Saturday, December 17, 2016

Charles Lane: Always the Clerk, or the Manager, or the Rent Collector...

(This post is a part of the 5th Annual What a Character! Blogathon)

"As I say, it's no skin off my nose. But one of these days this bright young man is going to be asking George Bailey for a job!" Mr. Potter's Rent Collector in It's a Wonderful Life (1946), played by Charles Lane

In one of the most memorable scenes in It's a Wonderful Life, Henry F. Potter's rent collector explains how George Bailey and the Bailey Building & Loan are cutting into Potter's business. The rent collector does not mince his words. He does not tell Potter what he thinks Potter wants to hear. Ultimately he is one of the few characters in the film, besides George, who actually talks back to Potter. That rent collector was played by character actor Charles Lane. Even though the rent collector only appears in It's a Wonderful Life for a few minutes, he remains one of the film's more memorable characters. It was Charles Lane's gift to be able to create immediately memorable characters even when he was given only a few minutes on screen.

Charles Lane was working as an insurance salesman and occasionally acting in theatre productions when in 1929 actor (and later director) Irving Pichel suggested that Mr. Lane study acting at the Pasadena Playhouse. A Warner Bros. scout discovered Charles Lane there and signed him to a contract. His first film role came in 1930 when he had an uncredited role as a pedestrian in a train station in City Girl. This was followed by a slightly more substantial role as a hotel clerk (the first of many) in Smart Money (1931). At Warner Bros. Mr. Lane was paid $35 a day. As a character actor it was not unusual for Charles Lane to work on three to four films a day. He would be rushed from one set to the next and given what few lines he would have. Given this, it should perhaps not be surprising that Charles Lane was among the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild when it was founded in 1933.

Sadly Charles Lane would be typecast. Throughout his career he would play a succession of hard-nosed, no-nonsense professionals. What is more, in most of his films his screen time would usually be limited to only a few minutes. That is not to say that Charles Lane would not get the chance to spread his wings from time to time. In Twentieth Century (1934) he played Max Jacobs, the self-important and overly confident producer. In The Music Man (1962) he played Constable Locke, the crotchety peace officer of River City. In It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963) he played the unfortunate airport manager.

For the most part it would be director Frank Capra who would really give Charles Lane a chance to shine. Frank Capra liked Mr. Lane so much that he used him in ten different movies. His first film for Mr. Capra was Broadway Bill in which he played one of Morgan's henchmen. He had a more substantial role in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), in which he played the crooked lawyer Hallor. He had a plumb role in You Can't Take It With You (1938), playing the IRS agent Henderson, who tells Grandpa Martin Vanderhof (played by Lionel Barrymore) that he had better pay his income taxes or else. In Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) he played Nosey, the callous news reporter who phones in the news of the death of a senator. He would play another reporter in Arsenic and Old Lace (1943). Frank Capra obviously respected Charles Lane and viewed him with a great deal of affection. The director once sent him a letter in which he told him, "Well, Charlie, you've been my No. 1 crutch."

Charles Lane would fare a bit better on television, where he would receive more substantial roles. He had a regular role on the short-lived sitcom Dear Phoebe, on which Peter Lawford played  Bill Hastings, a former professor who is the advice columnist (the "Phoebe" of the title) for the fictional Los Angeles Daily Star. Charles Lane played his much put-upon editor Mr. Fosdick. He had a recurring role as grumpy shopkeeper Mr. Finch on Dennis the Menace. On The Pruitts of Southampton Charles Lane had the recurring role of Maxwell, the IRS agent on the Pruitts' case, literally, about their overdue taxes. On the short-lived 1975 sitcom Karen he played the cantankerous founder of the citizen's lobby Open America, Dale Busch. He later played  Judge Petrillo on Soap.

