Friday, 23 December 2016

A Merry Film Friday

Since the Christmas weekend begins tomorrow, this week's "Film Friday" is going to be a little bit different than usual. Instead of telling you about only one Christmas film, which was my original plan, I thought I would remind you of all the Christmas-y films I have written about since starting this blog. Most of them are part of a "12 Days of Christmas Films" feature I did last December. If you are looking for a film to watch with your family and friends over the holidays, I think these are some excellent choices.

Christmas at the Charleses
Let's begin with THE THIN MAN (1934), an excellent comedy-mystery starring the delightful duo William Powell and Myrna Loy. They play Nick and Nora Charles, a debonair detective and his sophisticated wife, who find themselves embroiled in a murder case during the holidays. While Christmas is not crucial to the central plot of the film, there is still a lovely scene between the Charleses on the morning of December 25. W. S. Van Dyke directed from a script by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. A massive success upon release, The Thin Man was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and gave Powell his first of three nominations for Best Actor.

Next, we have BACHELOR MOTHER (1939), the first of three screen collaborations between Ginger Rogers and David Niven. Directed by Garson Kanin, this is the story of Polly Parish (Rogers), a fun-loving salesgirl who is mistaken as the mother of a foundling. Outraged at Polly's unmotherly conduct, the boss's playboy son, David Merlin (Niven), becomes determined to keep the single mother and "her" baby together. The screenplay by Norman Krasna was based on an original story by Felix Jackson, who received an Oscar nomination for his efforts. Despite initial belief to the contrary, Bachelor Mother was a huge hit and finally made the wonderful David Niven a star.

Fred plays the piano and sings for Barbara
Then there is REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940), a film where Christmas is an important plot device. Barbara Stanwyck plays Lee Leander, a young woman who is arrested for shoplifting, while Fred MacMurray appears as Jack Sargeant, the District Attorney assigned to prosecute her. Feeling sorry that she will have to spend Christmas in jail awaiting trial, Jack bails Lee out and decides to take her home to spend the holidays with his family. Directed by Mitchell Leisen, the film was written by Preston Sturges, just before he made his own directorial debut later that year. Remember the Night was a great critical and commercial hit, giving way to the three more collaborations between Stanwyck and MacMurray.

The next title on this merry list is THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940), which has been considered by the American Film Institute as one of the greatest love stories of all time. Set in the years leading up to World War II, the film focuses on Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan), two employees at a leathergoods shop in Budapest who can barely stand each other, not realizing that they are falling in love as anonymous correspondents through their letters. It was directed by Academy Award nominee Ernst Lubitsch from a screenplay written by Samson Raphaelson, based on the 1937 Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklós László. The third of four pictures co-starring close friends Stewart and Sullavan, The Shop Around the Corner received positive reviews from critics and was a great success at the box-office.

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..."
Moving on, we have HOLIDAY INN (1942), one of the many Golden Age musicals featuring compositions by Irving Berlin. Bing Crosby plays Jim Hardy, a crooner who retires to a farm after his partners, Ted Hannover (Fred Astaire) and Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), run away together. But Jim quickly grows bored of country life and, teaming up with aspiring singer Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), decides to turn the farm into an inn, which will be open only on national holidays. Suddenly, Ted, jilted by Lila, appears at the inn and the musical and romantic rivalry between the two men starts up again. Directed by Mark Sandrich from a script by Claude Binyon, Holiday Inn was a massive critical and commercial success, winning the Oscar for Best Song for "White Christmas," performed in the film by Crosby and Reynolds.

Next up is I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944), written by Marion Parsonett, based on the radio play Double Furlough by Charles Martin. Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten star as Mary Marshall and Sgt. Zachary Morgan, two social outcasts who meet while seated across from each other on a train. Mary tells Zach that she is a travelling saleslady, but in reality she is serving a six-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter and has just been given a special furlough to spend Christmas with her family. As for Zach, he is a shell-shocked soldier taking a leave from a military hospital to try to readjust to civilian life. Mary invites Zach to the Marshall home for dinner and the two soon begin a romance, though she knows more about him than he knows about her. Directed by William Dieterle, I'll Be Seeing You was a great critical and commercial success upon release.

