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Tag Archives: Christmas Movies

Never Say Goodbye (1946)

lNeversaygoodbye1946Never Say Goodbye is a lesser known, but charming Christmas movie and I think what is most fun about it is seeing Errol Flynn in a non-typical screwball mode. He even gets to poke a little fun at his swashbuckling image.

Phillip Gayley (Errol Flynn) is an artist mostly known for his paintings of pin-up girls. But though his paintings have brought him fame, it has also lost him his wife, Ellen Gayley (Eleanor Parker). Now their daughter, Flip (Patti Brady), spends six months with each parent and when the film opens, she is about to go to her mother’s house for six months with her.

But Flip wants a baby brother to play with and reasons that the only way she can have one is to get her parents back together. And truly, her parents are more than willing to oblige. It’s clear that after a year of being divorced, they still only have eyes for each other. The only reason they divorced is because Ellen’s mother (Lucile Watson) talked her into it over the issue of Phillip’s pin-up models (and though he claims to be wrongly accused, he does seem to be a bit of a flirt).

Ellen still perks up at the mention of Phillip’s name, completely ignores the new suitor, Rex (Donald Woods), her mother has in mind for her and seems to be all-but encouraging Phillip to convince her that they should still be together. And Phillip does try awfully hard to convince her. Throughout the film he attempts wooing, cajoling, singing their song in her ear (Ellen asks, “You sang like that and I still married you?”), dancing, kissing, sneaking into her house dressed as Santa Claus, but something always comes along to break it up, usually in the shape of his current model, Nancy (Peggy Knudsen), who is trying just as hard to land Phillip.

The scene where Phillip accidentally ends up with two dates at the same restaurant is one of the film’s highlights. Luigi (S.Z. Sakall) – his real name is Schmidt, but when he bought a restaurant called Luigi’s he thought it was cheaper to change his name than buy a new sign – is a scene stealer as the friend who tries to get rid of Nancy so Phillip can devote his evening to Ellen and stop running between two different tables. Luigi tries everything from spilling soup on Nancy’s lap to an “accident” involving glass (“What are you trying to do to the girl? Kill her?” Phillip asks) to luring her away with a phone call, but it all ends in catastrophe (and the soup ends on him) with two very unhappy women. You almost feel sorry for poor Nancy, who seems to have some legitimate expectations from Phillip. As Luigi says, bemoaning with Philip that you “take a girl out two or three hundred times and right away she thinks that you are interested.”

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Errol Flynn is the first Santa on the right

Phillip also shows up at Ellen’s house on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa. It used to be a tradition every evening where he played Santa for Flip, but since Rex is also dressed as Santa, there is much confusion, best summarized at DVD Talk: “complete with Flynn running around the house and slamming doors, kissing an undressing Parker and slapping his ex-mother-in-law on the rump (much to their delight), as he pretends to be the stuffy Woods [Rex]. The scripters even drag up the old Marx Bros.’ “mirroring” bit (which Flynn performs flawlessly), before there’s a funny wrap-up as Flynn-as-Rex hands out gifts (none for the “old bag” Watson, he states) before smashing Woods over the head with a cocktail shaker (Woods does a hilarious crash into the Christmas tree).

Some actors work better with children than others, but Errol Flynn seems to be one of those who relates well. Phillip’s relationship with his daughter is actually just as central to the film as his relationship with his ex-wife and he and child actress Brady have genuinely sweet chemistry together as father and daughter. He plays a super indulgent father who does everything possible to make her life seem magical and she is a unique blend of worldly-wisdom who sees through it and children enthusiasm who embraces his fantasies fully. He likes to pretend to be Robin Hood or Sir Lancelot and calls her his Ziegfeld girl or Guinevere and talks a policeman into letting her ride his horse. He’s like a big kid and the two of them talking about how much they both want to be a family again is touching.

The film is very much Errol Flynn’s film, though it does have good performances from Eleanor Parker, Lucile Watson, S.Z. Sakall (Hattie MacDaniel is under-used) and the rest of the cast. Also in the film is Forrest Tucker as the marine, Fenwick Lonkowski. Flip has been writing to a marine because she heard on the radio that just because the war is over doesn’t mean there aren’t any lonely solders. With the help of Cozy (Hattie McDaniel), she has been penning romantic letters signed “Smoochie.” When she proposes including a pin-up picture of herself, her father argues that it could ruin a soldier’s moral by making him think that women in America are shrinking and instead swaps a picture of his wife in a bathing suit. Of course, when Fenwick comes back, he immediately thinks that Ellen is his “Smoochie” and she is happy to play along in revenge against Phillip.

