Little Known (or forgotten) Gems
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Christmas In Connecticut
Journalist Elizabeth Lane is one of the country's most famous food writer. In her columns, she describes herself as a hard working farm woman, taking care of her children and being an excellent cook. But this is all lies. In reality she is an umarried New Yorker who can't even boil an egg. The recipes come from her good friend Felix. The owner of the magazine she works for has decided that a heroic sailor will spend his christmas on *her* farm. Miss Lane knows that her career is over if the truth comes out, but what can she do?
The Lemon Drop Kid
From 1951. Bob Hope stars as Sidney Melbourne (a/k/a The Lemon Drop Kid), a con man who offers a friendly sure thing horse tip to the girlfriend of mobster Moose Moran. But when his sure thing loses and Mooses original pick wins, Sidney is given until Christmas to pay back the money or else. So to raise the money he owes, Sidney enlists some old pals to hit the street corners of New York dressed as Santa Claus accepting donations for a bogus elderly ladies home. Calamity ensues when gangster Oxford Charlie (Lloyd Nolan) tries to move in on Sidneys scam. What follows is vintage Hope shenanigans, highlighted by a heart-warming rendition of the Christmas classic Silver Bells sung by Hope and Marilyn Maxwell.
March of the Wooden Soldiers
Imagine an enchanted fantasy world of timeless characters and magical moments where nothing goes right for toy makers, Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee. Based on the original Babes in Toyland, this movie is a dazzling spectacle of 6-foot wooden soldiers, Mother Goose characters and the beloved team of Laurel and Hardy. This holiday classic is perfect for the Christmas season. In color and expertly restored, this film will surely become a part of your family holiday tradition.
I'll Be Seeing You
Oscar(r) winner* Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten top a stellar cast in this tender wartimelove story about two troubled strangers who meet by chance and try to crowd a lifetime of love and laughter into eight days. "Studded with brilliant performances" (Variety), I'll Be Seeing You "manages to ambush your emotions and hasten your heart beats" (Hollywood Citizen-News). After serving half of a prison sentence for accidental manslaughter, Mary Marshall (Rogers) is allowed a holiday furlough to visit her family. Keeping her history a secret, she falls in love with a kindhearted GI (Cotten) who's struggling to overcome shell shock. Both long for a normal life. But can they have it if he learns the truth about her?
Remember the Night
Screen legends Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in the heartwarming holiday classic Remember the Night (1940). Lee Leander (Stanwyck) is a petty shoplifter on trial for swiping an expensive bracelet from a local jewelry store. When her trial is postponed until after New Year's, sympathetic Assistant District Attorney John Sargent (MacMurray) bails her out of jail. Together, they find themselves falling in love when he invites her to his family's home for the holidays where she discovers the warmth and love she's never had but always wanted. Featuring a wonderful supporting cast (Beulah Bondi, Sterling Holloway and Elizabeth Patterson), stylish costumes by Edith Head, a charming script by Preston Sturges, and superb direction by Mitchell Leisen, Remember the Night (1940) is a timeless holiday favorite that can be enjoyed every season.
The Bishop's Wife
Perhaps if The Bishop's Wife had lapsed on its copyright and fallen into the public domain like It's a Wonderful Life, it would be as much a Christmas staple as that classic. It certainly deserves to be. Dudley (Cary Grant) is an angel sent down by the prayers of a new bishop (David Niven). The bishop is trying to build a new cathedral, and he's so entrenched in his fundraising that he's watching his own marriage crumble around him. Loretta Young is devoted, moist-eyed, and basically a great date for the tempted Dudley. They drink in the afternoon, go skating at night, and make impulse buys. The skating sequence beats mightily on one's suspension of disbelief, but the rest of the film is an absolute joy. Grant is suave, worldly, and enchanting. A wonderful present for anyone who has not seen it. --Keith Simanton
The Christmas Card
Once in a while, a movie comes along that reminds us how powerful love can be. In the midst of war in Afghanistan, Captain Cody Cullen (John Newton, "Desperate Housewives") is touched by lovely card sent by Faith Spelman (Alice Evans, "The Chris Isaak Show") from the small picturesque town of Nevada City, California. As months pass, the card never leaves his side, giving him the strength to survive and setting him on a mission to find her. The Christmas Card has received massive critical acclaim and audiences are raving. Now for the first time on DVD, Emmy-nominated (TBD) The Christmas Card is available with great bonus features and is the perfect gift for this holiday season!
It Happened on 5th Avenue
A homeless New Yorker moves into a mansion and along the way he gathers friends to live in the house with him. Before he knows it, he is living with the actual home owners.
