Friday, January 29, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Christmas Eve (1947) - An Olive Films DVD Review

George Raft, George Brent, and Randolph Scott star in CHRISTMAS EVE (1947), just released on Blu-ray and DVD by Olive Films.

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.

CHRISTMAS EVE, originally released on Halloween 1947, is quite an odd film. For starters, though she has convincing old-age makeup, Ann Harding (born 1901) was younger than Randolph Scott (born 1898), a month older than George Raft, and a little over two years older than George Brent (born 1904)! One wonders why an older actress along the lines of, say, Ethel Barrymore wasn't cast in the part.

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.


Blogger john k said...

I have not seen this film since I saw it on TV in the Sixties.
It has as far as DVD releases go remained in p.d.Hell so hat's off to Olive
Films for giving us what sounds like an OK restoration.
I always found it interesting that Scott was third billed in this film.
Afterwards Scott's career would soar (he was in the top ten Hollywood money makers
from 1950-1953.) The two Georges on the other hand would see their careers fade-
Lippert B Flicks,and even worse British B crime thrillers.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I agree, John, I'm really glad Olive brought this out. Even when a movie might be a disappointment, it's a puzzle piece in the larger picture of our film heritage, and I'm glad it's no longer "missing" (or at least stuck in horrid P.D. prints).

Great point that one of the actors here was headed up and the other two headed down -- though I've got a soft spot for those Lippert pictures!!

Best wishes,

9:38 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

I've wanted to see this movie for several years now, since I discovered George Raft, but I never could find a copy. This review makes me want to see it even more, cuz it just sounds a bit wacky. So glad to hear it's now out!

5:28 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Without knowing the production history of Christmas Eve a reasonable and shrewd guess could be made that the producer Benedict Bogeaus owned a studio and Scott had co-starred with Charles Laughton a relatively short while prior to this picture. Not quite a favor, but an accommodation so long as too much time was not required. There is no question that at this point in everyone's career, forgetting the top ten, Randolph Scott was way ahead to the two George's. And the director, Ed Marin, was a frequent collaborator.

8:31 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Sorry, I neglected to complete my thought about Bogeaus and Captain Kidd. He was the hands on producer of that one.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Deb, wacky is a good description! But like you I'm glad it's available. Let me know what you think if you catch it!

Barrylane, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Scott definitely seemed to be having a good time with his role in this one, and given the way the stories were split up, I'm guessing it was a fairly short shoot for each actor.

Best wishes,

9:43 PM  

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