Thursday, December 30, 2021

Happy New Year! ...and book cover reveal

This is to wish you all a very Happy New Year!

And to reveal the cover of my upcoming book, Christmas in Classic Films.  It's a collection of essays from this blog and some new material, and though I had intended it to come out this month, some other things got in the way and so I'll be offering it as a pre-order on Amazon probably sometime in the spring, with publication at the end of next summer at several online shops.  I'll keep you posted.

The design is by your friend and mine, Casey Koester, whom you might know from her excellent Noir Girl blog, which I encourage you to visit.

Thank you all for the pleasure of your company this year.  See you in 2022!

Thursday, December 23, 2021

A Christmas Story - 1983


A Christmas Story (1983) perhaps unlike any other Christmas movie, has reached icon stage in American pop culture.  Its meteoric rise in stature—to the level where the house in Cleveland where some exterior scenes were shot has been turned into a tourist attraction, and Major Award Leg Lamps are to be found for sale as T-shirts, earrings, tree ornaments and actual lamps.  The movie’s dialogue has become a universal language.  Even hallowed favorites among classic film fans like White Christmas (1954) or Christmasin Connecticut (1945) have not become so widely quoted, merchandized, or watched.

This is the final film in our series on holiday movies.  I’ll link to the other movies we discussed below.  This series was meant to lead up to the release of my newest book—a collection of essays on Christmas classic films, but life, as the saying goes, got in the way.  That book will have to wait a little longer, and I’ll discuss that more next week.

While I don’t personally consider A Christmas Story a classic film (my criteria follows that it must be produced before 1965), nobody who loves classic films can deny the special attraction this movie has for classic film fans.  It achieves a unique quality of being a “retro” movie by virtue of its setting in about 1940, but unlike other movies, even very good and well-researched movies set in the 1930s and 1940s, it accomplishes this with effortless submersion into a world that most viewers, even in 1983, did not remember personally but understood instinctually.  This was achieved without mawkishness, or parody.  Though the movie is clearly a love letter to the era, it is never sentimental, and yet is it still without the brutish pseudo-sophisticated sarcasm of modern films and TV shows.

It is a look at the travails of Christmas through the eyes of a child, yet it is narrated by the adult the child has become and we also see the parents’ and other grown-ups’ view of things.  There is no linear story, but the movie is told in splintered vignettes woven together as Christmas draws ever closer, with the anticipation of marking off the calendar.

Directed by Bob Clark (who also has a short role as “Swede,” the guy to whom Ralphie’s father brags about his Major Award), the movie was co-written by humorist Jean Shepherd (who also appears briefly in line waiting for Santa) from his series of semi-autobiographical stories.

Peter Billingsley had the role of a lifetime as Ralphie, a wide-eyed bespectacled kid who is innocent but not na├»ve, and who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, despite being warned by every grown-up he encounters that “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

Darren McGavin is his father, or “the Old Man.”  I love him in this role.  He is the perfect curmudgeon with the soft heart who eventually grants the boy’s wish.  His thrill at watching his son open the box is priceless.  His grumpiness is true to life and hysterical.  My favorite line of his: “You used up all the glue on purpose!”  He reminds me of my own father.

Melinda Dillon is the mother, who in every way is the perfect consort to the blustering McGavin.  I will say, though, the only thing I don’t like about the movie is her hairdo.  It should have been more of a 1940s style.  She looks too modern.  Her battle at getting Randy into the snowsuit is epic.

Ian Petrella plays Randy, and Ralphie’s pals are R. D. Robb as Schwartz, Scott Schwartz as Flick, and the bully Scut Farkus is played by Zach Ward and his toady Grover Dill is played by Yano Anaya.  The movie was made nearly 40 years ago and yet these guys will always be kids whose place in pop culture is so cemented as to override the fact that they were really just actors saying lines. 

Tedde Moore is the longsuffering teacher Miss Shields, who meets every obstacle with a raised eyebrow.  I love her arch inspiration of announcing to the students they are to be given the assignment of writing…a theme.

