Thursday, November 23, 2023

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes - 1945

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes
(1945) brings scenes of Christmas simplicity on the prairie as Edward G. Robinson and Agnes Moorehead raise Margaret O’Brien with kindly, homespun gentleness.

Told mostly through episodes of Margaret O’Brien’s adventures on the farm, slight as they are, the movie shows us a life where minor, everyday occurrences have a dreamlike, magical quality to them, but Christmas, a time which for many of us stands out on the calendar as an extraordinary opportunity to overindulge in eating, drinking, spending, and desperate measures of wish fulfillment, conversely, becomes quite lovely for its very ordinary and mundane pleasures.

Here, we have young Margaret at church, intoning the story of The Nativity with breathy narration and childlike authority. She stands before the altar, and if she does not exactly have a halo, she is backed by the icon image of Christ, who certainly does. She says that Mary discovers a light shining around the head of the Baby, and that Joseph points out that Mary has one, too. She describes the sensations of the Miracle in the pastoral setting by the shepherds; she is growing up on a farm, so she knows all about sheep and stables. She finishes almost abruptly with, “and the Baby cried.”  It is almost a sense of foreboding as much as wonder. She is a child who, when she confesses at the beginning of the movie that she wants to be a WAC, cannot remember a time of peace before World War II.

The other scene, even more appealing, I think, if certainly less ethereal, is the Christmas morning opening of the presents, where Miss Moorehead and Mr. Robinson seem quite relaxed and comfortable on hard wooden chairs before the tree, and Margaret, on the floor, hands out the gifts. There are precisely three, one for each of them. Papa gets a new jackknife, Ma gets a lovely decorative oil lamp, and the little girl gets a new dress. All are very pleased and gushing as if they’d been opening expensive presents for hours.

They are happier than if they had been. I love the look of anticipation on Agnes Moorehead’s face as she watches her child open her present. She fidgets a little, shifts position, and it is natural and as un-staged-looking as you can get. Robinson, who, despite his gangster past in other films, bears a mild, pleasant, always half-amused look behind his voluminous mustache. He is a father who, if he cannot be benevolent in material gifts, most certainly makes up for it with a benevolence of attention on his daughter.

We should all be so happy, and grateful, at Christmas.

And may I wish all Americans a very Happy Thanksgiving!  The Christmas season may start with tomorrow's frantic sales, but for today, let us all bask in the peace of family, friends, and a second piece of pie.


Get your copy of CHRISTMAS IN CLASSIC FILMS here at Amazon in print or eBook...

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Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Movies in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century and Hollywood Fights Fascism and Christmas in Classic Films. TO JOIN HER READERS' GROUP - follow this link for a free book as a thank-you for joining.

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