A turn-of-the-century Christmas dance
Then there is MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944), which relates the story of a year in life of a turn-of-the-century family, leading up the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. The family consists of Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames), his wife Anna (Mary Astor) and their five children: Esther (Judy Garland), Rose (Lucille Bremer), Agnes (Joan Carroll), Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) and Lon (Henry H. Daniels). Directed by Vincente Minnelli, the film was adapted by Irving Becher and Fred F. Finklehoffe from a series of autobiographical short stories by Sally Benson, originally published in The New Yorker under the title "5135 Kensington." The second highest-grossing picture of the year, Meet Me in S. Louis was uniformly praised by critics, receiving four Oscar nominations. The song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," performed by Garland, became a holiday classic.

Next up, we have CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945), against starring the great Barbara Stanwyck. She plays Elizabeth Lane, an unmarried city newspaper writer who pretends to be a farm wife and mother and then falls in love with one of her fans, returning war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan). The film was directed by Peter Godfrey from a screenplay penned by Lionel Houser and Adele Comandini, based on an original story by Aileen Hamilton. Co-starring Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner and S.Z. Sakall, Christmas in Connecticut opened to lukewarm reviews from critics, but was a solid success at the box-office.

"Attaboy, Clarence!"
The next title on this list is, in my opinion, the quintessential Christmas film. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his dreams in order to help others. His imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers), who shows George all the lives he has touches and how different life in his community of Bedford Falls would be had he never been born. Directed by Frank Capra, in his third collaboration with Stewart, the film was written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, based on the short story "The Greatest Gift" by Philip Van Doren Stern. Although it opened to mixed critical reviews and poor box-office results, It's a Wonderful Life received five Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor for Stewart and has come to be regarded as a classic.

Next we have MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), another perennial Christmas favorite among viewers of all ages. Starring Maureen O'Hara, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne and a young Natalie Wood, the film takes places between Thanksgiving and Christmas in New York City and focuses on the impact of a department store Santa Claus who claims to be the real deal. It was directed by George Seaton, who also wrote the screenplay, based on an original story by Valentine Davies. Miracle on 34th Street was a huge critical and financial success, winning three Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Gwenn), Best Story and Best Screenplay.

Cary magically creates a Christmas tree
Then there is THE BISHOP'S WIFE (1947), starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. This is a story about an angel named Dudley (Grant), who is sent down to Earth to help bishop Henry Brougham (Niven) build a new cathedral and repair his fractured relationship with his wife Julia (Young). Henry Koster directed from a script written by Leonardo Bercovici and Robert E. Sherwood, adapted from Robert Nathan's 1928 novel of the same name. The Bishop's Wife was a massive critical and commercial success, winning an Oscar for Best Sound Recording, in addition to nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Film Editing and Best Score.

Next on the list we have HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949), written by John D. Weaver, based on his own story, Christmas Gift. This is a charming tale about a war widow named Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh), who finds herself torn between her button-down fiancé, lawyer Carl Davis (Wendell Corey), and free-spirited veteran Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum). Directed by Don Hartman, Holiday Affair opened to indifferent reviews from critics and was a commercial failure. In later years, however, the film became a minor Christmas classic through repeated television airings.

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..." again
Moving on, there is WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954), another Irving Berlin musical. This one follows two successful Broadway producers, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), as they team with sister act Betty and Judy Haynes (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Elen) to help their old Army commander (Dean Jagger) save his failing country inn. Directed by Michael Curtiz from a script by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, White Christmas was an enormous success, becoming the biggest moneymaker of the year. The film featured a new rendition of "White Christmas," which went to achieve the status of best-selling single of all time. 

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