It’s hard to say if the blueprint of this movie—script, casting, storyboard, cinematography—is a masterwork of brilliance in the planning or if the sum total of the movie’s parts were just a happy accident.  There is a feel of serendipity about the film and where it takes us.

The details are there to enjoy that have little to do with the plot: the teacher’s drawer full of confiscated trinkets including Big Little books (I had some, did you?), and my favorite, the Terry and the Pirates comic strip on the back of the newspaper Darren McGavin is reading on Christmas morning.

The Orphan Annie decoder was a particular topic of discussion in my family, as my mother, who as a child in the 1930s—and a huge Orphan Annie fan (I learned the theme song at her knee as a young kid…”Who’s the little chatterbox, the one with pretty auburn locks? Whom do you see, it’s Little Orphan Annie….”)—and who could not afford to send for the decoder to get Annie’s secret messages, cleverly figured out the cipher key herself on paper.  She would not affirm that each message was about Ovaltine, the sponsor, but agreed the commercialism was pretty heavy-handed.

“Fragile—must be Italian,” and not sticking your tongue to cold metal are scenes so indelible this must be the one film where the plot—even though there is one—seems unnecessary at times.

We are taken on Ralphie’s rollercoaster emotions of the season and face trials of how to ask for the present he knows his parents won’t approve of, facing the frightening experience of a too-loud Santa in a line of fretful kids, an especially facing the awful bully.  Using the "oh fudge" line rather than explicitly using the vulgarity is actually funnier than if we had been allowed to hear Ralphie's uncensored slip into profanity, just as Mr. McGavin's indecipherable sputtering is funnier than if we had been able to understand his frustrated rant over the furnace. 

About the only aspect of Christmas missing from the movie that many of us would identify with is the religious themes and overtones, which we catch only a glimpse of at the beginning of the film with the church choir singing on the street corner.  Missing are the mysteries of the Nativity, which most kids comically mix up and about which they come to very strange conclusions.  I have always personally enjoyed the kids’ reenactment at church of the First Christmas with unruly shepherds, sheep that won’t stand still, and angels that shove Wise Men when they step on their line.  The theatricality of Christmas could be another movie, but it’s not something Ralphie has to endure. He has enough on his plate.

At the end of it, Ralphie gets his heart’s desire, and the adult voiceover rejoices and confirms that it was his best Christmas present that he would ever receive.

There is a poignant note of sadness in that.  Never to have topped the Christmas when you were eight years old?

Perhaps that is because as children, all our experiences, big and small, happy and sad, hit us so acutely.   It is not just believing in Santa or in wishes that come true, but rather that we live the season so passionately, down to our bones. 

We look for messages in Christmas films, if only because most of them, at least the modern Hallmark versions, bludgeon us with them.  If A Christmas Story has any message for us, it is just to take the holiday season for what it is, make the best of it, and keep your sense of humor.  And if there are any good memories, keep them.  Treasure them.  Stretch them in the retelling.  They will sustain us long after the much-desired presents of childhood have been broken and thrown out.

But the reason for the film's popularity and ascendance to pop culture icon is not only due to the film's excellence.  Many wonderful movies have not reached this stage of familiarity or have been entirely lost to us.  It is because of the canny repetitive broadcasting every year, not just once but several times, even an annual 24-hour marathon on one cable station. That, like Orphan Annie's Ovaltine "secret message" Ralphie was desperate to decode, is pure clever marketing.  There is nothing sentimental about that, but you can't argue with success.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas. 

The films in this series were:

Cover Up (1949)

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

Fitzwilly (1967)

It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947)

Big Business (1929)

Beyond Tomorrow (1940)



Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.  Her new book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - is available here on Amazon.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Beyond Tomorrow (1940)

Beyond Tomorrow
(1940) is Christmas ghost story, a fantasy of second chances.  George Bailey and his angel Clarence meet the Ghost of Christmas Present, or at least a slant on the theme of otherworldly visitors helping out dense, stubborn mortals.

The ghosts in this movie actually start out being mortals, sometimes dense and stubborn, but other times are decent and even lovable chaps.  They are Charles Winninger, C. Aubrey Smith, and Harry Carey as three old bachelors who own an engineering firm.  They live together in a New York City brownstone—so many of these Christmas movies in this series have taken us to New York City—and prepare for a quiet Christmas Eve dinner with company after working late in their apartment.

