for the lawyer, and he begins to fall for her, even though the relationship could damage his career.  Returning to Manhattan after the holidays, he tries to throw the case, but Lee sacrifices herself, pleading guilty in a tear-jerking conclusion.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

The story begins just a few days before Christmas, features a sentimental family Christmas Eve party, including popcorn being strung into garlands for the tree, and an old-fashioned barn dance on New Year’s Eve.

CHARACTER ACTORS

Beulah Bondi (Mrs. Sargent) will be seen again as George Bailey’s mother in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).  She also played Jimmy Stewart’s mother in Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).  Other notable, sympathetic roles for Bondi included The Good Fairy (1935) and Penny Serenade (1941).

Elizabeth Patterson (Aunt Emma) had a long career ranging from roles in Dinner at Eight (1933) and Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938) to an extended role as Mrs. Trumbull in 11 episodes of  I Love Lucy (1954-1956).  She also played Aunt Blanche in the Bulldog Drummond movie series.  She appeared again in the Sturges film Hail the Conquering Hero (1944).  Her other roles include Lady on a Train (1945) and Hannah in Little Women (1949).

Sterling Holloway (Willie) makes a reappearance on our holiday film list.  He played the cashier at the diner in Meet John Doe (1941).

Charles Waldron (the New York judge) had his most notable role as General Sternwood in The Big Sleep (1946).  He also appeared in the fine comedy The Devil and Miss Jones (1941).

Paul Guilfoyle (District Attorney) appeared with Barbara Stanwyck in The Mad Miss Manton (1938).  He had small notable roles in two classics: Floyd in The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and as the man shot by Jimmy Cagney in the trunk of a car in White Heat (1949).

Charles Arnt (Tom) we have already seen in Christmas in Connecticut (1945). He appeared in two classics with William Powell: as Billings in I Love You Again (1940) and as a drunk in After the Thin Man (1936).

John Wray (Hank the farmer) also had several notable roles, including I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), the desperate farmer in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and the prison gang overseer in Gone with the Wind (1939).

Georgia Caine, who plays Stanwyck’s cruel mother in this film, had sympathetic roles in two Sturges films: The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1943) and Hail the Conquering Hero (1944).

Fred Toones (Rufus) appeared in many classic films: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932), Twentieth Century (1934), Imitation of Life (1934), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and two by Preston Sturges — Christmas in July (1940) and  The Palm Beach Story (1942).

Tom Kennedy (Fat Mike) had a long career in movies and television. Two of his notable film roles are with the Marx Brothers in Monkey Business (1931) and the classic musical 42nd Street (1933).

Chester Clute (jewelry salesman) we have already seen in  It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) and Bachelor Mother (1939). He appeared in three Cary Grant films — Night and Day (1946), My Favorite Wife (1940) and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). He also had roles in Saratoga Trunk (1945), Lady on a Train (1945) and You Can’t Take It With You (1938).

Spencer Charters (judge at rummage sale) appeared as the marriage license clerk in Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and also appeared in Capra’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936).  He had three roles in William Powell films: The Kennel Murder Case (1933), Libeled Lady (1936) and The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936).  And he also plays in an interesting, underrated film with Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan — The Moon’s Our Home (1936).

Julius Tannen (complaining jury member in the closing sequence) we have already seen in The Miracle at Morgan’s Creek (1943).  He was a regular member of the Sturges stock company, including the lovely film, Unfaithfully Yours (1948).

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

Charles Waldron appeared on stage with Fred Astaire in Actors Equity Benefit at the Metropolitan Opera on May 9, 1920.

Paul Guilfoyle played the elevator starter in the Astaire-Rogers film Carefree (1938).

Georgia Caine played a charwoman in Astaire’s The Sky’s the Limit (1943).

WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE

Beyond the five reasons mentioned earlier, I love the carefully constructed camera shots.  Pay particular attention to the scene where Beulah Bondi asks Barbara Stanwyck to give up Fred MacMurray and how we see Stanwyck’s fateful promise made with her back turned to Bondi while we see her face in the mirror.  It is a beautifully directed and acted scene.

