Christmas Eve (1947)
Far from a conventional Christmas movie, this Edwin L. Marin directed feature casts a heavily made up 45 year old, Ann Harding, as an aging woman of wealth looking to avoid losing her power of attorney to a plotting nephew, Reginald Denny, who has the court’s ear concerning his Aunt’s sanity. How is she going to combat this? She convinces the Judge that on Christmas Eve she will have her three adopted sons back at home who she will gladly relinquish control to.
The three sons she speaks of have all set out on their won to make their way in the world without “sponging” off their adoptive parent. A fact that she takes pride in. And so begins our three mini-features that play like twenty minute shorts (minus Curly, Larry and Moe) wrapped around Harding’s story.
First up is George Brent as a playboy who finds himself in a screwball narrative when he tries to break off his romance with Joan Blondell and marry the wealthy Molly Lamont. Blondell plays her part in that bubbly 30’s style as she does her best to break up the nuptials and claim Brent for her own. Brent tries to pass Joan off as his sister but of course that backfires ending with Joan holding on to her man. Brent is the only son who hasn’t strayed far and when news hits the papers of Harding’s wealth in jeopardy, he smells a rat where nephew Denny is concerned.
Back to the Harding narrative where we’ll find she’s hired a familiar thug of gangster films, Joe Sawyer, as a private eye to track down her two remaining boys.
Our second story involves the son who’s gone bad. It’s a prime George Raft acting tough again as a gangster down in South America who plainly states to FBI man, John Litel, “I’m no stooge for the cops.” Litel is hoping to convince Raft to return to the U.S. and give up some key information on his former associates. This proves to be an exciting stopover in the film when Raft gets tangled up with some Nazi’s hiding out following the war in the southern continent. Raft plays it tough when cornered and in fine hero fashion comes out on top but surprisingly won’t save the damsel in distress, Virginia Field. Will Raft head home to save Ma from a shifty nephew and sacrifice his freedom? I guess we’ll have to wait till the last reel to find out.
Our third act stars Randolph Scott in the last non-western he’d ever appear in aside from a cameo in the musical Starlight. Still, this character keeps him in familiar dress. He’s a hard drinking rodeo rider who gets tangled up in an illegal adoption scam shortly after arriving back in his home town. Following a stiff drink in the nearest watering hole he’s taken in by an undercover reporter, Dolores Moran, who convinces him she needs a ride to a hospital. He’ll soon find himself in a comical farce at an adoptive agency. This will twist to Scott playing the hero when it turns out to be an illegal operation. And wouldn’t you know it, there are three baby girls left in his care.
Back to Miss Harding on Christmas Eve surrounded by Denny, the Judge and her Doctor awaiting the arrival of her three long lost sons. Well it is a Christmas movie so I shouldn’t have to tell you whether or not the boys all come home and share the screen together even if only for a few mere seconds.
Grab a glass and dip it into the punch bowl as Miss Haring says, “Shall we all have some Christmas cheer?”
If this was not a seasonal movie I’d think it might have worked better as a horror anthology of the early 1970’s from Amicus films. Not that it isn’t any good it’s just so different from the usual holiday fare. Aside from the fact that the deadline is Christmas Eve, there really isn’t anything Christmassy about the film which was produced by Benedict Bogeaus. Mainly a “B” film producer, some of Benedict’s productions include Captain Kidd (1945), Cattle Queen of Montana (1954) and the George Raft effort, Mr. Ace (1946).
Having secured a copy of this a few years ago on a TCM airing, it was refreshing to see I had recorded the introduction by the late Robert Osborne to accompany it. He pointed out it was a TCM debut (not sure if it’s ever played again) and that one of the story writers on the film was a very young Robert Altman. Of course Altman would move on to a celebrated directing career with titles like MASH, Nashville and The Player to his credit.
Our leading lady Miss Harding was actually younger than two of her three sons sans the make-up. She was born in 1902 while Scott was born in 1898 and Raft in 1901. But Brent was actually younger having been born in 1904. All three leading men play to their strengths in the vignettes they appear in. Brent was in plenty suit and tie playboy roles while Raft and Scott will forever be linked to the gangster and cowboy roles they made their own over the course of their long careers. Scott would star in 35 more films before his retiring in 1962 following Ride the High Country and all of them westerns.
The film is available on blu ray and while I wouldn’t really call it a Christmas movie it’s certainly a curio for the cast and way it’s been told in more or less three parts. As a Scott fan I was long overdue to see it and for what it’s worth, the Raft section comes off best. It’s tight, it’s tough and might have done well on it’s own fleshed out over a 90 minute feature.