The secretaries are sent away and the gentlemen don evening dress for dinner, but the invited couple has made late regrets and can’t come, and the three men are let down that they have nothing else special to do for the holiday, having no families.  C. Aubrey Smith, we will find out later, is actually a widower whose soldier son has, like his wife, predeceased him.  Smith is English, naturally, a former officer in the Royal Army before setting himself up in business as an engineer.  He is kindly, avuncular, and cheerful.’

Charles Winninger is Irish, the most chipper of the group, who pushes Christmas on the other two workaholics and forces good cheer on everyone around him.

Harry Carey is a glum, even bitter, Midwesterner.  We do not know much about his story, except he gripes at everything, though we catch enough glimpses of his brief, secret smiles to know the guy isn’t a meanie. However, it is intimated that he once committed a crime for which he faced a jury and the scandal still hangs over him.  He is down on a world which he feels has not treated him fairly.

They are attended in their home by Maria Ouspenskaya as their housekeeper, official hostess, and head of staff.  She is a former countess who lost her home and social position, and wealth, during the Russian Revolution.  Alex Melesh, the butler, is a similar emigree who came along with Madame Ouspenskaya, and devotedly calls her “Excellency.”  She confesses to him that when she was rich in Russia, she was not happy, but in the lean years afterward learned that helping others made her happy, and that to be needed was what gave her life meaning and fulfillment.  Maria doesn’t need to be visited by any Christmas ghosts; she’s already learned her lessons.

Charles Winninger, intending to save Christmas, playfully suggests a sporting contest, that the men each put $10 and their calling cards in three different wallets and throw them out the window into the pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk.  They are fishing for guests for dinner.  People who come in to honestly return the wallets will be invited to stay.

The first wallet is scooped up by a flippant, greedy woman, who laughingly keeps it.  The other two are returned by two different souls wandering the streets this wintry Christmas Eve: Richard Carlson, and Jean Peters.  He is a cowboy stranded in New York after the rodeo he performed with at Madison Square Garden left town, and she is a New Hampshire schoolteacher now working in a children’s clinic in the city.  They are both alone, and will soon fall in love.

They all pass a pleasant evening singing and we find that Richard Carlson has a beautiful singing voice.  It will later bring him fame, fortune, and tragedy.

The young couple are completely taken with the three gentlemen, who have become their godfathers, who bestow gifts on them, offer advice, and visit Jean’s children’s hospital on Christmas Day to bring presents and play with the kids.  Just as we saw with the gang of squatters in the mansion in It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) here, this hastily assembled crew has quickly become a family, and Christmas is for families, so much so that sometimes they need to be created in a pinch.

All Christmas week, the young couple is accompanied by the three men and Madame Ouspenskaya on group outings: to parties, a hockey match, and bowling.  It is a hoot to see the montage with the image of proper and dignified C. Aubrey Smith and the Russian countess at the bowling alley with hot dogs and Coke bottles in hand.

Then the family comes apart, but not with the natural going separate ways after the holiday.  The family is fractured instantly, tragically.

We have only a brief premonition of trouble; actually, it is Madame Ouspenskaya’s premonition.  The three fellows—neither stooges nor Magi—are off on a business trip to another state and their little family sees them off at the airport.  Maria is worried and wishes they would take the train instead. 

Headlines of a lost plane, of a crash, of bodies found.

We next see the dark, cold interior of the New York brownstone and the ghosts of the three men entering, bewildered, at first not aware they are ghosts.  Madame Ouspenskaya, in mourning, enters, and immediately senses their presence.  “I know you are here.  I cannot see you or touch you, but I know you are here.”

“So, this is it,” the ghosts understand they have passed on, but to where?

Before their flight, the men have left an envelope with bonds in it for the young couple, and Maria asks them to move in with her and the butler for a while.

