Every Christmas season a parade of our favorite holiday films return like an old buddy you see just once a year. “It’s a Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34th Street”, “A Christmas Story”, not to mention various versions of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” play multiple times throughout the season. They bring with them a sense of tradition and help us get into the holiday spirit. But this week in the Vault we’re not looking at the films you’ve seen a hundred times but rather a few that might have flown under your radar. Here’s a look at four lesser known Christmas classics.
Christmas In Connecticut
Warner Bros. 1945
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet
Running Time: 102 Minutes
This classic is still in regular rotation but never quite seemed to garner a spot as a “classic”. Stanwyck is Elizabeth Lane a magazine writer who is the Martha Stewart of her day…at least on paper. Lane writes about her idyllic life on her farm in Connecticut with her husband and baby. The Magazine owner Mr. Yardley (Greenstreet) asks Elizabeth to play host on her farm to a war vet Jefferson Jones (Morgan) who survived the sinking of his ship by the Germans.
There’s just one problem…Elizabeth’s life is all a fake. She’s not married, doesn’t have a baby, can’t boil water, and lives in an apartment in New York City. Knowing she will lose her job if Yardley discovers her life is all made up, she has to quickly find stand-ins for her husband and baby. A longtime suitor named John Sloan actually has a farm in Connecticut so Elizabeth finally agrees to marry him if he will go along with the ruse. She also recruits her friend Felix who owns a Manhattan Bistro to come along and cook the meals until the solider finally leaves. But soon another bombshell hits…Yardley is so impressed with Elizabeth that he invites himself to the farm.
Christmas in Connecticut is a classic screwball comedy in every sense of the word. Stanwyck is a blast of energy as she constantly tries to stay one step ahead of all the lies she’s cooked up to fool Yardley and Jones. It tends to get a bit sappy with the romance late in the film but if you’ve always seen this listed but never took the time to watch it, it’s definitely a fun film with lots of heart and cheer.
The Man who Came to Dinner
Warner Bros. 1942
Cast: Monty Woolley, Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Jimmy Durante
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Monty Woolley is Sheridan Whiteside, a well-known and caustic radio show host. While on a national tour he slips on the steps of a family’s home and has to end up staying at their house through the holidays in order to recuperate. The demanding and very loud Whiteside soon turns the Stanley family into his personal servants as they wait on him hand and foot.
He begins interfering into the personal lives of the Stanley’s children, much to the dismay of their parents. Bette Davis plays Maggie, Whiteside’s dutiful assistant. She soon becomes attracted to a local newspaper reporter and tells Whiteside she intends to quit. Not wanting to lose a good assistant, Whiteside does everything he can to sabotage their relationship
When Whiteside does finally recover enough to go home, he once again slips on the icy steps and has to be carried back inside. Again, a great screwball comedy with a sparkling cast. Woolley steals the show as the overbearing Whiteside. The film is overlong by about 15 – 20 minutes but has a terrific script with lots of laughs.
The Lemon Drop Kid
Cast: Bob Hope, Marilyn Maxwell, Lloyd Nolan, William Frawley
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Based on a Damon Runyon story, Bob Hope plays Sidney Melbourne, aka The Lemon Drop Kid, a small time conman and hustler. The Kid runs afoul of a Florida gangster named Moose Moran when he loses $10,000 of Moose’s money. The gangster gives The Kid until Christmas Eve to get his money or he "won't make it to New Year's." The Kid runs off to New York in hopes of coming up with the money.
After failing to get a loan from another gangster named Oxford Charley (Nolan) the kid spots a man dressed as Santa Claus on a corner collecting a boatload of money for charity. The kid concocts a scheme and recruits several other local conmen to all dress as Santa and collect money, telling them it’s to turn an abandoned casino into a retirement home “for Old Dolls”. They have no idea the Kid intends to keep the money for himself.
When Oxford Charley sees how much money the Kid is making with his fake charity, he has his goons muscle in on their territory to steal the money and even steal all the old ladies from the FAKE retirement home.
The Lemon Drop Kid is one of Hope’s finest solo films. He is at his wise-cracking best and rips off one-liners in rapid fire bursts. He’s aided by a tremendous cast of fine character actors as well as the beautiful Marilyn Maxwell. The film is notable for introducing the holiday classic “Silver Bells” which would become a staple of Bob Hope’s Christmas specials on NBC.
Teickenham Studios (1935)
Cast: Sir Seymour Hicks, Donald Calthrop
Running Time: 63 or 78 minutes
If you ask a person what their favorite film version of A Christmas Carol is a lot will likely say the 1951 Alastair Sim Version or the 1984 George C. Scott version. Some might say the 1999 Patrick Stewart version, or the 1938 turn with Reginald Owen or even the 1970 musical with Albert Finney. And of course there’s always a few wise guys who will say Bill Murray’s “Scrooged” is the best. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks this 1935 version is the best. While there were several silent-era adaptations this is the oldest talkie version.
One thing this version has against it is that you don’t see any of the various spirits who visit Scrooge other than the Ghost of Christmas Present. The Ghost of Christmas past Is seen as just a shadowy outline and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is shown just as a pointing finger. Hicks plays both the old and young versions of Scrooge which is a little silly considering he was in his 60s when he made the film.
There are two different running times for the film which run 78 and a very truncated 63 minutes. If it does happen to pop up hopefully you see the longer version as it is vastly superior. As the film is in public domain you can see the full version on the youtube embed below.
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