It would be on two classic sitcoms that Charles Lane would really get a chance to display his talent. On Petticoat Junction he played stern railroad executive Homer Bedloe, who wanted to shut down the Hooterville Cannonball. Homer was ill-tempered and could be mean-spirited, but he also had something of a sentimental streak that the citizens of Hooterville sometimes used to their advantage. Regardless, he never did succeed in shutting down the Hooterville Cannonball. It seems likely that Homer Bedloe is Charles Lane's most famous role besides that of the rent collector in It's a Wonderful Life.

Charles Lane did not have a recurring role on I Love Lucy, but he appeared on the show several times in different roles, as well as the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz specials that followed the regular series. Charles Lane was a close friend of Lucille Ball, who, like Frank Capra, often relied on his talents. On I Love Lucy and the subsequent Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour he played his typical hard-nosed characters, including a casting director, a passport office clerk, a business manger, a claims clerk, and a customs officer. Perhaps his best known appearance on I Love Lucy was in the episode "Lucy Goes to the Hospital", in which he played Mr. Stanley, another expectant father waiting with Ricky in the waiting room. While Ricky and Lucy were expecting their first child, Mr. Stanley was expecting one more in an already rather large family. He also had a recurring role in the first season of The Lucy Show as banker Mr. Barnsdahl.

Charles Lane appeared frequently on television, often guest starring several times on any given show (playing a different character every time). Over the years he guest starred on such shows as Topper, Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone, The Real McCoys, Dobie Gillis, The Andy Griffith Show, F Troop, The Wild Wild West, Bewitched, and many others. While he started getting fewer parts as he got older, Charles Lane never really retired. He guest starred on L. A. Law at age of 84 and appeared as Regent Yarborough in the 1995 television remake of The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes at the age of 90. His last credit was as the narrator of a 2006 short The Night Before Christmas. He was 101 at the time.

Charles Lane died on July 9 2007 at the age of 102. He ultimately had one of the longest acting careers in film history. One also has to suspect that he was a SAG member longer than anyone else around.

Throughout his career Charles Lane played a succession of hard-nosed, white collar workers. He was not particularly happy about being typecast. On the occasion of his 100th birthday he told the Associated Press, "You did something that was pretty good, and the picture was pretty good. That pedigreed you in that type of part, which I thought was stupid, and unfair, too. It didn't give me a chance, but it made casting easier for the studio." While Charles Lane was typecast in film and television, he did get to play a wider variety of roles on stage. He appeared in more than 100 plays, and he appeared regularly at the Pasadena Playhouse. Mr. Lane even appeared on Broadway once, in 1967 in the play Love in E Flat.

While Charles Lane was very good at playing stern, hard-nosed professionals, in real life he was nothing like the characters for which he was known. One never heard anyone say anything bad about Charles Lane. From all accounts he was a warm, kind, and very funny man, the exact opposite of the many hard-hearted characters he played over the years. Both Frank Capra and Lucille Ball obviously thought a lot of him!

Even though he made hundreds of films and made hundreds of appearances on television, I doubt that "Charles Lane" is a name most people would recognise even today. That having been said, I suspect most viewers would remember him in a number of different roles, at least the rent collector in It's a Wonderful Life and Homer Bedloe on Petticoat Junction. Charles Lane may have primarily played only one sort of role, but he did it very well and he did it very often.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The 50th Anniversary of "Hey Joe" by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

It was 50 years ago today, on December 16 1966, that the first single by The Jimi Hendrix Experience was released on Polydor Records in the United Kingdom. The song was "Hey Joe", a song with a rather complicated history.

"Hey Joe" was written by folk singer Billy Roberts, who registered the song for copyright in 1962. The song drew much of its inspiration from the traditional ballad "Little Sadie", also known as "Bad Lee Brown", "Cocaine Blues", and several other titles. Like "Little Sadie", "Hey Joe" deals with a man (the Joe of the title) who killed his lover.

