Five Jolly Holiday Films

1 Christmas In Connecticut

(1945) Starring Barbara Stanwyck as Elizabeth Lane, Dennis Morgan as Jefferson Jones, Sydney Greenstreet as Alexander Yardley, Reginald Gardiner as John Sloan, Robert Shayne as Dudley Beecham, Una O’Connor as Norah, Joyce Compton as Mary Lee, Dick Elliott as Judge Crothers and the wonderful S.Z. Sakall as Felix Bassenak.

Elizabeth Lane is food writer who is also a professional liar. She uses her uncle’s experiences as a chef to write her magazine stories, her friend’s farm as her fictious home and has even invented a husband and baby for her articles. In truth she lives alone in an apartment in the city and can’t even cook.

A returning war hero gets himself invited to her fictitious idyllic Connecticut farm for the holidays and unless she can come up with the farm, a husband and a baby she’ll be out of a job. Merriment ensues when she falls for the handsome sailor.

The best part of this film is the delightful uncle Felix played by S. Z. Sakall. His Hungarian accent and misunderstanding of English is amusing. He is the perfect foil for the sophisticated Stanwyck and the acerbic Irish cook Norah. You might remember him as Carl from Casablanca.

“Maybe scarlet fever? It’s a better color for Christmas.”

2 White Christmas

(1954) Musical starring Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace, Danny Kaye as Phil Davis, Vera-Ellen as Judy Haynes, Rosemary Clooney as Betty Haynes, Dean Jagger  as General Waverly, Mary Wickes  as Emma, Anne Whitfield as Susan Waverly and Barrie Chase as the memorable showgirl Doris (“Mutual, I’m sure”). Music by Irving Berlin.

This holiday classic is campy, over-the-top and gayer than gay in its extravagance. Many a drag queen has performed as one of the Haynes sisters. It was originally conceived as a film for Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby to build on the success of Holiday Inn, but Astaire had retired by that time.  So they chose Donald O’Connor for the rule of Phil Davis, but he was ill so it went to Danny Kaye. There is another connection to Holiday Inn. The set they used as the inn in that picture was remodeled to be the general’s inn. Wallace and Davis pretending to be the Haynes Sisters was not in the original script. The two guys were just fooling around on the set, and they decided to include the bit in the film. Rosemary Clooney played the elder sister, but in fact she was 7 years younger than Vera-Ellen.  The skeletal Vera-Elllen suffered from anorexia.  Another interesting bit of trivia is that there are two cast members whose descendants appeared in Star Trek. Denise Crosby, Bing’s granddaughter, played Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Cloony’s son Miguel Ferrer appeared in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. And of course, Rosemary Clooney is the aunt of Gorgeous George Clooney. Before he hit it big, he used to chauffeur her limo.

The film is about two pairs of entertainers, Wallace & Davis and the Haynes Sisters. Wallace and Davis met in the war, when Davis saves Wallace’s life and guilts him into a partnership after the war. They hit it big but Danny Kaye’s character wants Bing Crosby’s character to settle down and get married so that he could find more personal time of his own. When an old army pal asks them to check out his sisters’ act, Phil Davis and Judy Haynes spark and try to match up the other two without much luck. The girls escape a sheriff and an angry landlord using Phil’s train tickets. They all meet up in the club car, where they sing about snow. This scene was referred to on an episode of Sex and the City where Carrie commented upon entering the modern club car and was disappointed. She expected to see “Bing Crosby singin’ at a piano”. The girls flee to their next gig at an Inn in Vermont owned by a retired general that once commanded Wallace and Davis in the war. There are dire straits at the general’s inn, there was no snow and thus no customers. So in true Hollywood films of that era, the heroes decide to put on a show in the barn to solve all their problems.

“Well! How do you like that? Not so much as a ‘Kiss my foot’ or ‘Have an apple”.

3 Desk Set

 (1957) Spencer Tracy as Richard Sumner, Katharine Hepburn as Bunny Watson, Gig Young as Mike Cutler, Joan Blondell as Peg Costello, Dina Merrill as Sylvia Blair, Sue Randall as Ruthie Saylor, Neva Patterson as Miss Warriner, Harry Ellerbe as Smithers, Nicholas Joy as Mr. Azae, Merry Anders as Cathy and Ida Moore as the old woman.