A very heartwarming story set in the Christmas season
In 1948, the film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Story. It lost to another Christmas-themed story, Miracle on 34th Street, written by Valentine Davies.
Joyeux Noel captures a rare moment of grace from one of the worst wars in the history of mankind, World War I. On Christmas Eve, 1914, as German, French, and Scottish regiments face each other from their respective trenches, a musical call-and-response turns into an impromptu cease-fire, trading chocolates and champagne, playing soccer, and comparing pictures of their wives. But when Christmas ends, the war returns...Joyeux Noel has been justly accused of sentimentality, but if any subject warrants such an earnest and hopeful treatment, it's the horrors of trench warfare. The largely unknown cast--the more familiar faces include Diane Kruger (Troy), Daniel Bruhl (Good Bye Lenin!), Benno Furmann (The Princess and the Warrior), and Gary Lewis (Billy Elliot)--deliver low-key but effective performances as the movie dwells on the everyday elements of life in the face of war. Based on a true incident (though considerably fictionalized). --Bret Fetzer
A Boyfriend for Christmas
A Boyfriend for Christmas Kelli Williams (The Practice) is Holly Grant, an idealistic lawyer who gave up on finding Mr. Right in her stocking when she split with her last boyfriend. OSCAR nominee Charles Durning (To Be or Not to Be) plays Santa, who fulfills an old promise by bringing her and another attorney, Ryan Hughes (Patrick Muldoon), together. Due to an earlier misunderstanding, Ryan doesn’t want Holly to know who he is, so when Santa sends him to deliver a Christmas tree, he introduces himself as "Douglas Firewood." His well-meaning white lie threatens to derail a budding romance, and spoil Santa’s plan, in this warm-hearted holiday treat.
Christmas in July
Released the same year as his directorial debut, Preston Sturges's second feature, Christmas in July, streamlines and supercharges the writer-director's visual and narrative styles. Sturges again tackles a ripe satirical target (in this case, advertising), and dramatizes it with a hyperbolic plot and over-the-top characters, all clocking in at a blink-and-you'll-miss-it 67 minutes.
Jimmy MacDonald (Dick Powell), an underling at the mammoth, bureaucratic Maxfield House Coffee company, dreams of his big break through an entry in his employer's radio sweepstakes for a new slogan. Jimmy's would-be tagline ("If you can't sleep at night, it isn't the coffee--it's the bunk!") may be inscrutable to all but its author, but when coworkers engineer a phony victory, even the company president swallows the bait. For a moment, at least, Jimmy and his sweetheart (Ellen Drew) are $25,000 richer. How they spend, then lose, that fortune occupies the rest of the slender story line, setting up Sturges's fable as a comment on greed and community.
Even with Sturges's hectic pacing to push characters and wisecracks at a furious clip, the feature feels more like a fast-food snack than a full meal, and specifics of the plot feel very dated. The director's fans will probably find the biggest Christmas present is the evident expansion of Sturges's still embryonic repertory company, which adds some key players in Franklin Pangborn, Ernest Truex, and Raymond Walburn. --Sam Sutherland
The Homecoming: A Christmas Story
A true television classic, The Homecoming was the second movie (after 1963's Spencer's Mountain) based on Earl Hamner's autobiographical writings about love, pride, faith, and survival in rural America during the Great Depression. The Homecoming introduced the Walton family, a 1930s mountain clan living a hardscrabble existence that forces patriarch John Walton (Andrew Duggan) to seek work, far from home, in the city. When John fails to return home, as promised, on Christmas Eve, his iron-willed wife Olivia (Patricia Neal) keeps a lid on their children's worry. Oldest son John-Boy (Richard Thomas), who privately dreams of becoming a writer but worries about disappointing his parents, is dispatched to find his dad. Graceful yet harder-edged than the subsequent TV series The Waltons (which recast several characters and ran for nine years), The Homecoming reveals, albeit understatedly, much about the pain of poverty even as the family draws strength and closeness through endurance. --Tom Keogh
The Man Who Came to Dinner
A pompous lecturer is forced to spend the winter inside a prominent Ohio family's home due to injury and proceeds to meddle with the lives of everyone in the household.