Billy Roberts performed "Hey Joe" live around California in the early to mid-Sixties. The first recorded version of the song was by The Leaves in 1965. Unfortunately, The Leaves' version attributed authorship of the song to folk singer Dino Valenti. When Billy Roberts found about this, he contacted an attorney and was able to assert his authorship of the song. Unfortunately, over the years the authorship of "Hey Joe has been attributed to many others. It would also be recorded by several other artists before The Jimi Hendrix Experience version. The Byrds recorded a version under the title "Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go)", which was released on July 18 1966. Tim Rose also recorded a version of the song in 1966, even though he claimed the song was a traditional ballad. Despite Mr. Rose's claims, there appears to be no evidence to support the idea that "Hey Joe" was a traditional song. Regardless, Tim Rose's arrangement differed from earlier versions in that it was much slower paced. The Leaves and The Byrds' versions both had fast paces.

It seems possible that it was Tim Rose's arrangement of "Hey Joe" that would inspire The Jimi Hendrix Experience's version. Of course, Mod band The Creation also recorded a slower version of the song, which might also have provided inspiration for The Jimi Hendrix Experience's version. Regardless, the slower version by The Jimi Hendrix Experience was not only the band's first single, but also their first hit. It peaked at #7 on the UK singles chart in January 1967. When it was released in the United States in May 1967 it would not see the sort of the success it had in Britain, but it would still become the best known version of the song.

Here, then, is The Jimi Hendrix Experience's version of "Hey Joe".

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Late Great Bernard Fox

Bernard Fox, who played Dr. Bombay on Bewitched and Colonel Crittendon on Hogan's Heroes, as well as appeared in such films as The Mummy (1999), died yesterday at the age of 89. The cause was heart failure.

Bernard Fox was born on May 11 1927 in Port Talbot, Glamorgan, Wales. His parents, Queenie (née Barrett) and Gerald Lawson, were both actors on the stage. His uncle was screen actor Wilfrid Lawson. Bernard Fox began acting while very young. By the time he was 14 years old he was the assistant manager of a theatre. During World War II he served in the Royal Navy.

Bernard Fox made his television debut in 1955 as a regular on Sixpenny Corner, Britain's first daily television soap opera. His film debut was in Soho Incident in 1956. In the late Fifties Mr. Fox appeared in such films as Home and Away (1956), The Counterfeit Plan (1957), Inside Information (1957), Blue Murder at St. Trinian's (1957), The Safecracker (1958), The Two-Headed Spy (1958),  and Captured (1959). In A Night to Remember (1958) he played Frederick Fleet, the lookout who spots the iceberg with which the Titanic would collide. It was one of two major motion pictures about the Titanic in which he appeared. He guest starred on such TV shows as Dixon of Dock Green, The Golden Spur, ITV Television Playhouse, No Hiding Place, The Love of Mike, and ITV Play of the Week.

In 1961 Bernard Fox was one of the leads on the Britcom Three Live Wires. The show centred on three television repairmen. Mr. Fox played Malcolm. He had the recurring role of Colonel Crittendon, a bumbling RAF Group Captain, on Hogan's Heroes. He played Colonel Crittendon from the show's first season in 1965 to its final season in 1970. Bernard Fox guest starred on Bewitched in the episode "Disappearing Samantha" in 1966 before joining the cast in the recurring role of Dr. Bombay in 1967. Dr. Bombay was the womanising witch doctor who treated the many strange ailments which could befall witches and warlocks. He played the role until the show went off the air in 1972. He would reprise his role as Dr. Bombay on Bewitched's spinoff Tabitha in the Seventies and later on the soap opera Passions in the Nineties.