The story is set in the early days of computers back when they were the size of a room and temperamental as a wet cat. Spencer Tracy’s character is a computer expert hired by Mr. Azae (don’t you just love the quirky names they used to use in these films?) to install a computer in the broadcast company’s research department but to keep it a secret from the employees. So he lurks around and measures things raising the curiosity and panic of the girls working in research. Department head Bunny Watson is the brains behind her boyfriend, Mike Cutler’s success. He uses her and takes her for granted. She sets her sights on discovering the mysterious Richard Sumner’s mission. A battle of wits rise between Tracy and Hepburn, as usual, and their off-screen love affair shows in on-screen sparks. A bit of trivia, the man who played Smithers also played the role in the Broadway version. A goof shows up in the opening shot where the shot begins at ground level then tilts up to see the building. But it was really shot from the top of the building down and then reversed because all the people on the ground are walking backwards.

Although this isn’t a Christmas picture, per se, it has several great holiday scenes. When they get caught in the rain Bunny is forced to open the gift she got for her boyfriend, a robe, and give it to Sumner to wear during dinner while his clothes dry. When Cutler surprises them, her gift is ruined, not to mention her reputation. A running gag in the film is that network people are constantly calling in to Reference at that time of year for the names of Santa’s reindeer. During the company Christmas party where everyone is amusingly drunk, Sumner is forced to field the call and answers, “Uh, uh, why, yes I can.  Let me see now. There’s Dopey, Sneezy, Grouchy, Happy, Sleepy, … uh Rudolph and Blitzen.” I like how pleased he is with himself for being able to do that.

I think it still  holds up today, despite the 50’s culture in which it was made. It is always fun to see Tracy and Hepburn together and Gig Young was always my favourite hapless supporting actor who never got the girl. David Hyde Pierce played the character brilliantly in the 50’s parody, Down With Love. It’s a funny, witty, sharp and delightful holiday film.

“Does he look like an interior decorator to you?” 
“No. He looks like one of those men who suddenly switched to vodka.”
 

 4 The Bishop’s Wife

(1947) Cary Grant as Dudley the angel, Loretta Young as Julia Bougham, David Niven as Henry Brougham, Monty Woolley as Professor Wutheridge, James Gleason as Sylvester, Gladys Cooper as Mrs Hamilton, Elsa Lanchester as Matilda, Sara Haden as Mildred Cassaway, Karolyn Grimes as Debby Brougham,

Cary Grant (he was the George Clooney of another era) plays an angel who comes to the call of Episcopal Bishop Henry Brougham, a tightly laced fund-raising workaholic cleric who has forgotten the real meaning of the holidays. He prays for guidance and Dudley is sent. He doesn’t really believe in angels and is suspicious of Dudley but prevented from telling anyone else about his angelic “assistant”. With the exception of Henry, everyone loves Dudley especially Julia, the Bishop’s neglected wife.  Dudley develops inconvenient feelings for the Bishop’s wife. The Bishop begins to worry that Dudley intends to abscond with his family’s love forcing him to decide which is more important, his family’s love and caring about his community or building an impressive cathedral.

One of the best parts of this movie is the scene with Julia’s old friend atheist Professor Wutheridge and his bottle of angelically blessed booze. The bottle never empties and you never get drunk. It just warms and inspires you. If only every bottle was like that!

“Nobody expects him to be normal; he’s a Bishop.”

 

5  The Holiday

(2006) Cameron Diaz as Amanda Woods Kate Winslet as Iris Simpkins, Jude Law as Graham Simpkins, Jack Black as Miles, Eli Wallach as Arthur Abbott, Edward Burns as Ethan, Rufus Sewell as Jasper Bloom. A bit of movie trivia: Kate Winslet and Rufus Sewell had been in a relationship prior to the making of this film

Just before Christmas, two women, one in L.A. (Diaz) and one in England (Winslet) up to their eyelashes in man-problems decide they need a holiday and discover each other on a home-swap site. They switch houses and each meets a local guy and love ensues.

Amanda works as a movie-trailer maker  in Hollywood whose cheating boyfriend (Burns) accuses her of being unable to love because she never cries. Iris writes a wedding column for a London newspaper. She has been in unrequited love with a work colleague (Sewell) until he confides in her that he is getting married to someone else.

Part of the fun of this film are the sets. One a lavish LA mansion and the other a quaint rustic English cottage full of charm but lacking many of the luxuries of the mansion in L.A. One night Iris’s brother Graham knocks on her door surprised to find Amanda there instead. He always sleeps at Iris’ when he goes to the pub so he doesn’t drink and drive. So Amanda has her hands full with Graham while Iris is charmed by a 90-year-old neighbour who helps her get back on her feet. She meets a funny music composer, Miles, with whom she falls in love.

If you ever wanted to just run away from your man problems, this is the film for you. And if you like to imagine your dream house, these two very different houses will trigger your house lust. I wouldn’t mind a holiday in either one of them.

“It’s Christmas Eve and we are going to go celebrate being young and being alive.”

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