In 1986, Loretta Young returned to TV after a 23 year absence in the holiday movie Christmas Eve. It could have been a weepy melodrama in lesser hands, but it was a touching movie with Ms. Young as the star. I don't think she could have picked a better movie to make her long awaited comeback. To this day, I count it among my Christmas favorites.
In this film, Loretta Young plays Amanda Kingsley. Mrs. Kingsley is a rich widow who has not forgotten her humble beginnings. She and her butler, Maitland (Trevor Howard), go out nightly with a shopping cart filled with coffee and sandwiches which they personally give to the homeless. Mrs. Kingsley even gives money to some who really need to buy the basic necessities. Her only son Andrew (Arthur Hill) thinks she is ridiculous to be going out and helping people he views as useless. In addition, he resents her spending the family money on strangers. Amanda could care less about amassing more money so she and Andrew are often at odds about how the Kingley wealth is spent.
Amanda finds out that she has an incurable disease. Her one wish is for Andrew to open his heart because once she dies, he will have no one in his life. Apparently, the widowed Andrew has not had contact with his three children in many years. Andrew's need to control their lives and the family fortune drove his 2 sons and daughter away. Amanda decides to hire a private investigator named Morris Huffner (Ron Leibman)to find her grandchildren and convince them to come home for what will likely be her last Christmas. She also hopes that Andrew and his children will make amends if they meet in person. Huffner is a blue collar guy who at first is shocked that a society woman would hire him rather than a high profile investigator. However, Mrs. Kingsley wins him over when she reveals that her husband got his start in the same neighbor where Huffner has his office. Amanda believes that her husband found luck in the neighborhood, so she too would find luck hiring an investigator who had a business in that same neighborhood. You can tell Huffner likes Mrs. Kingsley's approach to life and willingness to give back to others, so he takes the job.
Huffner does find Amanda's three grandchildren. Harley, Melissa, and Josh all admit they miss their grandmother very much, but do not want to see their father. Huffner is so invested in helping Amanda's wish come true, he truly works hard to make them realize that in avoiding their father, they have punished their loving grandmother. However, after Huffner visits each of the grandchildren, he does not think any of them will break down and go to the Kingsley home for Christmas. When he tells Amanda that is unsure about her grandchildren coming, she tells him that he did well finding them and she believes they love her enough to come home for Christmas.
What happens? I think you can guess. If I were you, I'd have a box of tissues handy for the last ten minutes of the film. This was such a beautifully done and cast TV movie. Loretta Young was completely enchanting as the kind hearted Amanda Kingsley. Trevor Howard was excellent as Maitland, the loyal butler who was Amanda's best friend through the years. Arthur Hill's portrayal of the unhappy Andrew made you simultaneously hate and pity him. Last, but not least, Ron Leibman made Morris Huffner the hero of the piece. Leibman made Huffner both relentless and caring. Yes, Huffner wanted to make Amanda's final Christmas wish come true because she was a valuable client. But as portrayed by Leibman, we also believe he is mainly driven to help a woman who he greatly admires. If you haven't seen this film, I hope you get the opportunity. It is not shown often enough and is still not on DVD. However, I still have fond memories of this modern Christmas Classic.