Bernard Fox appeared frequently on American television in the Sixties. He guest starred as inept waiter Alfie Wingate on three episodes of The Danny Thomas Show.  He guest starred as valet Malcolm Merriweather on The Andy Griffith Show. He also guest starred on such shows as Combat!, Ensign O'Toole, McHale's Navy, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Perry Mason, The Flintstones, F Troop, I Spy, Amos Burke, Secret Agent, I Dream of Jeannie, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Monkees, The Wild Wild West, Daniel Boone, and Ironside. As frequently as he appeared on television, he also found time to appear in several films throughout the decade. He appeared in such films as The List of Adrian Messenger (1963), Honeymoon Hotel (1964), Quick Before It Melts (1964), Strange Bedfellows (1965), Munster, Go Home! (1966), Hold On! (1966), and The Bamboo Saucer (1968).

In the Seventies Bernard Fox guest starred on such TV shows as Arnie; Night Gallery; Love, American Style; Dirty Sally, Columbo; Emergency!; Cannon; Soap; Tabitha (as Dr. Bombay); M*A*S*H; Fantasy Island; The Dukes of Hazzard; and Lou Grant. He played Dr. Watson in a 1972 TV adaptation of Teh Hound of the Baskervilles. He appeared in such films as Big Jake (1971), The Million Dollar Duck (1971), Arnold (1973), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), and The Private Eyes (1980). He appeared on Broadway in 13 Rue de l'Amour.

In the Eighties Bernard Fox appeared in the films Yellowbeard (1983) and 18 Again! (1988). He provided the voices of Chairmouse and Doctor Mouse in the Disney animated feature The Rescuers Down Under (1990). He guest starred on such TV shows as The Love Boat; General Hospital; Hart to Hart; The Jeffersons; Knight Rider; Hotel; Simon & Simon; The Fall Guy; Murder, She Wrote; and Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

In the Nineties Bernard Fox appeared in the films Titanic (1997--the second film about the Titanic in which he appeared) and The Mummy (1999).  He guest starred on Passions as Dr. Bombay. In the Naughts he made further appearances as Dr. Bombay on Passions and guest starred on Dharma & Greg.

Bernard Fox was certainly a remarkable actor. He was also extremely prolific. In the Sixties alone he appeared on around thirty different television shows throughout the decade. He was also very versatile, and his roles could often vary dramatically. I suspect he will always be best remembered as Dr. Bombay, the womanising witch doctor with a penchant for stale jokes. He will probably also be remembered as Colonel Crittendon, the incredibly inept RAF officer who was always guaranteed to bungle things.

Beyond those roles, however, Bernard Fox played a wide array of characters who were often quite different from any others he played. As Malcolm Merriweather on The Andy Griffith Show he was an incredibly efficient valet with a stiff upper lip, even if he did have little understanding of American customs. In The Mummy he was Captain Winston Havlock, a very good pilot with plenty of experience flying during the Great War. The parts played by Bernard Fox were often very British. He could be found in such roles in everything from the movie Munster, Go Home! to The Monkees. Mr. Fox did play a few villains in his career. In the two part Man From U.N.C.L.E episode "The Bridge of Lions Affair" he played the THRUSH agent Jordin, In the movie The Private Eyes Bernard Fox played Justin, the insane and homicidal butler at an English estate.

As to why Bernard Fox was so prolific, it was perhaps because he was so very talented. He could create a character in only a few brief scenes that often seemed more fully developed than characters who appeared throughout a TV series or film. I suspect this is why such characters as Dr. Bombay, Colonel Crittendon, and  Malcolm Merriweather remain so memorable. Bernard Fox could bring characters to life in a way that very few actors could.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Godspeed John Glenn

John Glenn, one of the United States' original astronauts (the Mercury Seven), the first American to orbit the planet, and the oldest person ever to be in space, died on December 8 2016 at the age of 95.

John Glenn was born on July 18 1921 in Cambridge, Ohio. He grew up in New Concord, Ohio. He graduated from New Concord High School in 1939 and then studied engineering at Muskingum College in New Concord. In 1941 he earned a private pilot's licence. Because of the United States' entry into World War II, John Glenn did not complete his last year of college. In March 1942 he enlisted as a United States Navy aviation cadet. His preflight training was initially at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and was continued at Naval Air Station Olathe in Kansas. It was in Kansas that he made his first solo flight in a military aircraft. He received advanced training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. It was while he was at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi that he transferred to the United States Marine Corps. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant upon completion of his training.

