Loretta Young is THE BISHOP’S WIFE (1947) increasingly miserable because husband David Niven, once dedicated to helping the poor, is so obsessed with financing a new cathedral that he neglects Young, neglects his parishioners and spends much of his time kissing the butts of potential donors. Enter Dudley (Cary Grant), an angel working in the neighborhood (the early scenes show him busily saving lives on a snowy night) who provides Niven with a heavenly course correction. Despite the strong cast (plus Monty Woolley as a professor and Elsa Lanchester as a housemaid) and some good cinematography, this has never connected with me the way so many Christmas Carol renditions do. Watching this year, I think it’s because even given the premise, Dudley comes off too deus ex machina — his workings are so irresistible, it doesn’t feel like Niven or Woolley really have any choice in changing for the better (for that matter it seems like God could have done it all from heaven without using a middleman). Still, charm enough I don’t regret catching it again. “Sometimes, Henry, angels must rush in where fools fear to tread.”
Lord knows it’s head and shoulders above SATAN CLAUS (1996), a direct-to-video production concerning a serial killer in a Santa suit that virtually defines amateurish — bad acting, cheap sets, really poor script. Not the most amateurish movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s a strong contender. “He killed her — and he was laughing!”
THE CHRISTMAS DRAGON (2014) has a group of medieval children rushing off to the North Pole to save Father Christmas before his magic dies and Christmas is lost forever. This is adequate kidvid when the magic level is high, but the acting is too poor to support it in mundane scenes (the evil sibling slavers are particularly weak). “I know what dragons can do.”
CHRISTMAS CARTOONS is a collection of more than a dozen shorts including the Fleisher Brothers’ version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a couple of cartoons about bringing Christmas joy to impoverished children and the Little King bringing a pair of hobos home to the place for Christmas. Hardly A Charlie Brown Christmas but well above most of my Christmas viewing this year.
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