Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Holly and the Ivy (1952) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The British Christmas film THE HOLLY AND THE IVY (1952) was very recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber.

I first saw this film in 2011 thanks to a Region 2 DVD, and I just had the pleasure of revisiting it on Kino Lorber's Blu-ray. I think I enjoyed it even more on this second viewing.

The film was written by Anatole de Grunwald, based on a play by Wynyard Browne. It's the story of a British country vicar, the Rev. Martin Gregory (Ralph Richardson), and his adult children, who are wrestling with significant issues at Christmastime yet feel unable to confide in their father. The Reverend is perfectly nice but his son and daughters are intimidated by the fact he's a parson, feeling he may not be able to understand their "real world" issues.

Jenny (Celia Johnson) wants to marry her secret fiance David (John Gregson), who is about to take a job in South America, yet feels she cannot leave her widowed father alone, especially as he is becoming a bit frail.

Jenny wishes her sister Margaret (Margaret Leighton) would move home from London and live with their father, but Margaret seems caught up in life in London, where she writes for a fashion magazine; indeed, Margaret has rarely been seen by the family in recent years. Little do they know the reason why. Margaret does show up for Christmas, rather worse for the wear in terms of fortifying herself for the visit with alcohol.

Son Michael (Denholm Elliott), a soldier known as Mick, seems to have the least to worry about, yet even he has his problems, such as having had to wangle a compassionate 48-hour Christmas leave after having been caught AWOL. He also needs to find a way to tell his father he's not interested in going to Cambridge when he leaves the army.

Also on hand for the family holiday are distant cousin Richard (Hugh Williams), who is Margaret's godfather; kindly, dreamy Aunt Lydia (Margaret Halstan); and embittered Aunt Bridget (Maureen Delany), who cared for her late mother and became an "old maid," similar to the path Jenny may find herself following.

I have a hard time understanding Jenny's determination to put her commitment to her father ahead of her responsibility to the man she's pledged to marry, but I suppose that does contribute to make her as "human" as her more obviously flawed brother and sister.

A bigger issue for me, as it was the last time around, is Johnson being very obviously older than her character; it would have been wise to rewrite the part slightly so that she was closer to her actual age.

There's a wonderful contrast of bits of Christmas music wafting through the background with the heartfelt drama being experienced by the characters. There are brief moments of theatrical staginess, but for the most part genuine emotion comes through on the screen as secrets are disclosed and characters arrive at new understandings of one another.

One of the things I appreciated is that while some of the conversations are heavy, the film manages not to be weighted down by these scenes; it manages a lightness of tone for multiple reasons, including the aforementioned Christmas music, the support and advice from Richard and Aunt Lydia, and the fact that the Gregorys are all, in the end, decent people who want to do right; they just haven't learned to communicate well. In the end there is hope and optimism for the future.

It's been nice to see this film become better known to American audiences over the past couple of years. Last year Jeremy Arnold included the film in his book on Christmas movies, which was followed by screenings on Turner Classic Movies in both 2018 and 2019. This year the film has also screened theatrically in both the Los Angeles area and at the AFI Theatre in Maryland. It's a worthwhile film deserving of greater exposure.

THE HOLLY AND THE IVY was directed by George More O'Ferrall and filmed in black and white by Ted Scaife. It runs 83 minutes. The brisk running time is another thing which keeps the film's subject matter from feeling too weighty.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray has an excellent picture and sound. The disc includes four trailers for Christmas-themed films (or films which have significant Christmas sequences) which are also available from Kino Lorber. More importantly, there's a thoughtful commentary track by Jeremy Arnold, whose tracks are among my favorites. Along with discussing the cast, Arnold talks about the film's structure and themes and why he feels the translation from play to screen works well. I very much enjoyed a second pass through the movie listening to Jeremy's thoughts.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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