White Christmas

There’s something about old musicals that’s so uplifting. I’ve seen White Christmas a few times, the best viewing was on Saturday at Chicago’s Music Box Theater with all the surrounding fanfare: Santa, jingle bells, carolers and organist.

The film probably wouldn’t be made today. The script would be rejected. It’s not a dark or edgy film. There’s no desperation. No here characters are perfect, but they all have spunk and hope, which is why by the end of the film, I left the theater filled with cheer.

It’s the story of two nightclub singers played by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. They served in WWII together when Kaye saved Crosby’s life. Thus no matter how annoying, Crosby can’t shake the whimsical Kaye, who’s forever getting sensible him into complicated situations.

The pair meet a pair of sisters, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen who’re trying to scale the ladder into showbiz. They’re talented, but are just starting out. The younger sister schemes to get the famous Wallace and Davis (Crosby and Kaye’s characters). Both Crosby and Kaye are enamored with a sister, but you know romance will not be easy.

The crux of the story revolves around the plight of Wallace and Davis’ old general, who owns a failing Vermont Inn. The general feels like a failure and misses his army camaraderie and success. No one’s coming to the inn because there’s no snow for skiing. Soon Wallace and Davis get the sisters to help them change the general’s fate.

The characters all had a lot of elegance and style. The costumes were bright and well tailored. They spoke with rhythm and intelligence. There’s no offensive language or swearing. I think all of these things contribute to how good the film makes people feel.

The film has great music and dancing. The jokes, often corny, made me laugh.

Try to find time for White Christmas this holiday. Introduce a younger relative to this cheerful film. Pray Hollywood finds a way to make more films like White Christmas. Not all films need to be cheery, but how about a few new ones that are?

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The Jolliest Christmas Party

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Hosted by my friend Luzanne and her husband, last night’s Christmas party might have been the best Christmas party I’ve ever been to. It’s certainly the jolly-est (jolly-est? most jolly?) I brought my friend Sally as my driver.

It was so well planned and so much fun. First at 4:30 we were to go to this pizza place, which was decked out for Christmas with lots of lights, fake snow, etc. They had the party room and lots of people sported cheesy Christmas garb. I’m glad I wore a Christmas sweater and I was wrong not to have worn Christmas earrings. It would not have been too much (as I thought).

They had a buffet of pizzas and salads at each end of the room. Waiters served pitchers of whatever drinks people wanted. Some people got wine, which I didn’t notice till late. Each setting had a stocking with your name on a label and some candy inside.

Screen Shot 2017-12-10 at 1.12.21 PMAt 5:30 the candy buffet was set out. They had all these vintage candies — chocolate cigarettes, Ice Cubes, Good ‘n’ Plenty, and on and on. It was such a trip down memory lane. You were supposed to fill up your stocking with whatever candy. We also all got jingle bells and these awesome cheap-o surprise glasses.

At 6 pm we walked 2 blocks to the Music Box Theater. They had bought a block of tickets. First the organist played Christmas songs as the screen showed a nostalgic slide show of Christmas in Chicago photos from the historical society. Then the sing-a-long started and was led by four carolers. Time to use those jingle bells!

Then I think they showed the old time cartoon Suzy Snowflake. Click here to see it.

Santa appeared and led some more singing including a jingle the organist had written. The carolers reappeared and we sang some more songs.

Then they showed “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney. The movie has just the right amount of corniness, elegance (the clothes, the sophistication of going to night clubs), heart and holiday feel. When there was a song, the audience sang. When something funny happened or someone kissed everyone rang their jingle bells. People would call out with witty retorts and everyone hissed when the housekeeper did anything sneaky.

All in all it was such a joyful party. So well timed. So well planned. Luzanne sent out emails, twice, with updated parking lot info. The walk between the two venues was manageable.

Sally asked if she could come next year when we were leaving. Of course!

I’d love to go back with my nieces, nephews and family to the movie again or to see “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which is also playing till Dec. 24th. I think you should go to the movie. The pizza place is a good choice for dinner and Candyality where I bet Luzanne got the candy is just about three doors up from the Music Box.

For a few other Jolly posts:

 

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent Ambersons
After reading the novel, I had to watch the film directed by Orson Welles. The Magnificent Ambersons is considered a classic film though not up to the level of Welles’ Citizen Kane. The film is quite faithful to the book, but I wished it included George with his rival redhead Fred Kinney, the part when Eugene falls over laughing when he sees how similar George and Fred’s conflict is to his own foolishness and how Lucy was not exclusive to George, how she would go dancing and socialize with other young men and how that made George feel so insecure.

The film was good, but not as full as the book, which is so often the case.

Welles had the actors in dark settings. I wished the mansions had more light. Buy some candles! Or get electricity!

