TCM Greatest Classic Films Collection: Holiday (Christmas in Connecticut / A Christmas Carol 1938 / The Shop Around the Corner / It Happened on 5th Avenue)
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TCM Greatest Classic Films: Holiday (4FE/DVD)
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1938) Reginald Owen portrays Charles Dickens’ holiday humbug Ebenezer Scrooge, the miser’s miser who has a huge change of heart after spirits whisk him into the past, present and future. From sets to stars to story, this triumphant adaptation adds a glow to the season. Like Tiny Tim’s benediction, it blesses us – every one. CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945) A magazine columnist totally devoid of the homemaking skills espoused in her column had better get some fast: her boss has invited himself and a recently returned war hero to her home for Christmas. Laughs, romance, holiday cheer: that’s the recipe Barbara Stanwyck and a stellar company follow in this perennial favorite. IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE Home for the holidays! GI families hit by the post-World War II housing crunch take over an abandoned New York City mansion. THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER In the third of their four screen pairings, Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart engage in retail romance wrapped in the ribbon of director Ernst Lubitsch’s trademark touch of wit and charm. They play bickering store clerks who are unknowingly secret pen pals. Your patronage will be cheerfully rewarded when you watch this enchanting tale.]]>
Christmas in Connecticut
Christmas in Connecticut is a holiday film that plays 365 days of the year. Barbara Stanwyck gives a brilliant, sardonic performance as Elizabeth Lane, a columnist for Smart Housekeeping magazine, whose enticing descriptions of the exquisite meals she prepares for her husband and baby on their bucolic Connecticut farm earns her fame as "America's Best Cook." A writer, she is; a cook, she is not. As she types the words, "From my living room window, as I write, the good cedar logs cracking on the fire..." the view is of clothes flapping on the line outside her bachelorette Manhattan apartment. An able supporting cast keeps her lie on life support: her editor, her stuffy and detestable architect suitor, and the wonderful "Uncle" Felix (S.Z. Sakall), an English-garbling Hungarian chef who provides the recipes that fill her column.
Cut to Jefferson Jones, a sailor adrift at sea for weeks after his destroyer is torpedoed. Memories of the food described in Lane's columns are central to his survival. After his rescue, as he's recuperating in a naval hospital, a marriage-minded nurse thinks she might nudge Jones to the altar if he could only experience a real domestic Christmas. And it just so happens that she was nurse to the grandchild of Alexander Yardley, the wealthy and powerful publisher of --you guessed it--Smart Housekeeping magazine. And so, she pens the letter that could unravel Lane's carefully constructed fraud. She writes to Yardley asking that Jones be included in America's ultimate Christmas--the one to be held at the Lane family farm in Connecticut. The pompous Yardley (ably portrayed by Sidney Greenstreet) believes the Lane myth and instantly sniffs a story that will send his magazine's circulation skyrocketing. And staring down a lonely holiday, he decides to join the Lanes for Christmas on the farm, too. Now, all Lane has to do is come up with a farm. And a husband. And let's not forget the baby. Christmas in Connecticut is classic screwball entertainment of the best kind, with its on-target skewering of social convention and house-of- cards-about-to-tumble tension: a perfect farcical vision of domestic blitz. --Susan Benson
A Christmas Carol 1938
This is the desert-island choice of the many versions of A Christmas Carol, with a magnificent, full-bodied portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge by Alastair Sim that leaves everyone else in the dust. Lean and direct, this film's version of the story wastes no time trying to impress viewers with the magical nature of the spirits' visitations. Director Brian Desmond Hurst keeps the focus on Scrooge's life story, beautifully simplifying and underscoring the theme of lost women with a haunting musical refrain from the folk song "Barbara Allen." Sim's commitment to the role is at times astonishing; his Scrooge's Christmas-morning ecstasy is a marvel of giddy technique. Watch for Patrick Macnee (Steed in The Avengers) as the young Jacob Marley--the actor made his screen debut in this 1951 production. --Tom Keogh
The Shop Around the Corner
One of the most charming and romantic films around, this 1940 comic romance finds James Stewart (Vertigo, It's A Wonderful Life) working in a small shop in Budapest and longing for a girl to call his own. His coworker, Margaret Sullavan, feels the same, and soon they are both corresponding and falling in love with their respective pen pals. What they don't realize is that they are writing to and falling in love with each other, but the problem is that they can't stand each other in person. The beguiling nature of the mistaken identity formula that influenced countless films is done to perfection here, and the wry combativeness and delightful banter between the two leads makes this a very special film. --Robert Lane
It Happened on 5th Avenue
Making his winter home in a vacant New York City mansion,owned by vacationing industrialist Michael O'Connor (Charlie Ruggles), a philosophizing hobo decides to take in a homeless ex-G.I. O'Connor's unhappy daughter, Trudy (Gale Storm), running away from finishing school, returns home unexpectedly but doesn't tell anyone who she is or who her dad is when he comes looking for her disguised as a butler. Meanwhile, O'Connor unwittingly competes with the ex-G.I. in a land deal. The film, nominated best original story, contains a worthwhile message of self worth.