But a quiet transition to a new family dynamic in the old house with three ghosts in it is not to be.  Richard Carlson gets an audition to sing on the radio, does well, and wins a spot on a regular program.  Next, a fading Broadway star played with sophisticated vampishness by Helen Vinson, takes a shine to the handsome Mr. Carlson.  She is attracted to him and to the possibility he will help to boost her career. 

Carlson’s charming county bumpkin ways become maddening as he does not seem to see the danger to his relationship with Jean Peters or that Miss Vinson in just using him. 

The ghosts, matchmakers in death as they were in life, are not happy about this at all and try repeatedly to warn the mortals.  But time is growing short for them. It seems they are not to be allowed to spend eternity in the living room after all.  With bolts of lightning and terrible thunderclaps, Harry Carey realizes with the customary sense of doom he wore in life that his final reward draws near.  His ghostly pals fear for him, and Charles Winninger urges him to ask forgiveness.  Carey is more than stubborn, he is proud, and he is honest.  He cannot say he is sorry for what he had done, “What I did needed doing.  I have no remorse.”  He accepts his fate and walks morosely into the terrible blackness.

The remaining ghosts now turn their attention to the continuing problem of Richard Carlson getting involved with a wicked lady and leaving poor sweet Jean Parker alone.  Both Carlson and Parker were second-tier players through the thirties and Jean may probably be best remembered as “Beth” to Katharine Hepburn’s “Jo” in the 1933 version of Little Women.

C. Aubrey Smith must give up the attempt to help, for now it is his turn.  Like the soldier he was once long ago, he is being called by a celestial trumpeting of “The Last Post.”  There is no terrible blackness, only a dim sense of light on the horizon, and from it, to his astonishment, walks his solder son.  “I’ve come for you, Dad.”

“What is it like?”

“What do you want it to be like?”

Mr. Smith recalls an old army post in the tropics where he enjoyed the companionship of fellow officers, sport, apparently no shooting at him, and the benefits of being a colonial master of sorts.  He will join his wife there and it will be his paradise.

Charles Winninger is left alone to deal with the problem of Richard Carlson, which grows worse as Helen Vinson’s ex-husband and former stage partner, played by Rod La Rocque in one of his last film roles, jealously follows them to a country inn where they intend to spend a few days.  Winninger has a few comic moments such as when he pulls down Miss Vinson’s skirt which has been provocatively raised, and when he knocks her hat off. But more than this he is helpless to do.  He cannot really turn Carlson away from bad mistakes or the tragedy to come.

Then it’s his turn to meet his final reward and cross over to his own paradise, but he refuses the voice, because he cannot leave Carlson alone.  He feels responsible for him.  The voice tells him if he does not follow, he will doom himself to wander the earth forever. 

“I can’t go now.  I can’t.”  He is sad and helpless, but ever faithful, and he has lost his chance at eternal happiness.

At the country inn, where Carlson and Helen Vinson are having dinner, drunken Rod La Rocque shows up with a gun and shoots them both.  Next, the inevitable operation scene and Winninger paces the corridor like an expectant father.  Instead of good news, the ghost of Richard Carlson comes out into the hall.  He realizes now his foolishness and must suffer remorse for eternity for what he has caused. 

Miracles conveniently happen in movies such as this, and so through the purity of Winninger’s heart, he is given a second chance to pass on to paradise, and Carlson is given a second chance at life.  They part as Winninger responds to the distant call of his mother, and, truly unexpectedly, to the vision of Harry Carey, who also has been granted a second chance at paradise because he has finally let go of the bitterness he carried in life.  There can be no light with bitterness, only darkness.

Beyond Tomorrow is a parable and a fantasy of unlikely events and possibilities, grounded perhaps not by a love story but by the notion that consequences are attached to everything, and that optimism, even in the face sometimes terrible consequences, makes life bearable and is a blessed thing.

You can watch Beyond Tomorrow here on YouTube:



Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.  Her new book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - is available here on Amazon.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Swag from the What a Character Blogathon

Thank you to Paula of Paula's Cinema Club, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen for hosting the recent 10th Annual What a Character Blogathon, and to Turner Classic Movies for the unexpected swag pictured above.  

