Happy New Year at the Movies!

Click the image above to see my compilation of “Happy New Year” greetings from nine different classic films on YouTube. They aren’t just holiday films (two are better known as classic gangster films), but a New Year’s Eve is a pivotal or climactic scene in each picture.

First is Little Caesar (1931), one of the earliest gangster films with a lengthy tracking shot into a New Year’s Eve party.

Next is It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), a more traditional and upbeat holiday film, with Victor Moore wishing everyone a Happy New Year as the clock strikes midnight.

Then another classic gangster film, The Roaring Twenties (1939) with Humphrey Bogart wishing Jimmy Cagney a sarcastic holiday greeting in the film’s climactic scene.

And So They Were Married (1936) features a happy drunk and an incarcerated Melvyn Douglas saying Happy New Year.

Holiday Inn (1942) has both stars, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, saying Happy New Year in quite different fashions.

After the Thin Man (1936) has the great William Powell planting a long kiss on a surprised fellow reveler.

In Bachelor Mother (1939), Ginger Rogers and David Niven exchange a silent “Happy New Year” followed by an extended kiss in the middle of Times Square.

We’re in New York again for The Apartment (1960) with Fred MacMurray and Shirley MacLaine back in their usual booth at the Chinese restaurant just before the film’s closing scene (my favorite of all New Year’s Eve film finales).

Fred MacMurray plays a much more sympathetic character in the last clip — Remember the Night (1940) — and a pivotal kiss with Barbara Stanwyck. NOTE: Due to a copyright claim, YouTube has forced me to remove this clip from my video.

In compiling these clips, I realized how few classic films actually have their climaxes set on New Year’s Eve, compared to the number that close with Christmas Eve scenes. (The Christmas Eve climaxes include, of course, all of the version of A Christmas Carol, two by Frank Capra — It’s a Wonderful Life and Meet John Doe, White Christmas, The Shop Around the Corner, The Bishop’s Wife, and many more. More frequently New Year’s Eve is a time when the film plot pivots.

I count seven classics that have pivotal scenes set on December 31. In Holiday Inn Fred Astaire arrives drunk at the inn and first dances with his new partner, the plot twist that propels the rest of the picture. Some of the pivots are murders, but more frequently they are extended kisses that lead to recognitions of love. Little Caesar has a pivotal murder at the end of a New Year’s Eve party. Another murder occurs on New Year’s Eve in After the Thin Man. The pivotal kisses start in Holiday with Katharine Hepburn realizing she loves Cary Grant but allowing only a cheek kiss. Remember the Night has an extended kiss that leads Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck to realize they are in love. Bachelor Mother has a similar recognition kiss between Ginger Rogers and David Niven.

I count just five climactic New Year’s Day scenes in classic movies (before 1961), but except for And So They Were Married, which ends in a jail scene and Melvyn Douglas and Mary Astor reuniting, and The Roaring Twenties, which ends with the killing of Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Cagney, none of the climaxes includes the words “Happy New Year,” so I didn’t include them in my clip compilation. Holiday Affair ends with Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum finally recognizing their love and coming together silently on the train leaving New York City on New Year’s Eve.

My two favorite extended New Year’s Eve climaxes both feature characters running through the streets of Manhattan after realizing they are in love. Shirley MacLaine runs to Jack Lemmon in The Apartment, and Billy Crystal runs to Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. Crystal and Ryan exchange a final grand kiss and some wonderful dialogue. Interestingly, MacLaine and Lemmon don’t kiss, but the final line (“Shut up and deal”) is in some ways the most endearing final line of all these films.

“Jingle Bells” in Six Classic Films

For 2021’s “Christmas at the Movies” YouTube clip, I’ve selected scenes from six classic Christmas movies that feature the ubiquitous carol “Jingle Bells.”

First are two scenes from Miracle on 34th Street (1947). The first is part of the film’s opening where Kris Kringle discovers the drunken Santa Claus just before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade begins. One of my favorite character actors, Percy Helton, plays the inebriated Santa who sings a bit of “Jingle Bells” before passing out. The second 34th Street scene with “Jingle Bells” comes in the Post Office, as the letter sorter happily hits upon a way of getting rid of the thousands of letters addressed to Santa Claus and unwittingly setting up the way of saving Kris in his trial.

The next clip comes from a short film produced in 1945: Star in the Night. This is a charming little film, directed by Don Siegel, who 26 years later would direct Dirty Harry.

Next comes one of my favorite quirky Christmas classics: The Great Rupert (1950). Jimmy Durante sings “Jingle Bells” with support from Frank Orth (Mr. Dingle), another favorite character actor. (Look for him as Duffy in HIs Girl Friday.)

“Jingle Bells” next shows up at the dance song of choice in the raucous office party in The Apartment (1960).

The seldom seen romantic comedy And So They Were Married (1936) features a lengthy rendition of “Jingle Bells” while some brattish children destroy a resort hotel’s Christmas tree. That’s Melvyn Douglas getting trapped in the garland.

Finally, my favorite movie “Jingle Bells” comes from Beyond Tomorrow (1940), another quirky Christmas classic. This one features the American Christmas carol being sung in multiple languages by the likes of Maria Ouspenskaya, Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Winninger, Richard Carlson, Jean Parker, and Gino Corrado.

If you want to see links to our previous years’ “Christmas at the Movies” clips, see this page http://501roseneath.com/christmas-at-the-movies-2019/

Two versions of “Holiday”

One of our favorite films, not just during Christmas but any time of the year, is Holiday – the 1938 version directed by George Cukor and starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. We found the 1930 version of the movie YouTube has the full 1930 film, and I was struck by how much I preferred the 1938 version. I tracked down a copy of the original stage play, which I had read over 25 years ago, and re-read it. The first film version is much closer to Philip Barry’s stage script. The 1938 version uses a screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart, who made some notable changes in characters and settings.

YouTube has the full 1930 film.

The story, of course, remains essentially the same: Johnny Case, a young man who has risen by sheer grit and hard work from poverty to a secure position in a Wall Street firm, has fallen in love with Julia Seton, the younger daughter of a wealthy Fifth Avenue oligarch. Julia’s older sister, Linda, is a non-conformist, and the brother, Ned, works with his father but is an obvious alcoholic. At first, he father objects to the marriage until Johnny makes a sudden fortune. But just as he approves of the wedding, Johnny announces that he plans to quit business and take a “holiday” to discover a deeper purpose for his life. The father is offended, as is Julia, while Linda sides with Johnny. At first the engagement is broken off, but Johnny decides to compromise and marry Julia. In the play’s climactic scene, Johnny announces his intention to continue working on Wall Street and delay his “holiday” dream for a few years.

I was intrigued by the directorial and acting choices made in this final scene, where Johnny at first agrees to compromise but then returns to his original dream when he realizes how soul-deadening a life focused on money will be. The director of the 1930 version, Edward H. Griffith, blocks this scene as if it were being acted on stage, with the camera usually in a wide angle incorporating most of the actors. For the interjected wisecracks and reactions, he cuts to close-ups. George Cukor in the 1938 version blocks the scene in a more compact angle, that includes all of the actors and doesn’t require cutting to highlight off-side comments or reactions.

I have put the two scenes side by side in a short video on YouTube.

The Cukor version is much funnier but also more substantive. Notice, also, how Cukor’s blocking puts Linda and Ned together on the couch, highlighting how they are more sympathetic with each other, emphasizing a point made earlier in the film.