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Turner Classic Movies has Remember the Night available on demand with its WatchTCM app through December 30.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner is a practically perfect film, not only for Christmas but for any time you want to enjoy an intimate story, well written, beautifully photographed and sensitively acted.  On this viewing, I particularly noticed how quiet the movie is.  You will hear none of the obtrusive MGM sound that the studio often used to back up every scene.  The only background music is that provided by the band in the café.  And the only raised voices are a few angry outbursts of Frank Morgan (the shop owner) and when Jimmy Stewart fires the two-faced clerk.  Otherwise the voices are all barely above whispers, but that fits perfectly with the intimate world that the film creates. Notice how you can even hear the unfolding of the paper, when Stewart opens the ironic letter that both recommends him for a new job and fires him, or as he places his pencils on his sales book as he leaves the shop that has been his home for the last time.  Can you think of any film that so quickly establishes the essential traits of its characters as in the first few minutes of this film when the employees gather in front of the shop awaiting Mr. Matuschek?  And is there any more beautiful snowfall than the feathery flakes outside of the shop on Christmas Eve?  And, of course, what wonderful character actors!

PLOT SUMMARY

The small world of the Matuschek & Co. has been disrupted by an anxious boss, a conniving clerk, and a new employee (Klara), who bickers with the senior clerk (Kralik).  The clerk is falling in love with a young woman he has never met but only corresponded with as a pen pal.  On the same evening he has been planning to meet her for the first time, he is fired, and then he discovers that the anonymous woman is the employee with whom he has been bickering for months. The jealous boss learns that his wife has been having an affair with a different employee and attempts suicide.  He apologizes to Kralik and promotes him to manager.  On Christmas Eve he reveals himself to Klara, and all ends happily.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

The final scene is set on Christmas Eve, with shoppers filling the store, employees heading off to Christmas celebrations, and the young lovers exchanging gifts.  The underlying tones of loneliness and despair that shade the film are reversed in the final scenes with joy and intimacy.

CHARACTER ACTORS

Charles Arnt (policeman out side the shop) appeared in yesterday’s film, Remember the Night, as Tom one of the townspeople.

Frank Morgan (Hugo Matuschek) is best known as the wizard in The Wizard of Oz (1939), but he had a host of wonderful roles in the 1930s, including Saratoga (1937), The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937), The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Fairy (1935), which also starred Margaret Sullavan.

Joseph Schildkraut (Vadas) was a top-notch actor on Broadway before heading to Hollywood. He won an Oscar for best supporting actor as Alfred Dreyfus in The Life of Emile Zola (1937) and had a fine role in The Baroness and the Butler (1938), which starred William Powell. Later in his career, Schildkraut played the father, Otto Frank, in The Diary of Anne Frank (1959).

Sara Haden (Flora) has appeared twice earlier on our Christmas watch list in The Bishop’s Wife and The Great Rupert.

Felix Bressart (Pirovitch) is one of my favorite members of the Lubitsch stock company.  He has wonderful roles in To Be or Not to Be (1942) and Ninotchka (1939).

Sarah Edwards (shop customer) has appeared already in two films on our holiday list — The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) and The Bishop’s Wife (1947) — and will be seen once more as Mary Hatch’s mother in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Edwin Maxwell (doctor) appeared in a wide range of classic favorites, such as The Devil and Miss Jones (1941), His Girl Friday (1940), Ninotchka (1939), You Can’t Take It With You (1938), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), The Great Ziegfeld (1936), Duck Soup (1933), Dinner at Eight (1933) and Scarface (1932).

Charles Halton (detective) will be seen soon in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Among his other many film credits are  Gold Diggers of 1937, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938), Room Service (1938), The Mad Miss Manton (1938), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), Sabouteur (1942), To Be or Not to Be (1942), The Thin Man Goes Home (1944), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947).

Charles Smith (Rudy) plays the teenager asking about Jimmy Cagney about the Variety headline “Hix Nix Stix Pix” in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942). He also appeared in The Major and the Minor (1942) and had an extended role as  Dizzy Stevens in the Henry Aldrich movies.

