In a story with vague echoes of BEAU GESTE (1939), three orphans who had been raised by kindly Matilda (Ann Harding) return home to help her on Christmas Eve. Her shady nephew Phillip (Reginald Denny) is trying to have her declared incompetent so he can control her fortune.
None of the men have done much with their lives. Michael (Brent) is a ne'er-do-well playboy, though reuniting with Aunt Matilda inspires him to finally propose to his girlfriend (Joan Blondell). Mario (Raft) is an escaped con living in South America who barely survives a run-in with a Nazi. Jonathan (Scott) is a penniless cowboy who no sooner arrives at the train station than a young lady (Dolores Moran of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT) ropes him into posing as her husband as she tries to expose a baby mill racket.
The screenplay by Laurence Stallings is slow and muddled, particularly in the section introducing Brent's character, which meanders all over the place and never really gets anywhere.
The movie picks up some speed as it goes; Raft's section has more action, as well as an appearance by Virginia Field (who looks a bit like Eleanor Parker in this)...and it turns out he's a better man than it first appears.
It's ironic that Scott was the eldest of the three actors, yet looks the youngest! His section is the lightest of the bunch; it's completely unbelievable, but the cornball "cowboy talk" way he goes on about wanting to adopt three little baby girls is a lot of fun, and by golly, he does adopt them, too! (I have no idea how that worked out legally, but that's the least of the movie's problems.)
There's a nice reunion at the end; the sons may not have made much of their lives, but hey, they're family! And two of them now have prospective wives, although it's still unclear how they're going to support them (not to mention the trio of orphaned babies). Maybe Matilda will give each of them some money, since they chase off Phillip.
They all sit down to Christmas dinner in the final moments, which despite the movie's title is about as Christmasy as the movie gets, other than the preparation of some special Christmas punch.
The supporting cast includes Clarence Kolb, Douglass Dumbrille, John Litel, Dennis Hoey, Joe Sawyer, Marie Blake, and Molly Lamont.
CHRISTMAS EVE was directed by Edwin L. Marin and filmed by Gordon Avil. It runs 90 minutes.
This may not have been a very good movie, but I'm always appreciative when any classic-era film becomes more easily available to watch -- especially when it has a cast like this. I was glad to be able to check off watching another film in the careers of personal favorites like Scott, Brent, and Blondell thanks to this Olive Films release.
The Olive Films DVD print is soft in spots and not one of their sharper-looking releases in terms of visual quality, but it's certainly a better print than I have seen aired on TV in the past, so I suspect this might be about as good as it gets. Those TV prints also had the opening credits cut up, apparently by a company that owned the TV distribution rights at one point, but the credits look good here. There are no extras.
A side note, I was curious that the DVD plays on my no-frills standard definition TV in windowboxed format, with bars on all four sides of the picture, rather than fullscreen like most DVDs.
Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this DVD.