Seasonal Movies

Holiday Inn (1942)

Holiday Inn PosterJim Hardy (Bing Crosby) and Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire), along with Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), are a successful song-and-dance act, but Jim has had just about enough of the showbiz lifestyle.  He plans to do one last performance on Christmas Eve, then marry Lila, move to a farm in Connecticut, and enjoy a more leisurely life.  However, Lila has other plans.  She’s fallen in love with Ted and wants to keep performing with him, so Jim retires to that Connecticut farm by himself.  But Jim quickly realizes that living on a farm takes a lot more work than he anticipated and Jim winds up having to spend some time resting in a sanitarium.

Going to a sanitarium wasn’t all bad, though.  Being there gave Jim time to think and he came up with the idea of turning his farm into an inn that is only open on holidays.  Ted and Danny (Walter Abel), Jim’s manager, aren’t too keen on the idea, but when Danny runs into aspiring dancer Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds), he tells her to get in touch with Jim.  When she arrives at Jim’s farm on Christmas day, she and Jim have an instant rapport and he hires her to perform at the inn’s opening night on New Year’s Eve.

Opening night is a big success, but just before the stroke of midnight, an unexpected guest arrives — Ted.  Lila had just left Ted and now Ted’s very drunk and looking to talk to Jim.  But before he can find Jim, he winds up dancing with Linda and the two of them are the hit of the night.  The next morning, Jim can’t remember who he danced with, but he knows that she’s his dream dance partner and sets out on a mission to find her again.  Not wanting Linda to run off with Ted the way Lila had, Jim proposes to Linda and tries anything to stop Ted from finding her.  But Ted finally figures out the truth on Valentine’s Day and wants to start performing with her at the inn.

Ted continues trying to woo Linda, but Linda stays faithful to Jim.  But when Jim finds out that some Hollywood agents will be coming to the inn to see Jim and Linda perform, Jim fixes it so that she misses the performance and Ted has to perform alone.  After Linda finally does make it to the inn, she finds out what Jim has done and is hurt that Jim doesn’t trust her.  She heads off to Hollywood with Ted to star in a movie based on the story of the Holiday Inn while Jim stays in Connecticut, following their romance through movie fan magazines.  Ted is completely lost without Linda, and with some encouragement from his housekeeper Mamie (Louise Beavers), flies to Hollywood on Christmas Eve to make one last attempt to win Linda back.

Holiday Inn is definitely one of my essential Christmastime movies.  I love Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby together and all those wonderful Irving Berlin songs are the icing on the cake.  Even though I think the character of Ted is a bit of a jerk, leave it to Fred Astaire to play him with enough charm to still be likeable.  Of course, Holiday Inn is best remembered for introducing the song “White Christmas,” which went on to become one of the most successful singles of all time.  As memorable as Bing’s songs are, I absolutely adore some of Fred’s dance numbers such as the firecracker dance and the drunken New Years Eve dance.

Even though Holiday Inn is generally thought of as being a Christmas movie, it covers so many different holidays that you could probably watch it any time of year and not feel completely out of season.  It’s an absolutely delightful movie.  The only thing stopping me from saying, “What’s not to like?” about it is that unfortunate “Abraham” musical number featuring Bing Crosby and Marjorie Reynolds in blackface.

Holiday Affair (1949)

After her husband is killed in World War II, Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) supports herself and her son Timmy (Gordon Gebet) by working as a comparison shopper.  When she is sent to Crowley’s to pick up an expensive train set, salesman Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum) suspects she might be a comparison shopper, but doesn’t report her like he’s supposed to.  When she takes the train set home with her at the end of the day, little Timmy peeks inside the box and assumes it’s a Christmas present for him and is disappointed when his mother explains it isn’t for him.  That night, Connie’s lawyer boyfriend Carl (Wendell Corey) drops by and as he and Connie are cleaning up, he asks her to marry him.  They’ve been dating for a while, but Connie isn’t sure if she’s ready to move on yet and Timmy isn’t too thrilled about the idea of her getting re-married to Carl.

The next day, Connie goes back to the store to return the train set and Steve tells her that he ought to report her to security.  Afraid of losing her job, she tells Steve about how her husband died in the war and that she’s only trying to take care of her son.  Steve has a heart and decides not to turn her in and refunds her money, but he loses his job because of it.  Now that he has the afternoon off, Steve tags along with Connie for an afternoon of comparison shopping and hot dogs in the park.  Later, Connie and Steve get separated in a crowd while Steve was carrying some of her packages.  He drops by her apartment to return the packages at the same time Carl is visiting.  Immediately, there’s a lot of tension between Carl and Steve and when Timmy meets Steve, it’s clear Timmy prefers Steve over Carl.  However, when Steve suggests that she’s trying to make Timmy into her dead husband, Connie gets so mad that she decides she wants to marry Carl after all.  But before Steve leaves, he goes to say goodbye to Timmy and finds out just how badly he wanted that train set.