Lt. Glenn initially served stateside, first flying R4D transport planes with  Marine Squadron VMJ-353 and then the F4F Wildcat fighter and later the F4U Corsair with Marine Observation Squadron 155.  He was promoted to First Lieutenant in October 1943 and was shipped out to Hawaii. Beginning in June 1944 he was stationed in the Marshall Islands. He flew 59 combat missions and earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and ten Air Medals.

John Glenn returned to the United States in 1945 and was promoted to Captain that July. He served at various Marine and Naval stations until 1946 when he volunteered to serve in the occupation of North China. He served with VMF-218, which was stationed at at Nanyuan Field, near Beijing. He returned to the United States in 1948.

Afterwards Captain Glenn served as a flight instructor at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. He went through a six month course at the Amphibious Warfare School at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia in 1951.  Afterwards he served as part of the staff of the Commandant, Marine Corps Schools. He was promoted to Major in July 1952.

It was in October 1952 that Major Glenn was ordered to South Korea to serve in the Korean War. He was assigned to VMF-311 and flew 63 combat missions. He was awarded two more Distinguished Flying Cross medals and eight more Air Medals. He was still in Korea when he applied for flight test training. It was in January 1954 that he reported to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. He graduated that July.

From 1956 to 1957 John Glenn served with the Fighter Design Branch of the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, D.C. During this period he also attended the University of Maryland. It was on  July 16 1957 that he made the first supersonic transcontinental flight, flying from Naval Air Station Los Angeles to  Floyd Bennett Field in New York. Because of this he received a fifth  Distinguished Flying Cross. In April 1959 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

It was in 1958 that John Glenn applied to become an astronaut with NASA. In 1959 he was selected as one of the Mercury Seven, the first group of seven astronauts. Lt. Col. Glenn was the oldest of the Mercury Seven and he would also be the group's last living member. John Glenn would have input into layout of the cockpits of spacecraft and the function of their controls for both the Mercury and Apollo programmes. He was a backup pilot for both Mercury-Redstone 3 (the first American manned space flight, on which Alan Shepard was the pilot) and Mercury-Redstone 4 (the second American manned space flight, on which Gus Grissom was the pilot). It was on February 20 1962 that Mercury-Atlas 6, the third American space flight, took place. As the pilot of the mission John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. In all, he orbited the planet three times.

In the wake of his historic flight, John Glenn became a national hero. He received a ticker tape parade and President John F. Kennedy awarded him the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. Unfortunately, as a national hero, it seemed unlikely he would return to space as he was too valuable and, at 42 years old, it was unlikely he would be chosen to go to the moon. On January 16 1964 he resigned from NASA and announced that he was running for the U. S. Senate seat for his home state of Ohio. Hie withdrew his candidacy on March 30 1964 after he had slipped in his bath tub and suffered a severe concussion that February.  On January 1 1965 he retired from the Marines as a Colonel.

Afterwards John Glenn worked as an executive with Royal Crown Cola. He ran for the Senate again in 1970 and was narrowly defeated in the primary by Howard Metzenbaum. In 1974 he ran for the Senate again. He won the primary and then won the seat that November. John Glenn served as a Senator for Ohio until 1999, making him the longest serving Senator from the state.

John Glenn ran for President in 1984, but withdrew early in the primaries after failing to receive sufficient votes.

It was on January 16 1998 that it was announced that John Glenn would be part of the crew of STS-95, a space shuttle mission aboard the Discovery. Discovery launched on October 28 1998 and returned to Earth on November 7 1998. Senator Glenn served as a Payload Specialist on the flight. Tests were run on him and compared to the younger astronauts, and he was also in charge of the photography and videography for the mission. At 77 years of age, John Glenn became the oldest person to fly in space. Upon his return he was given another ticker tape parade.