Claire Du Brey (shop customer) played one of the gossiping ladies in Michel’s in The Bishop’s Wife (1947) and a perfume buying customer in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). She also appeared in Now, Voyager (1942), Nothing Sacred (1937) and Topper (1937).  She plays a complaining traveler’s wife in the wonderful holiday short film Star in the Night (1945).

William Edmunds (waiter) will appear soon as Mr. Martini in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). We have seen him previously in Double Dynamite (1951). His other notable film credits include  The Great McGinty (1940) and Casablanca (1942).

Grace Hayle (customer buying the music box) played a society reporter in Gold Diggers of 1933 and had similar small roles in Theodora Goes Wild (1936), Topper (1937) and The Women (1939).

Mabel Colcord (Aunt Anna) plays the cook in Holiday (1938) and Hannah in Little Women (1933).

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

Frank Morgan had a decades-long relationship with Fred Astaire, starring in The Band Wagon on Broadway with Fred and Adele in 1931 and then two films with Fred — Broadway Melody of 1940 and Yolanda and the Thief (1945).

Grace Hayle appeared with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Roberta (1935) and Carefree (1938).

Sarah Edwards appeared with Astaire at the Actors Equity Benefit at the Metropolitan Opera on May 7, 1922.

William Edmunds appeared in vaudeville with the Astaires at Philadelphia’s Broadway theater the week of February 21, 1914.

Charles Smith appeared with Astaire in the film Second Chorus (1940).

WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE

The many artists involved in making this film have created a world that you are sad to leave, because it promises intimate friendships, winsome humor, honest love, and simple hope, even after moments of disappointment and pain.

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Turner Classis Movies will show The Shop Around the Corner on December 24 at 12:30 p.m. and again on January 29 at 4:45 p.m.

Good Sam (1948)

I first encountered this film three years ago and liked it very much at first, but unlike other favorites on our Christmas watch list, I have found my fondness for it dwindling on each re-viewing.  It has become one of those films I would like to like, because it has a wonderful creative team: Leo McCarey (Duck Soup, The Awful Truth etc.), Gary Cooper, Ann Sheridan and a long list of wonderful character actors.  They all certainly knew how to make good movies, and good Christmas movies, too: consider The Bells of St. Mary’s, Meet John Doe and The Man Who Came to Dinner.  So why doesn’t Good Sam succeed?  I think it’s the screenplay, whose weaknesses come into focus if you compare this film to It’s a Wonderful Life, with which it shares not only the central concept of a good man (Sam Clayton) facing a life-changing crisis on Christmas Eve but also at least three character actors.  Clayton, unlike George Bailey, has no dark underside: we know little about his early life and get no sense that his life has had any frustrations or unfulfilled dreams.  He is a simple, good man, where George Bailey is a complex, good man.  As a result, Clayton’s Christmas Eve crisis is not a dark night of the soul, such as we see in It’s a Wonderful Life, but a silly drunk scene that bears no connection to what we have seen of his past character.  That lack of connectivity points to another weakness of the film: it has many funny scenes, but there is no substance holding them together.  Good Sam is well worth watching, but as a lesson in what’s missing and what keeps it from being a perennial favorite.

PLOT SUMMARY

Sam Clayton (Gary Cooper) is the general manager of the local department store and has a reputation as a man devoted to “loving thy neighbor” with no practical limits.  He lends money to people down on their luck, and they never pay him back.  His wife (Ann Sheridan) is frustrated that her husband’s extreme charity has kept them from owning a home for which they have been saving for years.  She finds her dream home and is ready to move in, when she discovers that Sam has lent the money to former neighbors to buy a small business and build their own home. When the neighbors miraculously repay the loan enabling the Claytons to buy their dream home, she loses her cynicism and tries to follow Sam’s charitable lead.  All seems to be heading to a wonderful Christmas in their new home, when Sam is robbed of thousands of dollars for a charitable dinner, and he must use the house fund to repay the loss.  After the banker refuses to loan him money so his wife can have her dream, Sam sinks into despair and drowns his sorrows at a local bar. At the last minute the banker relents, and Sam is reunited with his family and friends.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

The movie begins during the Christmas shopping season at Sam’s department store and culminates on Christmas Eve.