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Trivia on movies---
Each version of Dickens' famous yule story has its fans, and the '38 A CHRISTMAS CAROL is no exception. This 69 minute Loew's release features an interesting company behind Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge. Gene and Kathleen Lockhart are Bob and Mrs. Cratchit and their daughter June plays a Cratchit child. Leo G. Carroll is Marley's ghost and Ann Rutherford portrays "Christmas Past." Silent-era clown Billy Bevan, who also lent his raspy basso voice to early Looney Tunes shorts, appears as "Leader of Street Watch."
In the romantic comedy CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945), Sydney Greenstreet is third billed behind Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan. Miss Stanwyck's character was based on Gladys Taber, a ladies magazine columnist who lived on a Connecticut farm. John Dehner cameos as a state trooper. Dehner began as a Disney animator, then appeared often on radio-- he was Paladin on HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL. Other cast members: Reginald Gardiner, Una O'Conner and Frank Jenks. Also here is "ditzy blonde" specialist Joyce Compton. (To see Miss Compton at her nuttiest, check out Eddie Cline's 1940 turn-of-the-century farce, THE VILLAIN STILL PURSUED HER, with Alan Mowbray as the baddie and Buster Keaton playing his opposite.)
IT HAPPENED ON FIFTH AVENUE (1947) was the very first ALLIED ARTISTS release. This company was formed when MONOGRAM Pictures and two smaller outfits merged. Frank Capra was slated to direct until producer-director Roy Del Ruth purchased screen rights to this story of a homeless man and his friends who take advantage of a manson left empty while the owners are away for the holidays. The fine cast includes Don DeFore, Ann Harding, Charles Ruggles, Victor Moore, Gale Storm, Grant Mitchell, Edward Brophy and Alan Hale Jr.
Ernst Lubitsch's holiday romance THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940) was a first screen adaptation of Hungarian playwright Miklós László's "Perfumerie" (aka "Illatszertár"). This storyline was later used for the 1949 musical, IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME and in 1998 for YOU'VE GOT MAIL. Director Lubitsch, who also worked in a Budapest shop as a boy, called this his favorite movie. Unlike most productions, all scenes were filmed sequentially. Cast includes Margaret Sullavan, Jimmy Stewart, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut and in a walk-on, Sarah Edwards.
I can highly recommend this TCM Holiday film collection. You get over 7 1/2 hours of, at the least "interesting", and at the best "laugh-out-loud funny" entertainment.
"A Christmas in Connecticut" (1945 B&W 101 minutes)
Subtitles in English, French and Spanish
This movie is probably the best known of the four feature films, and it's a laugh-out-loud screwball comedy. Barbara Stanwyck stars as Elizabeth Lane. She writes a successful column for "Smart Housekeeping" magazine. The column is called "Day by Day in the Connecticut Farm House of America's Most Resourceful Home-Maker".
The magazine publisher (played with glee by the great Syndey Greenstreet) decides to mix patriotism with Christmas spirit, and invites a recuperating sailor to spend a down-home Christmas with Lane's happy family. Of course, the publisher expects an article about the experience to boost circulation: "American Hero Spends Christmas on Perfect Farm."
There's only one problem - Lane is not married, she lives in an apartment and she can't boil water. With a lot of zany help, she manages to hold on to her job and fall in love with the sailor at the same time. Totally unbelievable situational comedy, but that's why it's called "screwball", right?
Disc 1 Special Features:
....A. "Star in the Night" (21 minutes) This short won a 1945 Oscar for "Best Short Subject/Two-Reel."
Christmas Eve night, and middle-aged and disillusioned Nick is putting up a new lighted star in his courtyard. He and his wife Rosa own the Star Auto Court, with cabins, a restaurant and filling station - and the lighted star will be seen for 20 miles. He tells a seeming bum that "Peace and love and brotherhood, it's a lot of baloney." And he seems to be proven correct by the people who come in. But then, something happens, to all of them, and it is an amazing Christmas after all.
For all that it is schmaltzy and predictable, this is also a heartwarming story.
....B. Theatrical Trailer for "A Christmas in Connectcut" (2 minutes) Tag line: "Finding the Right Man on The Wrong Honeymoon!"
"It Happened on Fifth Avenue" (1947 B&W 115 minutes)
Subtitles in English and French
A big sign is attached to an old NYC apartment house:
"Michael O'Connor Enterprises - Modern 80 Story Office Building To Be Erected on This Site"
The sign flaps over the scene of the evicted tenants trying to cart their stuff out right before Christmas. But there's one holdout. Jim Bullock in 4G, discharged and unemployed, has handcuffed himself to his bed. The manager pleads, "But Mr. Bullock, you had ample notice. Please put on your pants and vacate at once."
It is a futile gesture on Jim's part. Next we see him sleeping on a park bench, when by a Christmas-y change of fortune, he is introduced to Aloysius T. McKeever, a bum of impeccable manners, and, it turns out a place to sleep. McKeever stays in a Fifth Avenue mansion while it's owner, industrialist Michael O'Connor (yes the same one) is away. That McKeever is uninvited is beside the point. From here, the characters snowball and the situation snowballs and by a very circuitous route, every one has a Merry Christmas.
