Thursday, December 17, 2009


One year before she started her 11 year run in Murder, She Wrote, Angela Lansbury co-starred with Lee Remick in The Gift of Love: A Christmas Story. In this TV movie, Lee Remick starred as Janet Broderick and Angela Lanbury played her mother, Amanda Fenwick. Early in the film, we discover that Janet's life is in a downward spiral. Her husband's department store is close to bankruptcy. Her marriage is in big trouble. This is due in large part to the fact that the couple feel like they have failed in maintaining his family's longtime business. In the midst of all this chaos, Janet receives her most devastating blow. Amanda dies shortly before Christmas.

With her world crashing down around her, Janet basically has a nervous breakdown and has to be sedated. It is during this dream state that Janet is transported back with her two children to a simpler time. She and her children are back in Janet's childhood town. In this place, both of Janet's parents are alive as is her Aunt Min (Polly Holliday). It is the Christmas season and Janet begins to discover through this journey what is really important in life. She also gets insight into situations she never fully understood before. For instance, Janet always wrote off Aunt Min as a spinster unable to find love. However, Min is actually a kind-hearted woman who has loved and lost. Janet starts to realize not everything is what it seems and that happiness is not dependent upon monetary wealth.

The Gift of Love did have a positive message in spite of the hardships faced by Janet at the start of the movie. As she goes back to her roots, she discovers the simple pleasures in life are what makes living joyful. In addition, Lee Remick, Angela Lansbury, and Polly Holliday all give great performances. It is on DVD and can be purchased on Ebay or Amazon. Amazing that TV in 1980's managed to produce two quality Christmas movies this one and Loretta Young's Christmas Eve. I would have given anything for just one great Christmas movie in this decade.

HEIDI (1937)

Heidi, is a novel about the life of a young girl who lives with her grandfather, in the Swiss Alps. It was written in (1880) by Swiss author Johanna Spyri. Two sequels, Heidi Grows Up and Heidi's Children, were not written by Spyri, but by her English translator, Charles Tritten.

A 5 year old orphan girl, by the name Heidi is taken by her Aunt Dete to live with her grandfather, Adolph Kramer, who has lived alone in the Alpine mountains for years. Although at first Kramer, does not speak to her, he grows to love her. When Pastor Schultz comes to suggest that grandfather sends Heidi to school. Grandfather, being a loner sends the pastor away, but after remembering the story of the prodigal son, the grandfather takes Heidi to church where they are welcomed with open arms.

Things are going well until Heidi's eighth birthday, Aunt Dete shows up and and takes her to Frankfurt to be the companion /friend of invalid Klara Sesemann, whose rich father is away most of the time. When Heidi arrives, Fraulein Rottenmeier thinks that Heidi is not a proper companion, and demands the Aunt to take her back to the Alpine mountains . Klara protests and Fraulein Rottenmeier agrees that Heidi can stay the only the night. Klara promises her that if she is still homesick when her father returns for Christmas in two weeks, she will ask him to take Heidi back to her Grandfather.

Grandfather heartsick, begins to walk the hundred mile journey to Frankfurt.

On Christmas Eve, Klara, Christmas gift to her father is that she can stand and walk with Heidi's help. Sesemann, knowing grandfather's mean personality from Dete, does not think it a good idea to send her back. No longer trusting Fraulein Rottenmeier, fires her.

Later... on Christmas Eve, Grandfather is arrested for disturbing the peace while looking for Heidi. A few minutes later he makes a break for it, just in time to save Heidi from Fraulein Rottenmeier, who is trying to sell her to the gypsies. When the police catch up with grandfather, Fraulein Rottenmeier says that he stole "her" child, fortunately the police captain sends for Sesemann.

Later, Heidi, Klara and Sesemann return to their home in the Alpine mountains where they celebrate. .
Cast: Shirley Temple, Jean Hersholt (grandfather)
Heidi, is one of my favorite Christmas movies, that I love to watch while decorating the Christmas tree...Melts my heart every time I watch it.

fun facts:

The movie was filmed during the summer.