Errol Flynn and Eleanor Parker

Errol Flynn and Eleanor Parker

Errol Flynn must have been a really good sport for this film, because he completely allows Forrest Tucker to show him up as physically wimpy (Fenwick does calisthenics in Ellen’s kitchen with his shirt off while Phillip wears Fenwick’s too-big pajamas and falls over and hits his head on the refrigerator – his jumping jacks are a hoot, too…so half-hearted and uncoordinated). Flynn also gets to do a pretty good imitation of Humphrey Bogart (the voice for that scene is really provided by Bogart) as he desperately tries to scare Fenwick away from Ellen.

It’s a pity Flynn didn’t get to make more comedies; he’s very effective in them. He has a sometimes goofy charm and yet he’s so handsome, no matter what he’s doing. But he wears his good looks lightly and never takes himself too seriously. The best swashbucklers do approach their work with a light touch, so perhaps it’s not surprising that he should be adept at comedy as well (Douglas Fairbanks did comedy before he started making his famous swashbucklers). It’s not going to replace Miracle on 34th Street as a Christmas classic, but it’s fun, especially if you are a fan of Errol Flynn.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2015 in Movies

 

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Five Favorite Christmas Films…with a few extras

I was recently asked about my five favorite Christmas films by Robert Horvat of If It Happened Yesterday, It’s History and The History of the Byzantine Empire. So without further ado, here are my top go-to Christmas favorites.

Actually, there is some further ado. I realized as I was making the list that I came to my favorite Christmas films somewhat late. Apparently I didn’t watch Christmas movies as a kid? Anyway, they all are from 1939 to 1945. The war years seem to be a sweet spot for me and Christmas films.

Remember the Night (1940) – John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) is the upright Assistant DA whose specialty is prosecuting woman because he can appear gentle and therefore not alienate a sympathetic jury. But when Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) steals a diamond bracelet and is caught just before Christmas, he manages to get the trial postponed. Feeling guilty because she now has to spend Christmas in prison, he pays her bail and offers to drive her to her home in Indiana. But she ends up staying at his family home and for the first time experiences what a loving family can be like

That description sounds syrupy, but it’s actually a funny script that is both touching and ironic. Written by Preston Sturges, he said it had a little bit “of schmaltz, a good dose of schmerz and just enough schmutz.” Sturges’ idea was that love made Lee honest and John crooked. Lee is a street-smart, petty thief and con artist who appears confident, but is really longing for stability and love. We discover that her mother always thought she would come to no good and Lee is living out her expectations. Meanwhile John’s mother (played by Beulah Bondi) always expected him to succeed, which he does, though falling in love with Lee makes him want to break the law to help her.

The ending is not your typical happy ending; there is room for several interpretations, but it is still completely satisfying. Also in the film is Sterling Holloway.

Bachelor Mother (1939) – I love nearly everything Ginger Rogers appeared in in the 1930s. Bachelor Mother was made near the end of her collaboration with Fred Astaire at RKO and was a hit for her. Polly Parrish is out of work in New York when she sees a woman leave a baby on the steps of an orphanage. She picks the baby up, but is then mistaken for the baby’s mother. When she denies this, they go to her former employers at the John B. Merlin and Son department store. Thinking that her abandonment of the baby is related to losing her job, John B. Merlin’s son, David (David Niven), insists that she keep her baby and only then will he give her job back.

She agrees out of desperation and soon David falls in love. Adding to the fun is David’s father (Charles Coburn), who assumes the baby is his grandchild and wants to raise the child himself since David and Polly don’t seem willing to do the right thing, as he imagines it. Ginger Rogers always excelled at these kinds of roles: a working girl, tough and yet sweet, not above a little conniving, but essentially honest. Pure delight.

Holiday Inn (1942) – Holiday Inn is one of two films that Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire made together and they are a fantastic duo of contrasting styles and camaraderie. They even get a song about their contrasting styles. Crosby sings of how he’ll woo the girl through singing, while Astaire says that he’ll sweep her off her feet with dancing. In a fun bit of joshing, Crosby tries to dance and Astaire tries a little singing; neither with any success. They remain throughout the film, semi-friendly rivals for the affections of not one, but two girls.