Names were drawn for a contest celebrating the 10th anniversary of the blogathon, with prizes donated by TCM and the University Press of Kentucky.  I was fortunate enough to be one of the several winners, and I'm very grateful to TCM, and Paula, Kellee, and Aurora for the goodies.  

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Big Business - 1929

Big Business
(1929) is an unabashedly violent and vengeful look at the selling of Christmas trees.  But when Laurel and Hardy are the salesmen, you just don’t regret the absence of peace on earth and good will toward men.

This silent short, directed by James “J. Wesley” Horne, boasted two future greats as supervising director and cameraman – Leo McCarey and George Stevens.  The film was enrolled in the National Film Registry in 1992.

The title card begins the adventure telling us, tersely, that we are witnessing “selling Christmas trees in California.”  This would explain the lack of snow and the palm trees gliding by the little open car with the tiny truck bed on the back, into which are standing a few spindly Christmas trees mounted on wooden stands.  “Spindly” only according to today’s opulent standards (I have brought home real trees in years past which, when crammed into my living room, the single tree took up half the room. Small animals could have lived in its branches and never been discovered. Even getting the tree into the house and squeezing it through the door, some years, my twin brother and I in our younger days would have to grab it and run up the steps with a heave-ho as if we were storming a castle with a battering ram.)

The streets are wide, refreshingly free from the chaos of traffic, and the boys park among a row of Spanish-style stucco houses to peddle their trees door-to-door.

A customer declines.  Another customer hits Ollie on the head with a hammer.  The third customer, our old pal James Finlayson, proves to be the ultimate hard sale.  The shenanigans begin innocently enough:  Stan gets a tree branch caught in the door after Mr. Finlayson slams it on them.  It happens again.  He then gets his coat caught. Soon, the irritated homeowner and the frustrated salesmen devolve into a tit-for-tat battle of one-upmanship.  Finlayson attacks their tree, Ollie’s watch, and the boys start ripping pieces off Finlayson’s house.

The chaos builds, neighbors come to watch, as does a surprisingly laconic policeman, as the boys destroy Finlayson’s house, and Finlayson destroys their little truck. 

Released in April 1929, we may note two things: first, just as we discussed in this previous post, many Christmas-themed movies were not released at Christmastime; and second, perhaps because this movie was released well before the Wall Street Crash in October of that year, there is a bravado of commercialism and complete lack of sentiment.  The boys want to hustle their trees, but we are not given any indication that they are down and out.  As the melee concludes, though all three men appear tearful under the threat of the cop’s presence, they are not regretful for what they have done, only that they were caught. 

There is no Yuletide softening of the heart here as they would be in movies of later years, no message of reconciliation or discovering the true meaning of Christmas after their fits of destruction.  Stan and Ollie give Finlayson an exploding cigar, and then they run away from the cop.

Even modern Christmas comedies with more grit and sarcasm to them have an “aww-gee” moment, but not Laurel and Hardy in 1929.  Comedy was unapologetically brutal, and consequences were swift and severe.  And funny.

You can watch Big Business here from YouTube:


Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.  Her new book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - is available here on Amazon.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Lillian Randolph

Lillian Randolph must have been a warm and lovely lady, for there is something in her portrayals that goes beyond talent and is supercharged by perhaps empathy or a deep sense of knowing.
  She is instantly relatable and somehow more genuine than the stars she supports.

Taking a break from the Christmas series today to join in on the 10th Annual What a Character Blogathon hosted by Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club, and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen.  Stop by any of their blogs for a full list of great bloggers participating in this wonderful event that celebrates our cherished character actors.

Likely, most classic film buffs are familiar with Lillian Randolph’s brief role as the cook and housekeeper Annie in
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).  When George Bailey is down and out, she laughingly donates her life savings to him, money she was saving for a divorce in case she ever got married.

As with African-American actors of the day, Miss Randolph spent most of her career playing domestic servants, and that was unfair, but in her talented grip, not a tragedy.  She made these characters interesting and threw her whole self into them. 