The Alpine scenes were filmed at Lake Arrowhead, California.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Christmas Tale (Un Conte Noel) 2008

Okay, this is not your typical American Christmas film. Of course this might have something to do with the film being French, but I recently watched it and thought it was very good. This is a Christmas tale about a tremendously dysfunctional family: drunken outbursts, off-putting but hilarious confessions, and just typical French behavior.

The Vuillards, Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) and Junon (Catherine Deneuve), are hosting a long-overdue family Christmas celebration at their house. Why? Junon has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant (this is not a sad film!). Their three grown children (with their children) and a cousin are their entertainment. Mathieu Amalric plays the black sheep Henri. He has a very strained relationship with his playwright sister Elizabeth and a complicated bond with his mother. When it is revealed that both Henri and Paul, Elizabeth’s 16 year old unstable son, are compatible donors, the family engages in what can only be described as an acerbic conversation about who does what. To complicate the situation even more, Junon doesn’t even know if she wants to do the procedure for what it might do to her looks (among other painful things).

The scenes between Junon and Henri are priceless. Here’s a taste of their exchanges:
Junon asks Henri : "You still don't love me?"
"I never loved you," he replies.
And Junon, in her turn, with a little laugh: "Me either."

There are also a number of other family complications intertwined with the bone marrow plot that are compelling. Chiara Mastroianni (Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni’s daughter) plays Junon’s daughter-in-law, who’s evidently in love with both her husband and the family cousin. There are a number of philosophical, literary, and cinematic references that pop in and out as well.

Deneuve and Amalric are a delight to watch throughout the film. The final scene, which ties the whole thing together, will make you laugh and ponder what just happened.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I'm Surprised Nobody Has Mentioned...

Christmas in Connecticut!

It wouldn't be a complete Christmas if I didn't watch this movie. Barbara Stanwyk is at her best here as a fraudulant columnist. It always makes me laugh, even after seeing it so many times. S.Z. Sakall (who was also in Casablanca, In the Good Old Summertime, and Tea for Two) is one of my favorite character actors. The movie as a whole is just so good. I love everything about it. And I had never seen Sydney Greenstreet in anything but drama until this movie and he's absolutely brilliant as the oblivious magazine publisher.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A little Christmas Noir. LADY IN THE LAKE (1947)

Lady in the Lake (1947) a film noir that was the first directorial film of actor Robert Montgomery who also starred in the film. Based on the 1944 Raymond Chandler novel The Lady in the Lake. Cast: Audrey Totter, Lloyd Nolan, Tom Tully, Leon Ames and Jayne Meadows.The storyline was a murder mystery similar to many others of the time. Except the entire film was seen from the viewpoint of the main character, detective Philip Marlowe, who was played by Montgomery. The idea was that the audience would see only what the character saw. The movie also did not have a musical sound track, very unusual for that time.

The story begins on Christmas Eve when Kingsby Publications editor Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) meets with Marlowe, offers him a job as a detective instead of a writer. She wants him to find the missing wife of her boss, Mr. Kingsby (Leon Ames). Adrienne wants them to hurry on with their divorce so she can marry Kingsby. Marlowe accepts the job and goes looking for clues at the home of the wife's lover, Chris Lavery (Dick Simmons). When Marlowe gets knocked out and picked up for drunk driving, he decides to drop the case when threatened by the police.. He returns when he learns that Kingsby's wife maybe to blame for the murder of the mysterious lady in the lake.


During World War II, he joined the Navy, becoming lieutenant commander.

Montgomery has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Montgomery had two children, daughter actress Elizabeth Montgomery(Bewitched), and son, Robert Montgomery, Jr. to view movie trailer. Scheduled for TCM: Jan, 20th. Check local listings to confirm show times.

Christmas Eve Starring Loretta Young

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.

