Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Two Movies Set at Yuletide

When people think of Yuletide movies, they usually think of It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, or A Christmas Story. I can think of two movies set at the holidays that are rarely mentioned when the subject of Christmas movies come up. Both are two of the funniest comedies ever made, while one of them is perhaps the most romantic movie (short of Casablanca) of all time (indeed, I have to say I do identify with its hero...).

The first is The Man Who Came to Dinner, the 1942 classic. The movie was in turn based on the classic play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. the play debuted in 1939 and became an instant success. Both the play and the movie centre on Sheridan Whiteside, radio host, aurhor, lecturer, and insufferable curmudgeon. Visiting a small Ohio town, Whiteside breaks his leg and must stay with one of the upper middle class families there. He then proceeds to turn the family's lives upside down.

The plot takes place from shortly before the Yuletide to Christmas day. That having been said, there is little in the way of holiday sentiment in the movie. Instead it is one of the all time great comedies, with nonstop jokes and gags. Indeed, for those who think that Generation X invented pop culture references, this movie is proof that we didn't. There are references ranging from Sherlock Holmes to a very early reference to Superman. The screenplay, written by Julius and Philip Epstein (best known for Casablanca), is one of the funniest ever written. This is perhaps why, even though the movie is set at Christmas time, it is rarely mentioned with regards to Yuletide movies. People tend to think of it more as a laugh out loud comedy than a holiday film.

The other holiday movie not often mentioned with regards to Christmas is The Apartment. Released in 1960, The Apartment was Billy Wilder's masterpiece. Indeed, it won several Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. The Apartment centres on C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), a clerk at the huge Consolidated Life Insurance Company in New York City. Baxter has a unique problem. Becuase he once lent his apartment to someone who needed to change for a wedding, he now finds himself lending his apartment to his superiors for their various rendevous. This puts him in good with his bosses, but makes his life miserable otherwise. His life is complicated even further by the torch Baxter carries for elevator operator Miss Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), who in turn carries a torch for the head honcho, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, playing a heel for a change).

The Apartment takes place roughly from late November to New Year's Eve (the end of When Harry Met Sally draws a bit on The Apartment. In fact, one of the pivotal points of the plot takes place at Christmas. Despite this, it is rarely mentioned with regards to Yuletide movies. This is perhaps because Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond blended comedy, romance, and drama in the movie's screen play. Indeed, the movie realistically deals with the compromises made in the business world as well as the dysfunctional relationships (such as the one between Sheldrake and Kubelik) that sometimes get in the way of real love. It is not only one of the funniest movies I have ever seen, it is also one of the most romantic movies I have ever seen. One has to have sympathy for C. C. Baxter. Not only has he pined for Miss Kublik for literally ages, but he has the worst romantic rival in the form of his own boss (the vile Mr. Sheldrake). Indeed, it is easy to identify with Baxter. I think a lot of us guys have had the misfortune to stand by helplessly while the women we love get involved with absolute jerks...

It seems odd to me that neither The Man Who Came to Dinner nor The Apartment are often counted among Yuletide movies. In both films the holidays play a part in the plot--Whiteside must prepare for his annual Christmas Eve broadcast, the Consolidated Life Insurance Company's Christmas party has some important plot develoments. Still, they are rarely counted alongside It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story. I can only figure it is because they do not deal with holiday sentiment (although the same can be said of A Christmas Story as well...). At any rate, for me they count among the great holiday films of all time.

1 comment:

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