A legendary Broadway tour de force comes to the screen with Monty Woolley's central performance in The Man Who Came to Dinner. And it's a turn well worth immortalizing. All goatish beard, snapping teeth, and plummy-voiced put-downs, Woolley fully inhabits the role of Sheridan Whiteside, a celebrated author and radio celebrity who gets waylaid by a cracked hip during a visit to small-town Ohio. Bossing the helpless homeowners and bewildered staff from his wheelchair, he quickly fills his hosts' house with his projects (including four penguins) and famous visitors (Ann Sheridan as a self-centered diva, Jimmy Durante as a comedian based on Harpo Marx). Bette Davis goes for a quieter role than usual as Whiteside's assistant; she falls for a local newspaperman, drippily played by Richard Travis. They all revolve around the seated figure of Woolley, his hands drumming on his armrests, his teeth bared as though ready to devour his inferiors. He's delicious. The script is larded with topical references and Broadway-style repartee, not all of which has aged well, and director William Keighley doesn't have a clear grasp of how to shoot jokes. But the basic situation is so durable, and Whiteside's character (based on famed Algonquin Round Table wit Alexander Woollcott) so unusual and nasty, that the movie remains great fun. --Robert Horton
We're No Angels (1955)
Audiences have always loved the spectacle of tough guys going soft and gooey, and We're No Angels adds the extra sweetener of Yuletide to its mix. The action takes place on Devil's Island, the tropical backwater where the notorious French prison was located. Three convicts, played by Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov, have escaped, and wait only for a ship to leave the next day. In the meantime, they become involved in the financial woes of an island shopkeeper (Leo G. Carroll) and his wife (Joan Bennett) and daughter, whose business is in danger from a rich, nasty relative (Basil Rathbone). Despite the threat of black comedy, especially in the form of a poisonous viper (which Ray carries around in a demure bamboo case), broad cuteness tends to rule the day. While it's not on the list of essential Bogart performances, Bogie does seem to be enjoying himself, and the puckish Ustinov savors his lines like a cow chewing grass. The stage origins of the scenario are all too obvious, and probably contribute to the pokey pacing (Michael Curtiz, who guided Bogart in Casablanca, was perhaps not the ideal choice for this kind of winsome comedy). This 1955 film looks good in comparison to the loose, labored 1989 remake with Robert De Niro and Sean Penn. --Robert Horton
Watch now! We're No Angels (1955)
All Mine to Give
This 1957 film is based on a factual story that follows a husband and wife who emigrate from Scotland to Wisconsin in the 1850's. They work very hard and become welcome citizens of their new town, Eureka. They have six children. They prosper in the husband's boat building business. Tragedy strikes however when one of the boys contacts diphtheria. He recovers but patriarch Robert succumbs to the disease. As a single parent, mother Jo works as a seamstress but she too dies, of typhoid. On her deathbed, she asks the eldest, 12 year-old Robbie, to find good homes for all of the children. On Christmas day, he sets out to find homes for each of his siblings.
NOTE: This is not the traditional uplifting Holiday movie. This film is about tragedy and overcoming unsurmountable obstacles.
Comfort And Joy (VHS)
A few days before Christmas, Glasgow radio disc jockey Allan "Dicky" Bird is stunned when Maddy (Eleanor David), his kleptomaniac girlfriend of four years, suddenly announces that she is moving out. His doctor friend Colin (Patrick Malahide) tries to console him, but Bird is heartbroken.
One day, he goes for a drive to take his mind off his troubles. Noticing an attractive girl, Charlotte (Clare Grogan), in the back of a "Mr. Bunny" ice cream van, he follows it under a railway bridge on a whim and when the van stops, purchases an ice cream cone. (As in Alice in Wonderland, the protagonist has followed a rabbit through a tunnel, with sometimes bizarre consequences.) To his amazement, three men drive up and proceed to smash up the van with baseball bats. The occupants retaliate with squirts of raspberry sauce. By sheer chance, Bird finds himself involved in a turf war between rival Italian ice cream vendors: the young interloper Trevor (Alex Norton) and the older, more established "Mr. McCool" (Roberto Bernardi).
As an admired local celebrity, Bird meets with McCool and his sons Bruno, Paolo, and Renato. He then goes back and forth between them and Trevor and Charlotte (later revealed to be McCool's rebellious daughter), trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Various misadventures follow, with his red BMW 323i Baur convertible suffering more and more damage each time. Bird becomes obsessed with resolving the war. To contact the combatants, he starts broadcasting coded messages on his early morning show, causing Hilary (Rikki Fulton), his boss, to ask his secretary if Mr. Bird's contract includes a "sanity clause." Given that the season is Christmas, his secretary hears the question as being about Santa Claus, so he has to loudly repeat it. Hilary then orders Bird to see a psychiatrist about the Mr. Bunny he keeps trying to reach.