Another silly comedy with lots of heart and some laugh-out-loud moments.
....No special features
"The Shop Around the Corner" (1940 B&W 99 minutes)
Dubbing available in French. Subtitles in English, French and Spanish
Matuschek & Co is a dry goods store on Balta Street in Budapest, Hungary. Chief clerk Alfred Kralik (Jimmy Stewart) has a pen pal for whom he's all but fallen in love. He's yet to meet her, but one thing he knows for sure, she can't be anything like his argumentative co-worker, Klara Novak, who seems to love to bedevil him.
Christmas is nearly here, and Matuschek asks everyone to stay a little late to redo the display windows. Oh, no, Alfred must get away on time, because he's finally set up a meeting with his "Dear Friend". No no, Klara can't stay late, either, because she has a very important first meeting herself.
It's a classic set-up and it is wonderfully done. Here's Alfred talking to Pirovitch, another clerk, about his excitement and trepidation to finally meet his pen pal: "Ever get a bonus?"
Pirovitch: "Yes, once."
Alfred: "You know, the boss gives you the envelope, you wonder how much is in it. You don't want to open it. As long as the envelope's closed, you're a millionaire."
Hugo Matuschek is wonderfully played by Frank Morgan (best known as the Wizard of Oz). The whole cast is great - see special Feature C for more. This movie is full of situational humor. It's funny, but usually not in a one-liner way. It's the characters playing off each other marvelously.
....A. "Cast & Crew" This is just a one-page written feature.
....B. "A New Romance of Celluloid: The Miracle of Sound" (about 1939 B&W 11 minutes) The first half of this pre-movie short is about how sound is added to a movie. Of course, it's not like this now, but this is interesting. Narrator: "One time we told you that if it were not for cotton, there might not be any movies today. For it is from cotton that celluloid motion pictures film is made. This time, we tell you that if Thomas Alva Edison had not invented the phonograph, you might never have thrilled to the magic of the talking picture."
Douglas Shearer, MGM sound engineer, tells us that "we have a camera capable of photographing a voice". Everything is presented in ultra-layman terms, but, as I wrote, it's interesting.
The 2nd half of the short is made up of mini-trailers for MGM movies in the making.
....C. "A Great Story is Worth Retelling" Written, 6 screens. "The Shop Around the Corner" started as a Hungarian play which producer Ernst Lubitsch had wanted to film for years. This movie, along with "The Philadelphia Story" (also 1940) made Jimmy Stewart a top Hollywood romantic leading man. It's a plot that's never gotten old. It was remade as a musical in 1949, Judy Garland starring in "In the Good Old Summertime". Most recently, Nora Ephron brought it into the modern era in "You've Got Mail". As written: "In a nod to its source, [Meg] Ryan's store was called 'The Shop Around the Corner'."
....D. Theatrical Trailer (4 minutes B&W) Mr Matuschek (Morgan) introduces his shop and employees in this charming trailer: "I'm sure that the bargains you get here will more than make your trip worth while [to Budapest]. It's the kind of a shop where you get a $3.50 value for $3.48."
"A Christmas Carol" (1938 B&W 69 minutes)
Subtitles available in English, French and Spanish
Everybody has a favorite movie version of Dickens' classic. This one with Reginald Owen as Scrooge is not my favorite, but it's a nice version never-the-less. A highlight is when the reformed Scrooge brings a goose and presents to the Cratchit house, and Mrs. Cratchit hides in the pantry because Scrooge is obviously out of his mind.
The conversion of Ebeneezer is not so well drawn as other versions (I'm partial to Alastair Sim's Scrooge, as well as the musical "Scrooge"), but I get teary-eyed at Tiny Tim's death no matter which version I'm watching.
....A. "Jackie Cooper's 'A Christmas Party'" (1931, 10 minutes B&W) A pre-movie seasonal short. Nine-year old Jackie Cooper wants to invite his football team to a Christmas party and his mother agrees. Too many kids are eventually invited, and Jackie has to have his Christmas party at MGM Sound Stage No. 2. Lots of cameos by MGM players, such as Clark Gable and Bette Davis serving. Totally staged, of course, so it's no surprise when Jackie makes a speech at the end: "All the folks at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wish you and all your folks a Merry Christmas."
....B. "Judy Garland Sings 'Silent Night'" (2 minutes) A young Garland sings one verse as part of a church choir. I'm not sure if this was part of a movie or not.
....C. "Peace on Earth" (10 minute color cartoon, 1939) This cartoon was nominated for an Oscar in "Best Short Subject/Cartoons".
It's Christmas time in a snowy bombed out Europe. Squirrels have made homes out of army helmets, and carolers sing "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men". Two youngsters ask their squirrel Grandpa, "What are men?"
Grandpa replies, "Well, there ain't no men in the world no more, sonnies.... But, as I remember the critters, they was like monsters. They wore great big iron pots on their heads."
This cartoon was a hit two years before Pearl Harbor. America was still in an isolationist stance in 1939, the year when Britain and France declared war on Germany.
....D. Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes) Titled "A Fireside Chat with Lionel Barrymore", the aging star touts the movie "A Christmas Carol" with Reginald Owen.