We discussed her role in the comedy
Once More, My Darling (1949) here in this previous post.  The movie stars Ann Blyth and Robert Montgomery as a pair of eccentric misfits, and Lillian Randolph is the maid of Montgomery’s wealthy mother, the only person in a house of sophisticates who understands ditzy Ann Blyth and supports her with bemused fascination.  Quoting just from a bit of that essay:

"The only one she connects with is Mamie, the maid, wonderfully played by Lillian Randolph.  Miss Randolph has a stronger role in this film than most domestics, and not stereotyped.  She has a personality of her own, and is clearly amused and delighted with Ann.  She seems to be the only one who is not repelled by her perfume." 

While it is true that the Black servants of the movie world were stereotypes, as noted above, Lillian Randolph never played them that way.  She seemed to understand them as personalities and to get a kick out the roles she played. There is sense of joy in her work.

She began in radio, and her work stretched across many decades through film, television, and suppled the voice for the now notorious Mammy Two-Shoes in several Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Blessed with a gloriously rich contralto singing voice, she also performed as a blues singer. We can hear her sing in several episodes the long-running radio comedy
The Great Gildersleeve.  As the cook and housekeeper Birdie, Miss Randolph was a mainstay of the house, really a main character in the family of bumbling bachelor Gildersleeve and his niece and nephew.  As the series progressed, she was more like the counterpart of Gildersleeve.  They were not spouses, but they were domestic partners in running the house and raising the children in every other sense. The Gildersleeve series later became adapted for television and a few movies.

Have a listen here to the Easter 1952 radio episode where Lillian Randolph sings “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”  beginning about 23:02.  (We discussed her Gildersleeve co-star, Walter Tetley, in this previous post.)

In another episode, Birdie’s singing talent is discovered by a visiting impresario, and he wants to send her away to study voice, Randolph sings “Goin’ Home” at about 10:54 and reprises the song later in the show.  It is a stirring, beautiful piece. (Her daughter Barbara Randolph also became a singer.)  She would also sing the “Coventry Carol” on many Gildersleeve Christmas episodes.  She recorded “Were You There” also in 1956 on a 45-rpm record.  Later on in life she reportedly taught acting, singing, and public speaking.

“What a fine woman!” Gildersleeve remarks of Birdie, and in an era where African-American performers were relegated to playing characters that were not often afforded much dignity, Lillian Randolph’s appealing and loveable personality, her vibrancy, silliness, and canny playing off her castmates made her a star in her scenes if not on the marquee.


Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.  Her new book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - is available here on Amazon.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

It Happened on 5th Avenue - 1947

It Happened on 5th Avenue
(1947) is a pleasant romantic comedy that tackles the problems of two couples of different generations, the post-World War II housing shortage, juggles tropes of the happy hobo, and the millionaire who needs to get back in touch with the common man, throw in a couple songs even though it’s not a musical – and Christmas.  This last element is not the focus of the movie, and that, as we have mentioned in the earlier movies of this series, is what makes this film an appealing adventure. 

We’re back in New York City, the location for Fitzwilly (1967), The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), and one of the fun points of this movie is several rear-screen projection scenes of New York.  I don’t know about you, but I like rear-screen projection. I wish it followed me around, too.  I could run a marathon without going anywhere. The setting here is a mansion on Fifth Avenue, which, in the seasonal absence of its owners, is occupied temporarily by hobo Victor Moore, who has sneaked inside for the past few years and knows the ropes of how to live well by being an undiscovered guest.

He meets newly homeless Don DeFore, who has been evicted from his rattrap boarding house that’s about to be torn down, and invites him to stay a while in the mansion until he gets back on his feet. Gale Storm sneaks into the mansion, too, but she is actually the daughter of the millionaire who owns it. Miss Storm is fresh-faced and sweet (but unfortunately, her singing here is dubbed).  She’s on the lam from her finishing school, just stopped back to pack some of her clothes—when the disapproving and ultra-moral Victor Moore catches her in the act.  He and DeFore decide to give the young reprobate another chance, since she pleads with them that she needed the nice clothes to apply for a job.  She doesn’t want them to know who she is, because her dad and the media are looking for her.  This is the start of the happy makeshift family.