On Christmas morning, Timmy wakes up early and when he goes to bring the milk in, he finds a mysterious package by the door from Santa: the train set he wanted.  Timmy is thrilled, but Connie isn’t sure if it came from Steve or Carl.  She quickly finds out it’s really from Steve and, unwilling to accept such an expensive present, she tries to find him to pay him back for it.  She eventually finds Steve in the park, now homeless, but he refuses to take money for it.  After Steve exchanges gifts with some other people in the park, he winds up with a pair of salt and pepper shakers.  But when Steve gets accused of mugging a guy and taking his money and salt and pepper shakers, Connie, Carl, and Timmy go down to the police station and talk to the police lieutenant (Harry Morgan) to clear his name.  After Steve is released, Timmy insists that Steve join them for Christmas dinner.  They all have dinner with Connie’s in-laws and after Connie’s father in law makes a toast to his wife, Steve is inspired to declare his love for Connie.  Connie asks Steve to leave and plans to go ahead with her marriage to Carl, but as a few days pass, Carl realizes that Connie really loves Steve.  By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, Steve is all set to go to California for work, but Connie and Timmy join him on the train at the last minute to start a new life together.

I saw Holiday Affair for the first time a couple of years ago and it quickly became one of my Christmastime favorites.  Simply put, it’s very sweet, heartwarming, and thoroughly charming.  I enjoyed getting to see Robert Mitchum in a totally different type of role for him.  At the time, he was best known for being in film noir and crime movies.  But after he got busted for possession of marijuana and spent some time in jail, Howard Hughes, who was then the head of RKO, forced him into doing a wholesome movie to repair his image.  Because something like a 43 day jail sentence is totally a surefire way to destroy a tough guy image!  Mitchum’s image came out unscathed, even if Holiday Affair wasn’t a smashing success when it was first released.  Maybe its lackluster success had something to do with the fact that one of the posters they used to promote it makes it look like a film noir, not a heartwarming comedy:

Seriously, if I didn’t know better, I’d think Janet Leigh was a femme fatale up to no good and Robert Mitchum is either there to catch her red-handed or be her partner in crime.  Perhaps it’s a movie about some big heist planned for the holiday season.  The last thing I get from that poster is a hard-working widowed mother and a kind-hearted drifter.  The poster at the beginning of this post is a far better representation of Holiday Affair.

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

When Ernest and Daisy Stanley (Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke) invite the famous radio personality Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) to dine at their home while he’s in town for a lecture, they’re only expecting the prestige that comes with having a celebrity come to their home.  What they don’t count on is Sheridan taking a fall on their steps and injuring his hip.  Unable to leave until it’s healed, Sheridan turns the Stanleys’ house completely upside down.  He and his secretary Maggie (Bette Davis) take over the entire first floor of the home: the phone is ringing off the hook, his Christmas presents are being delivered left and right, and Sheridan invites over some colorful guests like members of his prison fan club.  The Stanleys’ house staff is completely exhausted by trying to meet all his demands and dodging Sheridan’s endless barrage of insults.  And just to make things more interesting, some of those Christmas presents are things like penguins and an octopus.

One afternoon, Bert Jefferson (Richard Travis), the owner of the local newspaper, comes by to see if he can get an interview.  Sheridan initially turns him down, but Bert wins him over with some good snarky comments.  Bert also wins over Maggie and the two of them go ice skating together.  Maggie quickly falls in love with Bert and when she reads a play she wrote, she gives it to Sheridan hoping he’d get it into the right hands.  Instead, he sees that Maggie is smitten and, afraid Maggie will quit her job to be with him, calls up his actress friend Lorraine Sheldon (Ann Sheridan) and has her come to town right away.

When Lorraine arrives on Christmas Eve, he tells her to try to charm Bert away from Maggie.  Even though Lorraine tries hard, Maggie sees exactly what Sheridan is trying to do.  Another actor friend of Sheridan’s, Beverly Carlton, comes to town on Christmas Eve, too.  As luck would have it, Beverly can do an uncanny impression of Lorraine’s current boyfriend so Maggie has Beverly call Lorraine, pretend to be her boyfriend, and tell her he wants to marry her.  Lorraine buys it hook, line, and sinker, but when Sheridan finds out who really called her, he fills her in and she goes right back to working on Bert.