Monday, December 7, 2009

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

When I was a little girl, and later on not such a little girl (like now), I couldn't wait until the Grinch was shown on TV. Just like The Wizard of Oz, this is one of those films you waited all year long to watch with your family. Though it is only 26 minutes long, it taught me and my brothers so much about Christmas. Our parents always tried to instill in us the true Christmas message. This film shows little girls and boys that it's not about the presents they receive but the ties of love and belonging they share with their loved ones. I think it is a shame that children who don't have cable or satelite can no longer see this on regular TV!
I suppose the fact that I pay a fortune every Christmas for the special edition Grinch Hallmark ornaments goes a bit against the message of the film. Yet, when I start to put on my "special" ornaments I always remember the great Christmas memories I have of watching this film with my family.

Here are the lyrics to the song (hopefully I'm not violating any type of copyright law) we all know and love:

You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch.
You really are a heel.
You're as cuddly as a cactus.
You're as charming as an eel, Mr. Grinch.
You're a bad banana, with a greasy black peel.

You're a monster, Mr. Grinch.
Your heart's an empty hole
Your brain is full of spiders.
You've got garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch.
I wouldn't touch you, with a thirty-nine-and-a-halfpole.
You're a vile one, Mr. Grinch.
You have termites in your smile.
You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile,Mr. Grinch.
Given the choice between the two of you, I'd take the seasick crocodile.

You're a foul one, Mr. Grinch.
You're a nasty, wasty skunk.
Your heart is full of unwashed socks.
Your soul is full of gunk, Mr. Grinch.
The three words that best describe you, are, and I quote: "Stink. Stank. Stunk."
You're a rotter, Mr. Grinch.
You're the king of sinful sots.
Your heart's a dead tomato splot, with moldy purple spots, Mr. Grinch.
Your soul is an appalling dump heap overflowing with the most disgraceful assortment of deplorable rubbish imaginable, mangled up in tangled up knots.
You nauseate me, Mr. Grinch.
With a nauseous super-naus.
You're a crooked jerky jockey, and you drive a crooked horse, Mr. Grinch.
You're a three decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwichWith arsenic sauce.

The Man who Came to Dinner

No Christmas at my house is complete without a viewing of this classic. It stars Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan and Monty Woolley. Bette is uncharacteristically subdued, Ann Sheridan is a hoot as the diva of her day and Monty Woolley steals the show as the sarcastic unsentimental SHeridan Whiteside. In a brief, albeit somewhat "stagey" performance, Jimmy Durante entertains as the wild man Banjo. You must see it!

Christmas In July (1940)

OK, I know this is not the typical Christmas movie, but it's still a great movie. And the title fits the tone of the movie perfectly. Besides it's written and directed by the great Preston Sturges, so I believe we can cut him some slack on the schematics of Christmas themed movies. Anyway the story goes like this: office clerk Jimmy McDonald (played by former crooner and yet to be tough guy Dick Powell) who loves entering contests in hopes of winning a fortune and marrying the girl he loves, Betty Casey (the wonderful and underrated Ellen Drew). His latest attempt is the Maxford House Coffee Slogan Contest. As a joke, some of his co-workers put together a fake telegram which says that he won the $25,000 grand prize. As a result, he gets a promotion, buys presents for all of his family and friends, and proposes to his girl. The atmosphere definitely feels like Christmas, even though the movie takes place in the middle of July. But of course things sour when the truth comes out, he's not prepared for the consequences. Christmas in July is an enjoyable little movie that has all of the Preston Sturges magic and features a winning cast led by Powell and Drew. It also co-stars William DeMarest and Franklin Pangborn. So celebrate Christmas with this little gem, no matter what time of the year it may be.