It was in 1998 that he founded the John Glenn Institute for Public Service and Public Policy at The Ohio State University, a school meant to encourage public service. In 2006 it was merged with the School of Public Policy and Management at OSU to become the John Glenn School of Public Affairs. '

It was on April 6 1943 that he married his childhood sweetheart, Anna "Annie" Castor. The two remained married until his death.

There is very little I can say about John Glenn that has not been said before. He was a Marine who served his country bravely in two wars. He was the first man to make a supersonic transcontinental flight. He was the first American to orbit the Earth. He was the oldest person ever to fly in space. Arguably any one of these things would make John Glenn a hero. In my mind what made John Glenn particularly heroic is that he was always a very modest man. He never bragged of any of these accomplishments, any one of which was greater than the average person could ever dream of attempting. What is more, he lived his life in service of others, as a Marine, as an astronaut, and as a statesman. In the wake of John Glenn's death, Katherine Johnson, the mathematician who crunched the numbers that made the early space missions possible, said of him, "A good man has left Earth for the last time. John Glenn's life will long be remembered for his time in space, his courage and his service to all Americans." I don't think anyone could have said it any better.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Keeping the Yuletide Spirit

I must confess that this year I am having trouble getting into the Yuletide spirit. My brother has had the same problem. A mutual friend who is our age theorised that perhaps it is because we are older. I am not so sure about that myself, but I do know that the Yuletide spirit can often be hard to come by even in the best of times.

Indeed, the Yuletide spirit can be unpredictable and can come at the most unexpected times. That was the case with two instances in which I felt it. The first instance I was lying on the floor of the living room, wrapped up in a sleeping bag. It had just gotten dark, so the living room lights were still off. The only light came from the television set (on which was playing The Beverly Hillbillies) and the lights of our Christmas tree. I guess the security the sleeping bag in the living room gave me, as well as the multi-coloured lights on the tree, helped in making it really feel like the Yuletide. The second instance occurred when I was a young adult. My brother and I were visiting a friend who lived just outside the business district of his town. We decided to walk from his apartment to downtown, which was only a matter of yards. Downtown was all lit up with Christmas lights and holiday songs played from many of the shops. As we walked a slight snow began. I rather suspect even the Grinch or Ebeneezer Scrooge would have gotten the Yuletide spirit between the lights, the music, and the snow.

Regardless, I am hoping I will get the Yuletide spirit soon this year. I believe that I am getting close. Yesterday and today I took photos of the holiday finery in town, and that has helped a good deal. If you're having trouble getting in the holiday mood as I am, then I hope that maybe these pictures will help.

This is part of our downtown, decorated in preparation for this Saturday's holiday celebration.

More of our downtown. The building on the far right of the picture is the Historical Society Museum, of which I am President. 

The door to the museum, with its Yuletide wreath.

One of the museum's window displays. I took a photo of our other window display, but sadly it turned out rather poorly.

Monday, December 12, 2016

"Santa Baby" by Eartha Kitt

It has been a very busy start to the week for me, so I don't have a full-fledged blog post for you today. Instead I will leave you with one of my favourite Yuletide songs, "Santa Baby" by Eartha Kitt. "Santa Baby" was written by Joan Javits and Philip Springer. Although obviously meant for the holiday season, it was recorded by Eartha Kitt in July 1953. The song proved to be a huge hit for Miss Kitt. It reached no. 4 on the Billboard singles chart. She later performed the song in the 1954 film New Faces. It has since become something of a holiday standard. While artists from Kylie Minogue to Miss Piggy have since covered the song, no one has since matched Eartha Kitt's version for sheer sex appeal.

