New This Week
The Covid-19 coronavirus has made this such a terrible year in so many ways. Beyond the sickness and death, there has been economic suffering and mental anguish for many. Everyday things like going to school or work and shopping for essentials have been affected for everyone. Complaining about the state of movies seems almost petty in the wake of what is going on in the real world, yet here I am doing just that.
I have fond memories of going out to the movies and holding VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray copies of films in my hands along with getting ready to surrender to the excitement of seeing a good movie. Although I have enjoyed films I have only seen on television or my computer, they are not the same thing. I can still recall when and where I saw films in theatres as a child, or the first time I saw them on a video I owned, but I don’t have the same warm memory of something I watched streaming across my TV or computer screen. Is it that today’s films just aren’t that good, or is it the less exciting experience that dims my appreciation? It’s probably a little of both.
The virus has also affected home video production and distribution. Warner Archive, for example, has been experiencing a delay in getting out their highly anticipated December Blu-rays. I wrote last week’s review of Mister Roberts based on the old DVD and my anticipation of the ecstatically reviewed new Blu-ray which I still don’t have. I do not wish to compound the problem by trying to review any more of Warner Archive’s new releases until I have them in hand.
I had intended to write something this week about three of those releases, The Shop Around the Corner, It Happened on 5th Avenue, and Holiday Affair in an article about ten Christmas films that don’t usually make people’s lists of the ten best Christmas films. I’ll save those reviews for a later time. Meanwhile, here are the other seven worth considering after you’ve gotten through It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Carol again this holiday season:
William Keighley’s 1941 film The Man Who Came to Dinner was an adaptation of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s celebrated 1939 Broadway play starring Monty Woolley as the acerbic theatre critic who breaks a leg forcing him to spend the Christmas holidays at the home of Billie Burke. Though more a film that takes place at Christmas than a Christmas film, it’s a fast-moving comic gem for which Bette Davis as Woolley’s secretary and Ann Sheridan as a popular actress were given top billing over Woolley. A treat at any time of year, it’s especially fun at this time of year.
The film opened in New York on December 31, 1941 and the following year in Los Angeles and the rest of the country.
Set in rural Wisconsin beginning in the 1850s, Allen Resiner’s 1957 film All Mine to Give from Dale Eunson’s novel The Day They Gave Babies Away, is based on the true story of her father and his family. Glynis Johns and Cameron Mitchell are the Scottish immigrants who marry and have six children before he dies of diphtheria and she dies of typhoid when Eunson’s father (Rex Thompson) is tasked by his mother on her deathbed on Christmas to find homes for himself and his siblings. Patty McCormack, straight from Oscar-nominated performance in The Bad Seed is the second oldest.
The film opened in the U.K. in 1957 but didn’t reach Los Angeles until 1958 and New York in 1959.
Nominated for ten Oscars, and winner of five, Billy Wilder’s 1960 film The Apartment is among other things a film about loneliness at Christmas, something people all over the world will be sharing in the midst of the pandemic we’re in. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine have never been better than as the office schnook who loans the key to his apartment to his bosses for their extramarital affairs and Shirley MacLaine as the elevator operator that he is sweet on who he finds passed out from a drug overdose on Christmas Eve. The film’s bittersweet ending on New Year’s Eve makes it one to watch then if not before.
Ironically, the film premiered not in December, but in June.
Christmas in 1183 England is the backdrop for Anthony Harvey’s 1968 film The Lion in Winter based on James Goldman’s play about a battle royale between Henry II and his estranged queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, let out of prison to celebrate the holiday with him and their three surviving sons, Richard, Geoffrey, and John, all of whom want to be the next king. Peter O’Toole as Henry, Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor, Timothy Dalton as France’s Philip II, and Anthony Hopkins, John Castle, and Nigel Terry as the princes are all superb with O’Toole receiving his third Oscar nomination and Hepburn her third Oscar on her eleventh nomination.
Hepburn would go on to win a fourth Oscar for 1981’s On Golden Pond while O’Toole never won a competitive Oscar despite eight nominations.
Fielder Cook’s 1971 TV movie The Homecoming: A Christmas Story earned Patricia Neal a Golden Globe and an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of Olivia Walton in this heartwarming production that spawned a TV series that lasted for seven seasons. Richard Thomas and the other actors playing the Walton children, as well as Ellen Corby as their grandmother would reprise their roles in the long-running series but neither Neal, Edgar Bergen as their grandfather, nor Dorothy Stickney and Josephine Hutchinson as the Baldwin sisters would do so. The character of Olivia’s husband does not appear in this film.
Corby and Bergen had previously played a married couple in 1948’s I Remember Mama.
A quarter century later, Richard Thomas had another major role in Marcus Cole’s 1995 TV movie The Christmas Box as a ski-shop owner who reluctantly moves himself, his wife (Annette O’Toole), and his daughter to an estate as live-in care for an elderly widow. She is played by Maureen O’Hara in her first TV role since 1971’s The Red Pony opposite Henry Fonda. Her only acting assignment in-between had been in the 1991 film Only the Lonely in which she played John Candy’s mother. It was her first Christmas movie since the classic 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street.
Thomas and O’Toole had previously co-starred in the 1990 TV miniseries of Stephen King’s It.
Ian Barry’s 1995 TV movie The Christmas Wish is, in a way, a precursor to all those cable TV movies in which a young man or young woman, sometimes both, return to their hometown at Christmas time and find a reason to stay. In this case, Neil Patrick Harris is the young man who returns at the behest of his grandmother Debbie Reynolds in one of her last starring roles. She has charged Harris with the job of finding out why her late husband, Harris’ grandfather, was sending money to another woman for years. Naomi Watts co-stars. You’ll need a box of tissues to get through this one.
Neil Patrick Harris’ next TV role was as the dauphin in the 1999 miniseries, Joan of Arc.
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include The Shop Around the Corner and It Happened on 5th Avenue.