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White Christmas (1954)

White Christmas (1954) is a Technicolor Christmas movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney (aunt of famous actor George Clooney), and Vera-Ellen, and was directed by Michael Curtiz (director of Casablanca and some of James Cagney's memorable films). It includes the famous titular song "White Christmas" (written by Irving Berlin and sung by Bing Crosby) that we all know and love!
The story is about two World War II U.S. Army buddies, one a former Broadway entertainer, Bob Wallace (Crosby), and a would-be entertainer, Phil Davis (Kaye). It begins on Christmas Eve, 1944, somewhere in Europe. In a forward area, Captain Wallace is giving a show to the men with the help of Private Davis, ("White Christmas"). During an enemy artillery barrage, Davis saves Wallace's life from a toppling wall, wounding his arm slightly in the process. Using his "wounded" arm and telling Bob he doesn't expect any "special obligation," Phil convinces Bob to join forces when the war is over. Phil using his arm wound as a way to get Bob to do what he wants becomes a running gag throughout the movie.

While at the Florida Theatre doing their Broadway act, they receive a letter from "Freckle-Faced Haynes, the dog-faced boy", a mess sergeant they knew in the war, asking them to audition his two sisters. When they go to the club to audition the act ("Sisters"), Betty (Rosemary Clooney) reveals that her sister, Judy (Vera-Ellen), sent the letter. Bob and Phil help Betty and Judy escape their landlord and the local sheriff (the landlord claimed that the sisters had burned a $200 rug). The boys do the song "Sisters" to a record as the girls escape to the train. Phil gives Betty and Judy the train tickets that he and Bob were intending to use. When Bob and Phil arrive on the train, they have no tickets. Using "his arm" again, Phil gets Bob to agree to travel with the girls to Vermont for the holidays ("Snow"). However, when they arrive in Vermont, they discover there's no snow in America's snow playground. (No snow in Vermont? Looks like global warming affected the Earth a little earlier than we thought.) They discover that the Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont, is run by their former commanding officer, Major General Tom Waverly, and it's about to go bankrupt because of the lack of snow and consequent lack of patrons. The general has invested all his savings and pension into the lodge.

Deciding to help out and bring business in, Wallace and Davis bring Playing Around with their entire Broadway cast up and add Betty and Judy where they can. Bob discovers the General's rejected attempt at rejoining the army, and decides to prove to the General that he isn't forgotten. Bob calls Ed Harrison (Johnny Grant), an old army friend, now host of a successful variety show (intentionally similar to Ed Sullivan's). When Bob wants to make a pitch on the show to all the men under the command of the General in the war, Harrison suggests they go all out and put the show on television, playing up the "schmaltz" factor of the General's situation and generating lots of free advertising for Wallace and Davis. Overhearing only this, the housekeeper, Emma Allen (Mary Wickes), tells Betty. Bob tells Ed that isn't the idea and that he only wishes to make a pitch to get as many people from their division to Pine Tree for the show on Christmas Eve. The misunderstanding causes Betty to leave for a job at the Carousel Club in New York, after Phil and Judy fake their engagement in the hope of bringing Betty and Bob closer together.

All is set right when Betty sees Bob's pitch on the Ed Harrison show. She returns to Pine Tree just in time for the show on Christmas Eve. Believing all of his suits had been sent to the cleaners, General Waverly concludes that he'll have to appear in his old uniform. When the General enters the lodge where the show is to take place, he is greeted by his former division to a rousing chorus of "We'll Follow the Old Man", and moments later is notified that snow (asbestos) is falling. In a memorable finale, Bob and Betty declare their love, as do Phil and Judy. The background of the set is removed to show the snow falling in Pine Tree. Everyone raises a glass, toasting, "May your days be merry and bright; and may all your Christmases be white."
I have watched this film last night for the first time and I didn't really watch all of it but watched it enough to appreciate Danny Kaye's crazy humor. So you'll have to excuse me since I extracted all of the plot info from Wikipedia. I thought that telling the plot in my own words wouldn't be enough. :^s

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My Favorite Christmas Movie: It's a Wonderful Life

