Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Three Films for Thanksgiving

When it comes to holidays celebrated in the United States, it seems as if Thanksgiving gets short shrift when it comes to movies. There are literally hundreds of Yuletide films. Not only are there plenty of films set around Halloween, but there is even a classic horror film named for the holiday (John Carpenter's Halloween from 1978). When it comes to Thanksgiving, however, I doubt many people can name any films associated with the holiday beyond Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987). Here then are three films that are associated with the holiday.

Plymouth Adventure (1952): Contrary to popular belief the first Thanksgiving in the United States was not held by the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Massachusetts Colony (see my post on the subject from a few years back). That having been said, the Pilgrims did hold a well known Thanksgiving feast in 1621 that has figured largely in the celebration of the holiday since it became an official Federal holiday 1863. That being the case, for many the perfect Thanksgiving may be Plymouth Adventure.

Plymouth Adventure is a fictional retelling of the Pilgrims' trip England to Massachusetts Colony aboard the Mayflower. The film boasts an all star cast, including Spencer Tracey (as Mayflower captain Christopher Jones), Gene Tierney (as Dorothy Bradford), Van Johnson (as John Alden), Dawn Addams (as Priscilla Mullins), and even a young Lloyd Bridges (as First Mate Coppin). Despite its subject matter, one should not expect historical accuracy from Plymouth Adventure. It is the sort of historical spectacle so popular in the Fifties, essentially a costume drama set at sea. As might be expected it is highly romanticised and departs a good deal from history, but it does offer some very good performances as well as a good deal of entertainment.

 Alice's Restaurant (1969): Arlo Guthrie's 1967 musical narrative "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" is based on an actual Thanksgiving from Mr. Guthrie's life, although naturally he exaggerated things for humour. At 18 minutes and 34 seconds long it could hardly be released as a single, although it proved very popular and would become a bit of a Thanksgiving tradition for many FM radio stations. In 1969 the song was adapted as a major motion picture starting Arlo Guthrie as himself.

While "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" was based on actual events, Alice's Restaurant is largely a work of fiction by screenwriters Venable Herndon and Arthur Penn. It largely works as a an examination of the lives, loves, and major events of a group of friends. Of course, the centrepiece of the film is Thanksgiving, at which point the film is fairly loyal to the song. While not to everyone's tastes, Alice's Restaurant is probably closer in spirit to the holiday of Thanksgiving than some of the comedies that have been set around the holiday.

The Last Waltz (1978): The Band's farewell concert was held on 25 November 1976, Thanksgiving Day, at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Martin Scorsese directed the documentary which recorded the event. It has since come to be regarded as one of the greatest concert films of all time. As might be expected The Band performs most of their hits, including the classics  "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "The Weight". Both the concert and the film featured a number of guest performers, including Ronnie Hawkins, Muddy Waters, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and many others. If one's tastes run to classic rock, The Last Waltz is the film for you.

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