A fictionalized version of the siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, this is one of the more accurate war movies out there. It also tends not to “glamorize” soliders, but portrays them as more human and flesh and blood than most Hollywood war films. The stark horror of war set against the Christmas holiday season is a reminder that for some, this time of year was (and in some cases still isn’t) merry nor bright.
Directed by the legendary William “Big Bill” Wellman, the exemplary cast includes Van Johnson (replacing Robert Taylor, who felt the role was not right for him), John Hodiak, George Murphy and Ricardo Montalban as the tragic Rodrigues. James Whitmore was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and won a Golden Globe in the same category
“All right, come on! Come on! What do you want these guys to think, you're a bunch of WACs?”
Christmas Holiday (1944)
Don’t let the cover art for the DVD fool you; this noir ain’t no eggnog fest.
Producer Felix Jackson chose this vehicle, based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham as a dramatic departure for goody two shoes singer Deanna Durbin (who married Jackson the following year). The tale is a tawdry one; a woman marries a man for whom the term “mama’s boy” doesn’t even begin to cut it. After finding out his criminal ways, she flees to N’awlins and becomes a “bar hostess” (for those of you new to 1940s films, this is shorthand for “hooker”). But, because it’s set at Christmas, there is the chance for redemption. Directed by Robert Siodmak.
Playing Durbin’s violently unstable husband is dancer Gene Kelly (huh?!) Cast a bit more to type are Gale Sondergaard as his mother and Gladys George as the “owner” of the “bar” in which Durbin works.
“All I know is Robert was the only thing in the world she cared about. He wasn't just her son. He was her everything”.
Entire film (this links to Part I): http://youtu.be/vHrZyUO3b24
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
To the dismay (OK…let’s be honest here…to the utter disgust) of her country club friends, her children, and for a while – herself, widow Cary falls in love with her much younger (insert Carmina Burana’s “O Fortuna” here) gardener (gasp!)
The hilarity of all this is that the widow is played by Jane Wyman (aged 38) and the gardener is played by Rock Hudson (aged 30). This would turn exactly zero heads today (in fact, she’d have her own blog and a Youtube channel), but at the time, this was simply “just not done”
Her children are prigs of the nth degree, and even her well meaning friend Sara (a sympathetic Agnes Moorhead) can’t quite say the right things. Other “signs of the times” include the assumption that because she’s seeing a younger man, she’s an “easy touch” for the country club drunkards and the fact that her children (this is where Christmas comes in) decide what she needs to take her mind off things is a honking huge TV set. The only person who “gets it” is her doctor, who pretty much tells her to go get laid (in a genteel 1950s manner).
Because it’s directed by Douglas Sirk and produced by Ross Hunter, it’s glossy, chic and the clothes are to die for. So is the winter scenery. And so is Rock Hudson.
With Gloria Talbott and William Reynolds as the two clueless, entitled offspring, Conrad Nagel and Virginia Grey.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Ali: Fear Eats The Soul" and Todd Hayne's "Far From Heaven" were both directly influenced by this film.
“Cary, let's face it: you were ready for a love affair, but not for love”
The Cheaters (1944)
I discovered this little gem very recently, and quite by accident. It’s Christmas, and a family of nouveau riche dingbats is about to become nouveau poor again when they learn a far–flung uncle has left them $5 million...IF a former child actress with whom the uncle had corresponded cannot be found. Otherwise, the loot goes to her. The family heads off the PIs at the pass and locates the now down–on–her–luck actress and try to keep her from finding out the news. A “charity case” invited to spend the holiday with the family (to impress one of the daughters’ beaux) ends up being the thread on which everything twists.
Florrie Watson, the has–been actress, is played by Ona Munson. One of my favorites, she is best known as madam Belle Watling in “Gone With The Wind”. She never seemed to reach her potential and, plagued by ill health, committed suicide at the age of 51.
The scheming family is headed by the ever–repugnant Eugene Pallette (he was a “prepper” back when that term wasn’t even invented) and the reliably twittery Billie Burke. The “charity case” is the famed Austrian actor Joseph Schildkraut.
“Gratitude in most men is usually a secret desire to receive greater benefits”
Entire Film: http://youtu.be/8cfEi2kzShw
A Midnight Clear (1992)
An American intelligence unit and a German squad put aside their differences and celebrate Christmas together.
This critically–acclaimed film is based on the novel by William Wharton (“Birdy”), and was directed by actor Keith Gordon. With Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise (his film debut), Peter Berg and Kevin Dillon.
“Nobody in the army ever admits that someone on our side is killed. They're lost, like Christopher Robin”
Entire Film (this links to Part I): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RcLFX5Ymac&feature=share&list=PL0AC8F3C18BD8CCD2
The Victors (1963)
Based on “The Human Kind”, a book of short stories by Alexander Baron, the originally British characters were changed to Americans for the film. It was written, directed and produced by Carl Foreman (“High Noon”) who was blacklisted during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s; he believed it to be a personal statement about war: both victor and vanquished are losers.
This film is most famous for the use of Frank Sinatra’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” as Private Eddie Slovik is executed; it is a stark, unforgettable scene.
The opening titles are by Saul Bass.
The cast includes George Peppard, George Hamilton, Albert Finney, Eli Wallach, Peter Fonda, Elke Sommer, Jeanne Moreau and Romy Schneider.
The film was heavily edited by twenty minutes and is very difficult to find in its entirety.
“War has no victors…only survivors”
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”: http://youtu.be/K9Z1HCnqh-A
The Curse of the Cat People (1944)
1942’s Cat People was a huge hit for RKO Studios and a big (first) success for producer Val Lewton. This story, while marketed as a sequel (against Lewton’s wishes), really isn’t. It also feature Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Elizabeth Russell and Simone Simon as Irina, but there are no cat people and it’s not a horror film.
What it is, though, is a bit of a psychological fairy tale about a very imaginative little girl who has trouble differentiating between fantasy and reality and has no friends as a result. She does have an unseen playmate – the ghost of her father’s dead first wife. At Christmas, a snowstorm is the setting for some scary moments.
Because RKO insisted on marketing it as a horror film sequel, it did not do well at the box office, but did meet with critical acclaim.
The directorial debut of Robert Wise (“West Side Story”, “The Sound of Music”). If the sets look familiar, they were “borrowed” from Orson Welles’ “The Magnificent Ambersons”
“Do you know why I come to you, Amy? Because you called me”
There’s my 25 Days of Christmas movies. I hope you’ve found a new (or an old) favorite among them.
On a personal note, thanks for reading my blog; your comments make my day.
Merry Christmas from me, and Cody – the World’s Least Scary German Shepherd.