SOUTHERN GODS by John Hornor Jacobs is a good variation on the legend of the Bluesman who sold his soul: Set in the 1950s, it follows a gambler’s leg-breaking debt-collector as he agrees to help out a record producer by finding mysterious bluesman “Rambling John” Hastur, a singer whose music drives men to madness (“They call him the Yellow King.”). A good job fitting Christianity and Lovecraftian themes together by explaining the church’s main reason for seeking temporal power is to crush the various Dark Cults threatening humanity; a well done story.
THE CONCH BEARER by Chita Banerjee Divakaruni is a fair children’s fantasy in which a young boy agrees to help an aged mystic return a magical mcguffin to a hidden valley despite the opposition of a corrupted Darth Vader type sorcerer. Well done, but after the distinctively Indian setting of the early scenes, the rest looks a bit generic.
As the name suggests, EIFFEL’S TOWER and the World’s Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled and Thomas Edison Became a Count by Jill Jones chronicles the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, which the French saw as a celebration of a century of liberty (the European monarchies were unenthused about participating, though their publics certainly weren’t) and which was marked by the birth of the Eiffel Tower, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show and Thomas Edison cannily using the event to promote his new phonograph invention. Well done, though I’d have been more interested in a story focusing more on the tower than the fair itself (it lacks the focus the serial killings give Devil in the White City).
Produced by the Salkinds, SANTA CLAUS (1985) bears a marked resemblance to their Superman in adopting a mythic tone for the first half, then becoming much more comic as Santa and two kids try to abort the schemes of Toymaker of Doom John Lithgow to exploit elf Dudley Moore’s anti-gravity formula. Not a Christmas classic, but not the flop it was originally dismissed as either. “We’ll open it on March 25 and call it—-CHRISTMAS II!”
CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUTT (1945) is one of my perennials, as columnist Barbara Stanwyck’s phony standing as “America’s greatest homemaker” (she’s single, can’t cook and lives in a walk-up apartment) looks to be exposed when publisher Sidney Greenstreet browbeats her into taking sailor Dennis Morgan into the home she doesn’t have to provide the veteran with a traditional Christmas. In some ways a film about adultery without any adultery (Morgan flirts with Stanwyck despite the conviction she’s a married woman), but charming indeed. “Every time I opened my mouth, he talked!”
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) is the often-remade but never equaled tale of how the magical Kris Kringle (Ed Gwenn) becomes Macey’s Santa Claus, transforms Christmas marketing, restores hope to Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara and helps the U.S. Post Office clear out its dead letter office. Rewatching, I was struck by how well Natalie Wood performs as the super-serious child (O’Hara comments on the DVD was that she was similarly impressed “because when I was her age I thought I was an incredible actress, but unlike her, I wasn’t.”) The special edition DVD includes the bland TV adaptation (now known as Meet Mr. Kringle), a making-of documentary (the opening Thanksgiving parade really used the Macy’s Parade, a slightly risky gambit since there was no way to make a retake) and the trailer, which avoided any clips from the movie or any explanation of the subject matter (Fox released it in summer, and worried a Christmas movie wouldn’t play well)——I was also interested to discover “groovy” was slang as far back as the forties (it figures in the trailer) “I admit that on the face of it, this plan sounds impractical and impossible.”