James Stewart…George Bailey
Donna Reed ... Mary Hatch
Lionel Barrymore ... Mr. Potter
Thomas Mitchell ... Uncle Billy
Henry Travers ... Clarence
Beulah Bondi ... Mrs. Bailey
Frank Faylen ... Ernie
Ward Bond ... Bert
Gloria Grahame ... Violet
H.B. Warner ... Mr. Gower
Frank Albertson ... Sam Wainwright
Todd Karns ... Harry Bailey
Samuel S. Hinds ... Pa Bailey

Producer and Director
Frank Capra

Original Music by
Dimitri Tiomkin (musical score written by)

Cinematography by
Joseph F. Biroc (director of photography) (as Joseph Biroc)
Joseph Walker (director of photography)
Victor Milner (director of photography) (uncredited)

Film Editing by
William Hornbeck

Art Direction by
Jack Okey

Set Decoration by
Emile Kuri

Costume Design by
Edward Stevenson (costumes)

Makeup Department
Gordon Bau .... makeup supervisor

We all know the story. George Bailey wants to leave the small town of Bedford Falls behind, and see the wide, wide world…but as John Lennon said, life is what happens while we are making other plans. George’s father has a stroke and George must assume responsibility for the barely solvent Building & Loan.

His valiant struggle to keep the Building & Loan afloat gives us a classic view of the many trials and tribulations of everyday life: he must try to protect the Building & Loan from his incompetent Uncle Billy, and Uncle Billy from himself. He must fend off the ever present depredations of Mr. Potter and his big money bank. He doesn’t want to fall in love, but he does, and soon has a brood of children, and is living in a tumble-down old mansion that is coming apart like an old sweater unraveling.

Things go from bad to worse, and when George thinks that he’s lost the fight and decides to chuck it all, Clarence the fledgling angel comes to his rescue, complete in his 16th century nightshirt. Clarence shows George what the world would have been like without him; and we get to experience, with George, the true significance of his “ordinary” life. Along with George, we get a new perspective on his “failure.”

Director Capra gives us the wonderful gift of affirming that one person can make a difference, that each and every life is important, and that success cannot be truly measured by material gain or fame, but by the courage of one man to persevere, no matter the odds, to protect those he loves and the values that he cherishes.

I watch this movie only once a year. It is my Christmas gift to myself. After the gifts are opened and everyone is busy playing with their new toys, I curl up in bed with a steaming mug of tea, wrap myself in a quilt that my husband’s great-grandmother made, and watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

Merry Christmas to all!

Remember the Night (1940)

Remember the Night (1940) is a romantic comedy/drama Christmas film written by Preston Sturges and directed by Mitchell Leisen. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray and features Beulah Bondi and Sterling Holloway. Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) is arrested during the Christmas holidays for trying to shoplift a very expensive bracelet . Assistant District Attorney John Sargeant (Fred MacMurray) is assigned to prosecute her. Thinking he may lose his case against Lee Leander when he hears O'Leary's argument to have the case decided quickly. He quickly adjourns the case until after the first of the year. John posts her bail so she does not have to spend Christmas in jail. When John learns that she is from Indiana, where he is about to drive to visit his mother for the holidays, he offers to drop her off at home.

Unfortunately, they get lost in Pennsylvania and end up crashing the car and spend the night in a field. The next morning, they are arrested by a farmer and taken into the justice of the peace. Lee starts a fire in a wastebasket as a distraction, and they escape..When they arrive at Lee's mother's farm, Lee's mother turns her away, Lee is devastated. John decides to bring her home to his mother and Aunt Emma. Lee is looking forward to visiting a loving home for Christmas. John in confidence tells his mother about Lee, and she welcomes Lee into her home. A romance between her and John, begins to bloom. Jack's mother, believes that a relationship with Lee would destroy her son's career, and asks Lee to give him up. On the drive home, John comes up with a plan so that she can avoid prosecution. Will Lee pay for her crime?
Click to watch movie trailer.
Merry Christmas Everyone :)