The film was enjoyable and a classic. Reading the essay on Criterion, I learned how much Welles’ vision was altered:

But in Welles’ absence, RKO Studios recut the original version of the film mercilessly—Welles said it looked like it had been “edited with a lawn mower”—reducing its running time from 131 to the present 88 minutes. Nevertheless, what survives is still one of the most strikingly beautiful and technically innovative films ever to come out of Hollywood. It also tells a good story—about the decline of a once powerful and wealthy turn-of-the-century Midwestern family—with a conviction and maturity that are rare for the old Hollywood system.

I wish I could see the 133 minutes, but I’m glad I saw this.

Every Night Dreams


Directed by Mikio Naruse, Every Night Dreams is a haunting, poignant silent  film about a young mother named Omitzu, who was deserted by her shiftless husband and pays the bills by working in a hostess bar. Omitzu is able to turn on the charm as she flirts and smokes with sailors passing by inviting them to the bar where she works. The owner realizes that it’s Omitzu’s charisma that brings in extra customers.

Omitzu’s neighbors tell her that a man has been coming around looking for her. She’s puzzled. The next day they say it’s her husband and Omitzu yells, “He’s our enemy!” The neighbors are shocked and try to convince her not to be so bitter. Give him a chance; be a family again. And so she does.

The husband returns, but can’t find work. He tries in his slow poke way, but to no avail. He urges Omitzu to quit her job and she’d love to be a housewife, but since the husband is just one more mouth to feed, quitting is out of the question.

Back at the bar, a sea captain wants Omitzu and while she’s able to handle most maneuvers, this man’s clout and impulses take the situation to a boil (though not in a modern Matt Lauer sort of style, the film’s PG not R).

Pressures build from their lack of money. Their boy, whose performance is so sweet and natural, needs medical attention, highlighting how the father’s unemployment has just made matters worse for all of them.

The film is beautiful and Naruse made me sympathize with all the characters. Omitzsu is a complex woman who doesn’t fall into one of society’s category’s of Madonna or tart. She’s pragmatic and faced with poor choices.

 

Young Mr. Lincoln

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I really enjoyed Henry Fonda in director John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln. The film is fictionalized but based on an actual murder trial Abraham Lincoln worked on. Honest Abe leaves Indiana for Springfield, Illinois. Once there he does a poor country family a good turn and they pay him by giving him a barrel full of law books, which prompts him to learn law.

Later one summer he meets the lovely, Mary Todd, but he’s shy and awkward. At a summer festival two brothers from the country get into a fight with a town jerk and the jerk winds up dead. The locals are ready to lynch the outsiders but Abe steps in and turns them around with his wit.

It looks like the brothers have no chance for justice, but Abe takes the case.

Fonda does look like a young Abe. The cadence of his voice sounds small town. The film was enjoyable and would make good family viewing.

The African Queen

Like many of the films I see for my New Year’s Resolution Old Movie Challenge, The African Queen (1951) with Kathryn Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart is a film I’d never seen. I knew the basics that Hepburn played Rose Sayer, a straight-laced missionary and Bogart, a salty, undomesticated sailor, but I had no idea why they’d be on a journey together.

So it was news to me that Hepburn was a missionary, working in Africa with her brother who dies as a result of an attack by the Germans in WWI. The Germans burn the village down and her missionary brother goes crazy and dies from the effect. Bogart plays Mr. Allnut, who travels in a rusty boat known ironically as the African Queen, bringing mail and supplies to miners and the mission. Mr. Allnut is rough around the edges, but always polite to Rose, whom he always addresses as “Miss.” (It isn’t till halfway through the film that they find out each other’s first names.)

When Allnut sees that Miss is all alone, and vulnerable when the Germans invariably return, he takes her on to his rust bucket, the African Queen. He expects to take her to safety somehow and is shocked by her cockamamie idea that they should go along an impossibly dangerous route till they come to the lake where a German war ship is. Then she figures they can rig up some DIY torpedoes and ram the African Queen into the German ship to fight for her country, Great Britain. They’ll jump overboard at just the right moment and swim to safety.

Allnut has the sense to see the lunacy of her plan, but lacks the rhetorical skills to convince her of the futility. Has any Hepburn character ever been convinced to follow someone else’s plan?

Thus onward they go, and along the way they get drenched, barely survive the rapids and, as you’d expect, fall in love.

The film pulled me in, though at first I thought this particular pair of opposites might not attract. What I liked is that Allnut really respected Rose and that the film wasn’t a mere series of scenes where the opposites bicker. Once they’d overcome the initial obstacles, and saw each others’ strengths, they formed a real team. The main conflict was the arduous journey and finally the Germans. At times luck, rather than pluck got them through, but as Rose was a missionary, the Hand of God ought to be a force in the story.

Note:

  • Hepburn insisted the film be shot in Africa and as a result the crew endured hardship after hardship just like the characters did. See this post.
  • Someone’s bought and restored the African Queen used in the movie and you can arrange a canal or dinner cruise on it.