By the time Christmas morning rolls around, all sorts of chaos ensues in the Stanley home.  Maggie quits her job, Sheridan’s friend Banjo (Jimmy Durante) comes to town, Bert decides to go with Lorraine, and, to top it all off, Ernest Stanley cracks and brings the sheriff over to force Sheridan out of his house.  But when Maggie tells Sheridan off, he realizes he has to get Lorraine away from Bert to make Maggie happy.  Luckily Banjo come up with an idea to get Lorraine away from Bert and off to Nova Scotia with him.  With Lorraine on her way to Nova Scotia, Sheridan gives Maggie his blessing to marry Bert and is finally ready to leave.  But just as he’s out the door, he slips once again and it’s back to the Stanley home for him.

I adore The Man Who Came to Dinner!  It’s so incredibly sharp and witty, I just can’t get enough of it.  Bette Davis didn’t make too many comedies in her long career, which I always thought was a shame because she was often absolutely hilarious in interviews.  She was never going to be a rival to Carole Lombard, but she knew how to deliver a witty line, which was exactly what this movie called for.  This was really a nice breath of fresh air in Bette’s career when you consider that she made this right after The Little Foxes and in the same year she also did In This Our Life and Now, Voyager.  The supporting cast was great, Jimmy Durante and Ann Sheridan were a lot of fun.  But even though Bette Davis gets top billing, there’s no denying that the real star here is Monty Woolley.  He was amazing at delivering all those razor-sharp comebacks.  I always love a movie full of snappy comebacks and The Man Who Came to Dinner certainly gives movies like The Women a run for the money in that department!  It’s one of those movies you have to see more than once just to catch everything.  But it’s such a delightful movie, watching it more than once is no chore.

Santa Claus (1959)

There have been a lot of epic battles throughout history.  The Union versus the Confederacy, Cassius Clay versus Sonny Liston, Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader.  But I don’t know if you’re ready for the battle of Santa Claus versus Satan.  Yes, that’s right: the movie Santa Claus is all about Santa’s struggles to outwit the Devil.  The movie opens with Santa in his workshop, which is located in outer space above the North Pole, with his multi-cultural child helpers.  It’s Christmas eve, so you’d think that Santa has a lot to do, but rather than load up his sleigh, he takes the time to have all his helpers perform songs from their home countries.  This scene goes on for about seven minutes and really doesn’t have much to do with anything.

Meanwhile, in Hell, Satan demands that his head minion Pitch (who is very fond of wearing pantaloons) travel to Earth and turn children against Santa.  And if he doesn’t, Pitch will be forced to, horror of horrors, eat chocolate ice cream.  One of the children Pitch targets is a young girl named Lupita, who is from a very poor family.  Lupita desperately wants a doll of her own, but her parents can’t afford one, so Pitch tries to convince her to steal one.  But eventually, Lupita decides to stay on the good side and doesn’t steal the doll.  Instead, Pitch manages to convince three brothers to join his ranks.

Before Santa embarks on his big journey, he sees his old pal Merlin, who gives him some dreaming powder (in case anyone wakes up and sees him), a flower to disappear, and the blacksmith gives him a key to open any door.  Once his robotic reindeer have been wound up (yes, robotic reindeer), Santa is finally ready to head to Earth and deliver presents.  Meanwhile, the three brothers are hard at work planning a way to capture Santa and Lupita is praying for two dollies (one to give to Baby Jesus).  There’s also Billy, a kid from a rich family, who only wants his frequently absent parents to be with him on Christmas.

Once Santa comes to Earth, he has to deal with Pitch’s Home Alone-esque efforts to stop Santa from bringing everyone presents.  But once he gets to Billy’s house, he realizes that Billy is left at home alone, so Santa takes the form of a waiter at a restaurant his parents are at.  He gives them a special Cocktail of Remembrance, which helps them realize what is most important to them, and they hurry home to be with Billy.  The three brothers still want to capture Santa and take all his toys, so they wait for him on the rooftop.  But when they see Santa’s sleigh fly by overhead, they run back inside to see what they got.  Realizing they were given coal, they start fighting with each other.  Even though Puck didn’t succeed in getting the kids to capture Santa, he does manage to cut a hole in Santa’s bag of dreaming powder and sets it up so that someone calls the fire department while Santa is cornered by a dog.  Realizing he needs help getting out of this mess, Santa calls his dear friend Merlin again for advice and manages to escape.  Before he heads back to his workshop, he makes one last stop at Lupita’s to give her the doll she so desperately wants.

Oh, my.  Where to even begin with this movie?  I guess I’ll start by trying to defend it a little bit.  This movie was produced in Mexico, where the whole concept of Santa Claus wasn’t as widely celebrated then as it is in the United States, so that would explain why the movie doesn’t really represent Santa Claus as Americans know him.  This movie definitely set out with good intentions, but there are so many misunderstandings that it just didn’t work out.