Catch the sheet music “Oh, Susana!” where Gale applies for a job in a music store, which makes me think of her television series Oh, Susana! in the late 1950s.  We discussed David C. Tucker’s book on Gale Storm here and here in these previous posts.

Soon, they will be joined by a couple of DeFore’s old Army buddies and their wives and kids.  (Our hero Charles Lane has a brief role as a landlord who doesn’t allow children.) Alan Hale, Jr., is paired with Dorothea Kent.  Mr. Moore is a little nervous about inviting too many people in the house.  For one, he obviously does not want to risk discovery by the nightly patrol of police who check on the house, and also, he’s afraid his merry band does not respect the house as he does.  Moore is a pretentious hobo.  He dresses in the master’s clothes, smokes his cigars, and expects the people in “his” household to fall under his command.  They share the chores and the childrearing between them.

When Gale Storm’s father tracks her down, she persuades him to pose as a vagrant who needs a place to stay, and invites him into the house.  Charles Ruggles is the indignant, sputtering millionaire, who actually started life in poverty and worked his way up.  He is a self-made man, and his considerable pride in being so is shattered at every turn by the dismissive Victor Moore, who lords it over him and expects Mr. Ruggles to toe the line. 

Ruggles suffers the comic indignity for his daughter’s sake: she has fallen in love with Don DeFore but wants to know if he can love her for herself and not her father’s millions.  Gale Storm also invites her mother to join the “family” and introduces her as a likewise down-and-out soul.  Victor Moore puts her to work as the cook. 

Played by the lovely and ethereal Ann Harding, she and Charles Ruggles are divorced and have not seen each other in some years.  Her bemused expressions at seeing Charles set down time and again by Victor Moore are funny and darling, but we soon have tandem rocky love stories:  Gale Storm and Don DeFore who are just discovering each other, and the sadder-but-wiser reunion of Ann Harding and Ruggles.  It is touching that they must fall in love all over again.

Leon Belasco, who we discussed in this previous post, has a minor role as a musician in a restaurant. It's all about the character actors. Ask any old movie buff.

Ultimately, this is a tale about home and what makes a home.  Ruggles’ opulent mansion is empty half the year and when he’s in residence, it’s just him and probably a few servants.  His daughter lives at her finishing school, his ex-wife in a posh hotel in Florida.

DeFore and his pals are veterans looking for suitable housing, and they have a partnership in the works to bid on an Army camp the government is selling, hoping to renovate the barracks into two-room apartments for veterans like themselves without a place to live.  Little do they know that their rival bidder is property developer Charles Ruggles.

Victor Moore’s home is not necessarily anyplace he hangs his hat: he’s clearly choosy about his domicile and has expensive tastes.  Ruggles eventually reveals his true identity to the boys, but not to Mr. Moore.  His innocence is to be respected.

Christmas comes, and if the holiday is all about family, it is also all about home.  Home for the holidays.  The "family" decorates an enormous tree.  A few fun shots are of dialogue carried on between the branches, this and other whimsical touches by director Roy Del Ruth made this film quite charming.  Despite the Christmas scene, this classic film seems to have come late into the Christmas roster, possibly because it was not shown on TV for many years, but now, of course, is available on DVD and usually part of December programming on TCM.

The ideal Christmas is centered around home.  The holiday, ideally, solidifies a family, and then as suddenly as it came, it leaves.  The family leaves.  Both the home and the family can be temporary Christmas endeavors, attached to the holiday that attracts us every year like homing pigeons.  Charles Ruggles leaves us with a last line to infer that he fully expects Victor Moore to return next year, and he will be welcome.  We don't know if Ruggles means he will pretend to be a homeless man again for Moore's sake, once more suffering his largesse.  That is the biggest conundrum for us: we want our nostalgic family Christmases to never change and we try to replicate the rituals every year, but eventually, that becomes impossible.

Except in home movies and classic films, where the universe we loved is still there, unchanged, waiting for us. 


Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Memories in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century. Her newspaper column on classic films, Silver Screen, Golden Memories is syndicated nationally.  Her new book, a collection of posts from this blog - Hollywood Fights Fascism - is available here on Amazon.

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