I might have skipped WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) this year but it filled a morning when I was too busy with dogs to read. A fine piece of Hollywood craftsmanship, this has Broadway superstars Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby falling respectively for sisters Vera Allen and Rosemary Clooney, then staging a production of the guys’ hit Broadway show to save their former general’s Vermont inn from going belly up. Ethan Mordden’s Coming Up Roses makes me realize the kind of plotless musical revue Kaye and Crosby produced was a dinosaur by ’54 but it does give the film maximum freedom to throw in whatever musical numbers make for the most fun. So why fuss when it’s so much fun? “You’re happy for the wrong reason which is the same as being lonely and miserable, only worse.”
Bing Crosby first sang “White Christmas” in 1942’s HOLIDAY INN (1942) after his character loses his woman to Fred Astaire, then retires from the showbiz rat race to open a country inn that only opens holiday weekends. But when Astaire shows up (the woman having dumped him too) and puts moves on Crosby’s leading lady, will romantic history repeat itself?
I’ve often thought how lucky it was that the minstrel-show numbers in White Christmas weren’t in blackface and this movie confirms it: Bing blacks up for his Lincoln’s Birthday number about Honest Abe freeing the slaves and it’s not pleasant to watch at all. The movie, in any case, is much less entertaining, with a weaker supporting cast, weaker female leads and a much weaker plot so I’m not missing much if I never see it again. It is of historical note that while the original lyrics to “White Christmas” set it on “a lovely day/in Beverly Hills LA” (you may have heard them occasionally on some cover versions), when Bing sang it for this film without that opening, Irving Berlin had his publisher strike the opening off the sheet music — it worked better without. “What a girl — always seeking greener pastures and ending up with spinach.”
CHASING CHRISTMAS (2005) once again has Tom Arnold as the target of “the annual Christmas guilt trip,” which leaves stressed out Christmas Past (Leslie Jordan) disrupting the time stream (“If you talk to your past self we could return to a present ruled by giant apes!”), Arnold falling for Christmas Present and Present discovering how easy it is to steal a car in 1965 (“Nobody locked the doors and here’s where everyone kept the spare keys.”). A fun one I’m glad to add to my Christmas perennials list “Were you not listening to the dead fish guy?”
KARROLL’S CHRISTMAS (2004) apparently didn’t click with most viewers as I didn’t turn it up anywhere but YouTube. But I enjoy the story of pissed-off greeting-card writer Karroll getting saddled with even more dour Wallace Shawn’s ghostly Christmas Eve visit (“Couldn’t you pretend to be him? It’d make the paperwork much easier?”) even though it’s pointless for Karroll to go through it — and he certainly doesn’t have any Christmas issues to work out, right? With a black Jacob Marley (“My ancestor spent some time on his family’s Jamaican plantation, mon.”), a Jewish Christmas Present and Vern Troyer as Christmas Yet To Come; Arnold’s ex in Chasing Christmas plays Shawn’s estranged daughter. “He’s suing them on Christmas Eve — wow, I just realized that makes it a Santa suit!”
I haven’t watched THE GREAT SANTA CLAUS SWITCH (1970) since I first saw it and apparently not many people do (it’s another one I only found on YouTube). This Muppet special starts Art Carney as both Santa and the conniving sorcerer Cosmo Scam, who plans to replace Santa Claus, then rob every home in the world on Christmas Eve — but will his monstrous Muppet lackeys go along when they learn about the magic of Christmas? This feels like a dry run for stuff Henson would be doing better later (Cosmo’s familiar is physically the prototype for Gonzo) and Carney’s performance doesn’t match The Night of the Meek, but this did make for a pleasant time filler. “I made a vow to leave this Earth just a little bit worse than I found it.”
Like White Christmas, CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) proved a good choice while I was busy with dogs as I know it so well. Barbara Stanwyck plays the homemaker/columnist who can’t cook, Dennis Morgan kisses married women, Sidney Greenstreet puts words in Stanwyck’s mouth (“I felt like Charlie McCarthy.”) and Una O’Connor and SZ Sakall debate the difference between Irish stew and goulash. Always a pleasure. “You don’t understand Mr,. Yardley — we meant to get married.”
Rewatching NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989) confirmed it doesn’t make my personal perennial list (I have friends who adore it though) but the story of the Griswold’s dysfunctional family Christmas with William Hickey and Randy Quaid among the gather relatives is watchable enough to fill time.
Moving on to new stuff — A NOT-SO-MERRY CHRISTMAS (2022) is a Mexican comedy (it’s the first time in years I’ve watched something dubbed that wasn’t anime) in which a man learns his sour attitude towards his family, Christmas, and his family at Christmas has cursed him with amnesia for the other 364 days of the year. Effectively time-jumping from Christmas to Christmas leaves him as bewildered as Adam Sandler in Click until, of course, he learns What Really Matters. A “talking lamp” but one of the better ones I caught this month. “Have you never seen a Christmas movie? I’m not going to spell it all out for you.”
A CHRISTMAS MYSTERY (2022) is another good one, a very Nancy Drew tale as the daughter of a small-town sheriff stubbornly starts investigating when her BFF’s father is arrested for stealing the town’s lucky McGuffin (bells supposedly fallen from Santa’s sleigh!); in the process, she brings together not only her own family but heals a couple of others. Sweet and winning, with even the bad guy’s family getting a sort-of happy ending; Beau Bridges plays the worried mayor. “I’ve learned a lot sitting at the police station doing my homework.”
YOUR CHRISTMAS OR MINE? (2022) is a British rom-com where a young couple pull a Gift of the Magi by crashing each other’s family Christmas, leaving the guy stuck with the girl’s lively, loud family (and the fiancee he didn’t know she had ) while the woman winds up dealing with his icy aristocratic father in a fusty old mansion. This worked better for me than most Christmas romances but suffers from their respective discomfort not balancing out, just as the reveal the female lead is a former street magician pales compared to the guy having abandoned his family’s military-officer tradition. “Let me put it this way, a lot of people would have to croak for me to get the crown.”
THE NOEL DIARY (2022) is also better than average, but not as much to my taste, as a woman hunting her birth mother and a guy grieving his own mother’s death find themselves bonding. “You know that saying, time heals all wounds? It doesn’t.”
I BELIEVE IN CHRISTMAS (2022) was. by contrast, a flat rom-com in which a woman who hates Christmas discovers she’s fallen for a Christmas-holic — which wouldn’t be so bad to watch but the plot took so long to get going, I gave up.
As always TYG and I wrapped up the Christmas viewing with A CHRISTMAS STORY (1984) in which Peter Billingsley writes the perfect theme for his teacher, Darren McGavin misses his shot at Christmas turkey, a boy’s tongue sticks to a flag pole and Billingsley worries he really has shot his eye out. I was amused that having ended this on HBO Max last as the credits rolled, the system remembered and started there again (I rewound, of course). Always a delight. “It’s a leg — like on a statue.”#SFWApro. Rights to all images remain with current holders; Witching Hour cover by Nicholas Cardy