First the misers, starting with MR. MAGOO’S CHRISTMAS CAROL an animated adaptation in which Jim Backus’ Mr. Magoo performs as Scrooge on Broadway (the character’s notorious nearsightedness doesn’t figure in the Christmas Carol plot, but does make the director’s life complicated). A good adaptation with some great songs; I’d add them to my Christmas iTunes playlist if I could find them. “A hand for each hand is the way it was planned/Why won’t my fingers reach?/A millions of grains of sand in the world/Why such a lonely beach?”
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951) remains the king of Scrooges (though next year perhaps I’ll check out Stewart and Scott versions again) as Alastair Sim discover Michael Horden’s Marley is not a delusion brought on by food poisoning, Patrick Macnee and George Cole as young Marley and Scrooge sign on with the “vested interests,” the Cratchitts listen to the pudding sing and human vultures loot Scrooge’s death scene. Always a pleasure. “The boy is ignorance, the girl is want. Beware them both, but most of all, beware this boy!”
The Bah, Humbug! episode of WKRP IN CINCINNATI doesn’t get as much attention as that sitcom’s Thanksgiving episode, but it’s a really funny send-up. The station manager having decided to skimp on bonuses this year, he’s visited by the usual ghosts, giving us a look back at the station’s early years and at its bleak future (“Les Nessman — minority whip in the U.S. Senate!”). “Yes, Scrooge was able to wake up — but Scrooge didn’t eat one of Johnny’s brownies.”
And then we have the Chuck Jones-animated, Boris Karloff-narrated HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (the Grinch isn’t a miser, but he’s sure a Scrooge) which I imagine needs no recap from anyone reading this. A Christmas perennial for me; this year I learned how the Grinch became green. “He puzzled and puzzed/Till his puzzler was sore/Then the Grinch thought of something/He hadn’t before.”
Then the liars and thieves!
CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) starts with Barbara Stanwyck as a homemaker/columnist who can’t cook and doesn’t have the family she writes about; by the end of the film she’s apparently cheating on her non-existent husband, sailor Dennis Morgan is cheating on his fiancee, Sidney Greenstreet crashes the party and Una O’Connor and S.Z. Sakall debate goulash vs. Irish stew. Easily Stanwyck’s sweetest role (even in rom-coms, she’s usually tougher). “When the bag lets out the cat, someone gets scratched!”
Case in point, REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) stars Stanwyck as a shoplifter (expensive jewelry, not trinkets) facing Christmas in jail after her trial gets delayed. Prosecutor Fred MacMurray winds up taking her home instead, melting her heart even as she gets inside his, but can love possibly bridge across the crook/law enforcement divide? Preston Sturges’ script starts out as smart-ass as most of his work, but softens considerably by the end; still, it works for me. “No, you’re not a kleptomaniac if you sell stuff after you steal it — you lose your amateur standing.”
WE’RE NO ANGELS (1955) has escaped Devil’s Island convicts Humphrey Bogart (swindler/forger), Peter Ustinov (safecracker) and Aldo Ray (murderer and probable sexual assailant — that part hasn’t aged as well) becoming the guardian angels for Leo G. Carroll’s goodhearted family when covetous relative Basil Rathbone shows up. A fun film with a great cast. “We’re gonna cave their heads in, gouge their eyes out, cut their throats — just as soon as we wash the dishes.”
KLAUS (2019) is an Origin of Santa animated film in which a postmaster assigned to a dead-end gig in a feuding town (the only letter anyone’s likely to get is a letter bomb) cons the local kids into sending letters to the eponymous toymaker — if he generates enough business, he can leave town for somewhere better. This not only turns the miserable place around but helps the guy’s own heart grow three sizes, and in the process births most of the legend (“A magic sleigh pulled by flying reindeer? Seriously?”). The best of the new Christmas movies I’ve caught this year. “I’m sure it’s nothing that could fester and become a source of regret.”
Departing from the Misers And Liars theme, LET IT SNOW (2019) is a rom-com anthology like Christmas Eve or Office Christmas Party with a bunch of different Y/A subplots woven together: a dying woman’s daughter meets up with a rock star, a lesbian wonders why her great date from last night doesn’t seem to know her, a guy struggles to speak his love to his female best friend (a shtick I could have done without) and eccentric tow-truck operator Joan Cusack (“She thinks she’s a burrito and the Earth is a giant microwave.”) dispenses advice. Surprisingly fun. “The universe always has the answer — you just have to subscribe to her newsletter.”
As usual, TYG and I watched A CHRISTMAS STORY (1984) after unwrapping the presents and enjoyed little Ralphie dealing with the vicissitudes of visits to Santa, soap-induced blindness, Scott Farkus (“He had yellow eyes — yellow eyes!”) and a bunny suit. “Only I didn’t say fudge.”
And I can’t forget SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN with Rankin-Bass’s Origin of Santa in the story of a young toymaker defying the Winter Warlock and Burgomeister Meisterburger to deliver toys to children. Not the greatest of Christmas specials, but pleasant comfort food. “All the magic I have left is some stupid corn that makes reindeer fly.”
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