CHARACTER ACTORS

Ray Collins (Rev. Daniels) may be best known as Lieutenant Tragg on TV’s Perry Mason, but he had a long, distinguished career in many fine films, including Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) and  The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947).

Edmund Lowe (H.C. Borden) may look familiar as Dr. Talbot in Dinner at Eight (1933).  His long career began in vaudeville and extended through many character roles in films and television.

Joan Lorring (Shirley Mae) had roles in several interesting films, such as The Lost Moment (1947), The Corn is Green (1945) and The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1944). She starred in a short-lived TV series Norby (1955).

Clinton Sundberg (Nelson, the mechanic) has a long list of film credits, including Song of the Thin Man (1947), Good News (1947) and  In the Good Old Summertime (1949), the musical re-make of The Shop Around the Corner.

Minerva Urecal (Mrs. Nelson) appeared in Leo McCarey’s The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945). She played Nurse Dunphy in Harvey (1950).

Louise Beavers (Chloe) was seen earlier in Holiday Inn (1942).  We discussed her distinguished career in the post  for that classic.

Netta Packer (Mrs. Butler) appeared in  It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Tom, Dick and Harry (1941).

Florence Auer (woman on bus) has been seen in It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) and The Bishop’s Wife (1947), where she played one of the gossipy women in the restaurant Michel’s.

Oliver Blake (the turkey salesman) appeared in The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), Saboteur (1942), Casablanca (1942), The Thin Man Goes Home (1944) and as the bartender in Brigadoon (1954).

Ida Moore (knitting lady) has been seen in two of our Christmas films, including The Lemon Drop Kid and Double Dynamite.

Todd Karns (Joe Adams) plays Harry Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). He was the son of the fine character actor Roscoe Karns, who appeared in It Happened One Night and His Girl Friday.

William Frawley (Tom the bartender) has been seen in two other films on our  Christmas list: Miracle on 34th Street and The Lemon Drop Kid.

Harry Hayden (banker) has also appeared in several of our Christmas films, including Double Dynamite, Miracle on 34th Street, and O. Henry’s Full House.

Irving Bacon (drunk tramp) has appeared in five other of our Christmas films: Bachelor Mother, White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Meet John Doe and O. Henry’s Full House.

Almira Sessions (landlady) was also one of the gossipy restaurant ladies in The Bishop’s Wife (1947). She played Potter’s secretary in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and had a role in Sullivan’s Travels (1941),

Dick Wessel (bus driver) had a long career in films and television. Among his movie credits are The Strawberry Blonde (1941), Penny Serenade (1941), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), Harvey (1950) and  Strangers on a Train (1951)

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

Dick Wessel appeared with Fred Astaire in The Belle of New York (1952).

Todd Karns and Oliver Blake appeared with Astaire in Let’s Dance (1950).

Clinton Sundberg appeared with Astaire in  Easter Parade (1948) and The Barkleys of Broadway (1949),

Edmund Lowe appeared on stage with Fred and Adele Astaire at the Actors Equity benefit on May 5, 1920, at the Metropolitan Opera House.

WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE

We love the idea, the actors and many of the comic scenes.  We would love to love it more.

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Turner Classic Movies shows Good Sam irregularly.  Look for it next year, perhaps.

Holiday Affair (1949)

After we first saw this film about five years ago, it has become one of the favorites on our Christmas watch list, and even though it is a quintessential holiday movie with department store toylands, gifts, trees, dinners and snow, it is much more than simply a feel-good film.  The script is tightly constructed, the characters quickly and precisely drawn, and the themes substantial. While it has moments of sentimentality (what Christmas movie doesn’t?), it is not a piece of romantic fluff.  There are some serious things here:  a war widow’s economic struggle to raise her son alone, her tendency to become enmeshed with the child, the difficulties of finding fulfilling romantic relationships without settling for simple safety and security, and the risky nature of true love.  Robert Mitchum, who is not known for his romantic roles, does a lovely job here, and the perky young Janet Leigh also does a fine job.  If you know her only from her cynical, short-lived role in Psycho, you’re in for a surprise with this film.  Wendell Corey, the third lead, has some of the best dialogue in the picture and carries off his role as the long-deferred suitor quite well. And, of course, there are some wonderful character actors with some nice surprises.