Jim Hardy (Crosby) and Ted Hanover (Astaire) have a joint act, but when Hardy loses his girl to Ted, he decides to relax and enjoy life and buy a farm. The farm isn’t as relaxing as he’d hoped, so he turns his farm into an Inn. The idea is that he’ll put on a show every holiday: Christmas, Washington’s Birthday, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving, Easter, The 4th of July, etc. But inevitably, he and Ted end up fighting over another woman, sabotaging each other at every turn, in between some fantastic songs and dances, all written by Irving Berlin. Fred Astaire dances with firecrackers, the song “White Christmas” is introduced for the first time by Crosby, Astaire dances while drunk, Crosby sings “Easter Parade.”

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) Another great Christmas film starring Barbara Stanwyck! Elizabeth Lane (Stanwyck) writes a column about her farm in Connecticut, her husband and baby and all the wonderful food she cooks, which is followed faithfully by female readers around the country. The only hitch is that none of it’s true. She can’t even cook and gets her recipes from a friend, Felix (S.Z. Sakall) who owns a restaurant.

But when a sailor (Dennis Morgan) miraculously survives having his ship torpedoed, the magazine’s owner, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) has the idea for a publicity stunt where they’ll invite the sailor to her farm and give him a taste of the ideal American domesticity. Of course, she has to then scramble to find a farm, a husband and even a baby so she doesn’t lose her job. She also brings Felix along to cook for her. But when the sailor arrives, she finds herself attracted and mayhem ensues.

The incredible cast also includes Una O’Connor and Reginald Gardiner.

Shop Around the Corner (1940) – One of my favorite Ernst Lubitsch films, this is the film that also first made me really like Jimmy Stewart. Two co-workers at a leathergoods shop in Budapest, Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Klara Novak (Margaret Sullivan), do not get along with each other, but what they don’t realize is that they are secret pen palls. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it was remade several times as the musical In The Good Old Summertime and Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail.

It’s a completely charming story with a bit of a dark side involving a side plot with a suicide attempt, infidelity and loneliness. Alfred Kralik and co-worker Pirovitch (Felix Bressart) discuss how much money you need to support a family. Alfred and Klara, in their letter writing, are reaching out for something beyond the mundane of work, as they discuss everything from philosophy, poetry and culture. Ironically, they bond intellectually and it is only when they meet in person that it becomes difficult to navigate through their attraction to each other, which manifests itself as dislike and arguments. The film also stars Frank Morgan of Wizard of Oz fame.

Other favorites:

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (1966) – Here’s one Christmas film I always watched faithfully as a child. Dr. Suess’ book is faithfully adapted as an animated TV film narrated by Boris Karloff and to me, Boris Karloff will always be the Grinch, no matter how many of his iconic horror films I see. The remake with Jim Carrey has nothing on the original, which still makes me smile endlessly.

Larceny Inc. (1942) – Edward G. Robinson became famous playing brutal gangsters, but he also made many comedic gangster films. One of these is Larceny Inc., where he is just out of prison and wants to turn over a new leaf. But he needs money to buy the dog racing track that will enable to be both honest and rich and the bank won’t give him a loan, so he decides that he must commit one more crime. He buys a luggage shop that is right next door to the bank and begins tunneling in the shop’s basement. But despite all his attempts, his luggage shop is a financial success and he begins to make friends with his shop owner neighbors. Most of the story takes place during Christmas time and we even get to see him dressed as Santa!

An Affair to Remember (1957) – And I have to mention this one, which Nora Ephron used for inspiration in her film Sleepless in Seattle. It’s been called sappy, syrupy and hopelessly coincidental, but I love it and always cry at the end (just like Rosie O’Donnell and Meg Ryan – the ending takes place on Christmas day). It is tremendously helped by the sparkling chemistry and dialogue between Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The film is actually a remake of Love Affair, which Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, another superior film.

Ahhh! After completing this post I realized that I forgot about The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), directed and written by Preston Sturges. A hilarious screwball comedy about a young woman in a small town in America who parties, gets drunk, marries and can’t remember who she married. But she’s pregnant and the film is about her family’s reaction, the town’s reaction and the attempts of her suitor to help her. Starring Betty Hutton, Eddie Bracken and William Demarest.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2015 in Movies

 

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Larceny Inc. (1942) – A Gangster Christmas Film

larceny-inc-movie-poster-1942-1020417894Larceny Inc. isn’t officially a Christmas movie, it isn’t specifically about Christmas, but it takes place during the Christmas holiday with the finale occurring on Christmas Eve, so I think it should count. Sometimes, I get a little tired of watching the same Christmas films every year, so it was refreshing this year to watch some unconventional Holiday films. That, and I would watch Edward G. Robinson in anything.