But things that can be explained by cultural differences aside, a lot of things in this movie are just bizarre.  Things like those robotic reindeer, Santa laughing maniacally while looking at a manger scene, and Pitch mincing around in pantaloons are all just hilariously weird.  And I can’t forget the bad dubbing in the scene where Lupita’s mother says that Christmas is a time to remember Craig or the awful special effects like the listening device that was clearly just an oscillating fan with a plastic ear glued to it.  One of my favorite episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is the Santa Claus episode.  This movie was definitely perfect fodder for the MST3K crew, they did a brilliant job of providing commentary.  It’s one of those episodes that makes me laugh until I hurt.  The MST3K way is definitely the best way to watch it.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

After spending 18 days floating on a raft after a submarine attack and six weeks in a hospital recovering, the only thing Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) can think about is a good meal.  While he’s in the hospital, he starts flirting with his nurse Mary (Joyce Compton) in hopes of getting that good meal, but Mary ends up falling in love with him and wants to get marry him.  When Jefferson says he doesn’t want to get married, Mary assumes it’s because he’s never had a proper home.  Determined to give Jefferson the best traditional, down home Christmas ever, she writes to Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) and asks if he could spend Christmas with her.  Elizabeth writes a magazine column about living on her farm in Connecticut with her husband, baby, and all of her delectable recipes and is the envy of housewives all across the country.  What America doesn’t realize is that Elizabeth really lives in Manhattan, isn’t married, has no children, and can’t cook to save her life.  She tries to get out of it, but her publisher Mr. Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) realizes this event would make a spectacular publicity stunt and makes her go through with it.  And to top it all off, Mr. Yardley invites himself along to this event!

Elizabeth and her boyfriend John Sloan (Reginald Gardner) frantically rush to create the life that she’s talked about in her articles.  They get the Connecticut farm, borrow a baby, bring along Felix (who actually creates all of Elizabeth’s recipes), and even arrange to finally get married.  As for the wedding, they arrange for a judge to come by the farm before Jefferson is supposed to arrive, but Jefferson arrives earlier than expected, so the wedding has to wait.  With Jefferson around, Elizabeth realizes she’s completely incompetent at actually living up to her image.  She can’t bathe the baby, change its diaper, or flip pancakes, but she’s able to fake it enough to make Jefferson start to fall in love with her.  Elizabeth also falls in love with Jefferson and gladly accepts all the events that delay her marriage to John.  The only person who knows how she feels about Jefferson is Felix, who helps create some of those wedding delays.

Jefferson really does have the perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas, but the charade becomes harder and harder to keep up.  First, they weren’t able to use the same baby for both days and the two babies look nothing alike.  Mr. Yardley starts talking to John and tells him he wants Elizabeth to have another baby because it’d be good for his magazine sales.  When everyone is invited to a community dance, Jefferson and Elizabeth sneak away from the festivities and sit in a horse-drawn sleigh, but much to their surprise, the horse starts taking them for a ride.  They flirt during their impromptu sleigh ride, but then the police find them and accuse them of stealing the sleigh and bring them to jail for the rest of the night.  Meanwhile, back at the farm, the mother of the borrowed baby comes to pick up her baby.  When she finds everyone asleep, she just takes her baby and leaves, but Yardley sees her and thinks she’s kidnapping Elizabeth’s baby.  Elizabeth and Yardley come home the next morning to a bunch of reporters who don’t understand why she’s not more concerned about her kidnapped baby.  Realizing her goose is cooked, she tells Mr. Yardley the truth and is fired, then she breaks up with John.  As she’s packing to go home, Mary drops by unexpectedly and announces that she’s married Jefferson’s shipmate instead.  Felix makes one last attempt to push Jefferson and Elizabeth together and succeeds.  They decide to get married, because Jefferson loves her even if she can’t really cook.

Christmas in Connecticut is absolutely essential viewing for me every year at Christmas time.  It’s so funny and thoroughly charming.  If it weren’t for the fact that it’s a Christmas movie, it’s one of those movies I’d probably watch frequently year-round.  The cast is perfect.  When I saw this for the first time, I’d already seen movies like Ball of Fire and The Lady Eve, so I already knew Barbara Stanwyck could do very well with comedy, but I couldn’t help but be impressed by how delightful she was here.  I also thought it was interesting to see Sydney Greenstreet in a comedy because when I think of Sydney Greenstreet, I think of Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, not exactly lighthearted stuff.  Dennis Morgan was very charming and S. Z. Skall as Felix brought lots of comedy.  Truly a wonderful movie.