In the last From the Vault we took a look at some of the lesser known Christmas films. This week were back with four more films that fly a bit below the radar. Two of them are classics from decades past and the other two are from the more recent era. Now not all of them are specifically Christmas themed but then again, “It’s a Wonderful Life” isn’t truly a Christmas themed film either.
The Thin Man
Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy
Running Time: 93 Minutes
This was the first in the series of six Thin Man films starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, the husband and wife detectives who solve murders in between tossing back martinis. The first film finds Nick investigating the disappearance of a wealthy inventor and it set over Christmas. The film includes an uproariously funny Christmas party in the Charles’s posh hotel room with numerous of Nick’s buddies of ill-repute in attendance.
The following morning, a hung over Nick uses his new toy pellet gun (a gift from Nora) to shoot out the balloons hanging on their Christmas tree and proceeds to bust out one of the hotel room windows. The Thin Man is one of the great screwball comedies of the 1930s. The brilliantly scripted film is filled with double entendre’s such as when a cop is searching the Charles’s bedroom and Nora exclaims, “What’s that man doing in my drawers!” A classic on every level and a fine dose of cheer for Christmas.
The Bishop’s Wife
RKO Pictures 1947
Cast: Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven
Running Time: 93 Minutes
David Niven is Bishop Henry Brougham a clergyman obsessed with the building of a new cathedral. Henry prays for help which comes in the form of a suave, playful angel named Dudley (Grant). But while Henry merely wants help with his new cathedral being built, Dudley is out to provide his own type of divine aid to anyone and everyone.
Henry’s single-mindedness on the cathedral has caused him to ignore his devoted wife Julia (Young). Dudley comes along and teaches everyone about the true spirit of Christmas. This includes a wealth benefactor named Mrs. Hamilton whom he gets to use her health to help feed the needy. The Bishop’s Wife provides a wonderful mix of humor and holiday sentiment and also features a marvelous cast of character actors including Monty Woolley, James Gleason, and Elsa Lanchester.
One Magic Christmas
Walt Disney 1985
Cast: Mary Steenburgen, Harry Dean Stanton
Running Time: 89 Minutes
One Magic Christmas used to be in regular rotation around the holidays but has disappeared in recent years and that’s a shame. The film is perhaps the closest modern equivalent to “It’s a Wonderful Life” with its often dark tone and ultimate feel good climax. Steenburgen is Ginny Grainger, a mother of two who, with her out of work husband Jack, is struggling to make ends meet and is facing eviction from their home. Her husband wants to open his own bicycle repair shop but Ginny refuses to let him use the last of their savings for such an unsure prospect.
Jack decides to take the money out of the bank anyway but is in the wrong place at the wrong time as he his shot and killed by a bank robber who then steals the car containing Jack and Ginny’s children. Ginny pursues him only to learn that the robber drove off a bridge, seemingly killing the children. That night Ginny, distraught with grief, is visited by the angel Gideon (Stanton). Gideon rescued Ginny’s children and, through an old letter she wrote to Santa, Ginny learns the true meaning of Christmas. Jack is returned to life and Ginny is able to re-live the events of the tragic day by helping the robber out with money before he hurts anyone.
Steenburgen, more known for lighter roles is fantastic in the haunting role of a mother pushed to her limit. Strange that this film is not even being shown on Disney’s own network.
Trapped in Paradise
20th Century Fox 1994
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Cage is Bill Firpo a restaurant manager whose brothers Dave (Lovitz) and Alvin (Carvey) have just been released from prison. Even though it’s against the terms of their parole, the brothers con Bill into driving them from New York to Paradise, PA to deliver a message to one of their fellow inmates daughters. However the true reason is that the bank in small town Paradise is a thieves dream. No security cameras and a guard that spends his days napping.
Reluctantly, Bill agrees to rob the bank with his brothers, and on Christmas Eve no less. However as they try to make their getaway out of town their car crashes in the heavy snow and they are picked up by a good Samaritan who just happens to take them to the home of the bank president for dinner. With the very person they stole from, not to mention the rest of the town being so nice to them, the Firpo brothers decide to break into the bank again, this time to return the stolen money.
Cage, thankfully, plays the straight man and allows Lovitz and Carvey to steal the show has his scheming, goofball brothers. Their attempt at returning the money is complicated by the appearance of the FBI led by agent Peyser (Richard Jenkins), and an escaped mobster Vic Mazzucci who tipped the brothers off about the bank while in prison. Lots of laugh and a surprising amount of heart.