It is the story of three crooks who become small time business owners in their attempt to rob a bank and quite accidentally make a success of their business. Edward G. Robinson is J. Chalmers “Pressure” Maxwell, a crook just released from prison and determined to go honest. He wants to buy into a dog racing track in Florida. The only problem is that he has no money and the bank won’t loan him any (he has no securities). So, he has brainwave: in order to go legitimate, he will first rob the bank.

He notices that there is a luggage shop right next door to the bank and he and his two friends, Jug and Weepy (Broderick Crawford and Edward Brophy), discover that the basement shares a wall with the bank vault. Pressure buys the shop (acquiring money through illegal means) and they begin a tunnel that will go under the alarm systems in the wall and come up in the vault, using the luggage to hide the dirt in.

Barbara Jo Allen (lingerie lady), Broderick Crawford, Edward Brophy, Edward G, Robinson, Jack Carson and Jane Wyman

Barbara Jo Allen (lingerie lady), Broderick Crawford, Edward Brophy, Edward G. Robinson, Jack Carson and Jane Wyman

Of course, Pressure has no use for real costumers and is always trying to discourage them, wrapping luggage badly, being rude, hurrying them out of his shop, selling everything for a flat rate of $9.75. Meanwhile, the street that his shop is on is a very friendly street of small time business owners who want to welcome him and enlist his aid in getting the torn-up streets repaired quickly so that shoppers will return to the street in time for the Christmas season. The lady who owns the lingerie shop is particularly friendly, asking him to come over some time and take a look at her lingerie. As he hustles her out, he replies that he will and she should stop by again sometime and take a look at his trunks.

Pressure’s girlfriend, Denny, is played beautifully and humorously by Jane Wyman. They have a somewhat platonic relationship, really. He’s her ‘daddy,’ but he’s always so busy that he’s also hustling her out of the shop and into the arms of luggage salesmen, Jeff Randolph (Jack Carson), who proposes after fifteen minutes of acquaintance because he believes in saving all that time of wooing, misunderstanding, and expenses (she refuses). But when Denny realizes that Pressure is trying to break into the bank, she and Jeff work together to concoct all sorts of advertisement and publicity stunts to keep the shop full of people, so Pressure and his cohorts can’t drill in the basement. To add to Pressure’s complications, they picked the very same bank that fellow crook, Leo (Anthony Quinn), was trying to interest them in robbing while they were both in prison.

But despite all his best (or worst intentions) the shop does prosper and he earns the gratitude and friendship of his neighbors, whether he wanted it or not. He even begins to think that there’s more money to be made in expanding his business than in robbing banks. There is a big showdown with Leo, which takes place on Christmas Eve, where at one point Pressure dresses up as a cigar smoking Santa.

Edward G. Robinson and Edward Brophy

Edward G. Robinson and Edward Brophy

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I have a weakness for comedic gangster films and Robinson – known for playing mean gangsters – has excellent comedic timing and actually made at least four spoofs of his own comedic image. He is a tough, but a quick-talking con artist in this one. He literally wheedles the suit off the back of the prison warden and talks Jug and Weepy into doing all sorts of crazy stuff for him. Jug is the less-than-brilliant brawny stooge of the group who gets to do most of the digging while Weepy gets to come out for air more often (he steals a drill and hides it in a Christmas tree) and gradually gets turned into a salesmen and finds himself a girlfriend on the street.

And what is hilarious is that despite his repeated intentions to become honest, Pressure will probably always remain a crook at heart. He just can’t help himself, even if he does help people or make friends or try to do the right thing; it’s how he operates and thinks. In fact, that is true for all the criminals encountered in the film. It is highly illustrative that at the beginning, all the crooks in prison are waiting for their sentence to be over so they can pick up where they left off, planning their crimes and making contacts before they are even out. Prison, for them, is just a temporary hiccup to an ingrained way of life. It actually strikes Pressure as a brilliant idea when it first occurs to him to borrow money from the bank (not that it works) instead of trying some form of larceny. They are incorrigible.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Movies

 

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