PLOT SUMMARY

War widow Connie Ennis works as a comparison shopper for a department store and purchases a train from toy salesman Steve Mason a few days before Christmas.  She takes the train home, where her son, Timmy, sneaks a peak and thinks it is his Christmas gift.  Connie has been dating a lawyer, Carl Davis, for two years and keeps putting off his proposal of marriage.  When Connie returns the train for a refund, Steve recognizes her as a comparison shopper, who should be identified, in effect ending Connie’s job.  When he decides not to turn her in, Steve is fired and they spend the afternoon together.  Both are clearly attracted to each other.  Steve returns to the apartment with Connie, where he encounters Carl and also meets Timmy and learns about his disappointment in not getting the train.  Even though he is short of money, Steve buys the train for Timmy and leaves it at the door on Christmas morning.  Connie tracks Steve down in Central Park and tries to pay him back, but he refuses. Steve is invited to Christmas dinner, where he embarrasses everyone by proposing to Connie, who has finally accepted Carl’s proposal.  Carl eventually realizes that Connie is in love with Steve and breaks off the engagement.  Steve decides to head to California for a risky dream job, and Connie plans to stay in New York with Timmy, until she realizes that she indeed loves Steve and rushes off with Timmy on New Year’s Eve to join Steve on the adventure in California.

CHRISTMAS CONNECTION

The story begins a few days before Christmas, continues through Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.  There are intimate scenes of decorating the tree, crowded scenes of Christmas shopping, and a warm Christmas dinner.  The silent New Year’s Eve party scene on the train is beautifully shot and symmetrically ends the picture the way it began.

CHARACTER ACTORS

Esther Dale (Mrs. Ennis) had roles in many different movies.  Her best films include two top-notch screwball comedies: The Awful Truth (1936) and Easy Living (1937).  She also appeared in Curly Top (1935) with Shirley Temple and Monkey Business (1952) with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers.  She appeared with Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert in The Egg and I (1947) and continued her role through the silly Ma and Pa Kettle sequels.

Henry O’Neill (Mr. Crowley) had a long career, including roles with William Powell in The Kennel Murder Case (1933) and Shadow of the Thin Man (1941),  with Jimmy Cagney in Lady Killer (1933) and with Cary Grant as a client in the Plaza bar in North by Northwest (1959).

Harry Morgan is hilarious in this film as a befuddled police lieutenant.  Though his best known roles were on TV in Dragnet (1967-70) and M*A*S*H, he had a long and varied film career with roles in  The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949),  High Noon (1952), Bend of the River (1952) and  The Far Country (1954).

Larry Blake (plain clothesman) appeared in such films as Sunset Boulevard (1950), High Noon (1952) and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954).

Frank Mills

Frank Mills (bum in the park) was seen previously as the bartender on Christmas Eve in Cary Grant’s In Name Only.  Check the blog post for that film to learn about his connections with Fred Astaire.

William J. O’Brien (peanut vendor) has been seen previously in Good Sam (1948), where he played an  usher.  He appeared with the Marx Brothers in  A Night at the Opera (1935),

Bert Stevens (Henry) has been seen in several films on our Christmas watch list:  Meet John Doe (1941), Christmas Eve (1947) and It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947). His other notable films include some of the best screwball comedies: You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Midnight (1939), The Lady Eve (1941), Ball of Fire (1941), The Major and the Minor (1942), I Married a Witch (1942) and Monsier Verdoux (1947).  He also appeared in Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959),

ASTAIRE CONNECTION

Bert Stevens appeared in three films with Fred Astaire Three Little Words (1950), Let’s Dance (1950), Royal Wedding (1951)

William J. O’Brien appeared with Astaire in  A Damsel in Distress (1937) and as one of the bartenders in the spectacular “One for My Baby” dance in The Sky’s the Limit (1943).

WHY WE LOVE THIS MOVIE

It’s a lovely story, well acted and beautifully shot.  We are suckers for any Christmas movie set in New York, and since we are train lovers as well, beginning and ending the story with trains (both toy and real) cements the deal for us.

WHERE CAN YOU SEE THE FILM

Turner Classic Movies runs the film several times every December.