Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Its that time: Christmas in Connecticut or France ?

Some seasonal viewing: a '40s Hollywood christmas tale, or a recent French look at another dysfunctional family during the holiday season ?

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT: Released the last year of WWII in 1945 (I was born that December), the film is full of subtle patriotic gestures and holiday nostalgia but never sinks to sentimentality. Stanwyck is sexy and sassy as always and is a lot of fun here. She is a cooking columnist who's built up this whole image of living on a small Connecticut farm with husband and baby cooking all these marvelous delicacies. Trouble is she's unmarried, childless, writes her column from her apartment in New York and doesn't know how to boil water. But her writing is a hit with the public. Trouble comes when she's hijacked into cooking a home Christmas dinner for a war hero sailor played by Dennis Morgan who gets to sing a couple of songs as well. Her publisher Sidney Greenstreet likes the idea so well that he invites himself to the dinner. So with borrowed farm, baby, and Reginald Gardiner who'd like to make it real with Stanwyck she tries to brazen it through. S.Z. Sakall adds a great deal of Hungarian malaprop & double-entendre humor in support as Babs' true source of culinary talent & Una O'Connor is hilarious as Gardiner's obnoxious Irish housekeeper. A nice treat then.

A CHRISTMAS TALE: Fancy another French family dysfunction drama? Rather like Assayas's SUMMER HOURS (reviewed at French label), only this one is two and half hours long in the company of some unsumpathetic people as the Vuillard family gathers: parents Junon and Abel, a daughter Elizabeth and her son Paul, Henri and a girlfriend, Ivan, his wife Sylvia and their young sons, and cousin Simon. Six years before, Elizabeth paid Henri's debts and demanded he never see her again or visit their parents' home. Paul, at 16, has mental problems and faces a clinical exam. Junon learns she needs a bone marrow transplant if she's to live beyond a few months: thus the d├ętente bringing all together. Two family members have compatible marrow, but the spats, fights, cruel words, drunken toasts, and somewhat civilized bad behavior threaten all; plus Junon may simply refuse treatment.

It turns out to be an overly long and incredibly talky dysfunctional family drama, by Arnaud Desplechin, led by a chilly Catherine Deneuve as the dying matriarch (such a contrast to her sunny role in the delicious POTICHE (yes, also reviewed recently at French label). She's dying of a rare kind of cancer, and the spectre of that eventuality plus the proximity of brothers and sisters who haven't seen each other for a while and have scores to settle puts everyone in a reflective mood. It rather strikes home if you too have brothers and sisters who do not see or have much contact with each other .... Melvil Poupaud (so effective in Ozon's TIME TO LEAVE - yes, its at the french label) scores as the youngest son.

We also of course have the perennial IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE with Jimmy Stewart running through Bedford Falls in the snow as he gets his life back, and THE MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (the Maureen O'Hara-Natalie Wood one) and '54's WHITE CHRISTMAS though how many times can one watch that? and of course theres always those recent christmas perennials like ELF and BAD SANTA and GREMLINS. I was pleased to catch up with favourites Lee Remick and Angela Lansbury in the glutinously sentimental tv film A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE GIFT OF LOVE from 1982, and dear Loretta in CHRISTMAS EVE one of her final roles in '85, as the rich old lady with not long to live re-uniting her family, assisted by ailing Trevor Howard. If that does not get you crying for christmas nothing will ! Perfect viewing anytime though, and particularly at this time of year, is the 1952 film of the play THE HOLLY AND THE IVY, a perfectly British treat with Ralph Richardson, Margaret Leighton and Celia Johnson all sublime (and yes see Richardson, Leighton or Johnson labels for review); and let's not forget the lovely if rarely seen HOLIDAY AFFAIR from 1949 with Janet Leigh having to choose between Robert Mitchum or Wendall Corey! It should be a holiday staple too.

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