Here, without further ado, is "Santa Baby" by Eartha Kitt.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Yuletide Movies on TCM

Christmas Day is only a little over two weeks away today. I am then guessing if many of you weren't already in the mood for Yuletide movies, you might well be now. Here then are my picks of what to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the coming fortnight.

December 15 2016

The Shop Around the Corner (1940): When the average person thinks of Jimmy Stewart and Yuletide movies, they tend to think of It's a Wonderful Life (1946). Classic film buffs know better. The Shop Around the Corner may not be as well known as It's a Wonderful Life, but it is just as much a classic. It is a wonderful comedy centred on a  a leather goods store in Budapest. Jimmy Stewart plays Alfred Kralik, the best salesman at the store, who simply cannot stand the shop's new employee, Klara Novak (played by Margaret Sullavan). It benefits from a great script by Samson Raphaelson (with some uncredited work by Ben Hecht), the direction of  Ernst Lubitsch, and a wonderful cast.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945): If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know this is my third favourite holiday movie (after The Apartment and It's a Wonderful Life). To me it is one of the funniest comedies of the Forties. Quite simply, Barbara Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a food columnist for the magazine Smart Housekeeping. Unfortunately for Miss Lane, her publisher (Alexander Yardley, played by Sydney Greenstreet) invites a war hero (Jefferson Jones, played by Dennis Morgan) to her farm for Christmas dinner. There is just one big problem. Elizabeth Lane can't cook and she doesn't even live on a farm! Christmas in Connecticut has a great cast, including S.Z. Sakall, Una O'Connor, Reginald Gardiner, and Dick Elliott).

December 22 2016

Holiday Affair (1949): This is another one of my favourite Yuletide movies. It stars Robert Mitchum in one of his few romantic comedy roles. Janet Leigh plays Connie Ennis, a young war widow and comparative shopper for a major department store, whose life is complicated by the appearance of veteran and drifter Steve Mason (played by Robert Mitchum). Holiday Affair has an excellent cast, including Wendell Corey and Harry Morgan (in a hilarious turn as a Police Lieutenant) and a script that is both touching and funny.

Remember the Night (1940): This is another holiday favourite of mine starring Barbara Stanwyck. What is more, it is written by none other than the great Preston Sturges. In the days leading up to Christmas Lee Leander (played by Miss Stanwyck) is arrested for shoplifting. Assistant District Attorney Jack Sargent (played by Fred MacMurray) gets the trial postponed on a technicality in order to avoid having a jury filled with people in a Yuletide mood. Unfortunately for Jack, he also feels sorry for Lee having to spend the holiday in jail and has a bondsman post bail for her. Ultimately Jack finds himself spending the holiday with the felon he is supposed to prosecute! As might be expected, Remember the Night is very funny and filled with great lines.

December 24:

Meet John Doe (1941): It's a Wonderful Life may be better known, but Frank Capra also directed this holiday classic. After being laid off from her newspaper, journalist Ann Mitchell (played by Barbara Stanwyck) writes a letter to the newspaper from a fictional "John Doe" who is threatening to commit suicide on Christmas Eve as a protest against all that is wrong with society. Unfortunately, the letter becomes something of a phenomenon and not only is Ann rehired, but ultimately the newspaper must hire a "real" John Doe in the form of John Willoughby (played by Gary Cooper). The film benefits from a strong cast, as well as Frank Capra's direction. And it fits in well with Mr. Capra's classics Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1949).

Scrooge (1970): A somewhat faithful musical version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas CarolScrooge also happens to be one of the best adaptations of the novella. Albert Finney shines as the title character, while the songs by Leslie Bricusse are memorable and among the best in a latter day musical. Scrooge was nominated for four Oscars and really should have won most of them (especially Best Original Song for "Thank You Very Much").

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947):  I first saw It Happened on Fifth Avenue a few years ago and fell in love with it. The film centres on hobo, Aloysius T. McKeever (played by Victor Moore), who takes up residence in a boarded up Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City each winter. McKeever soon finds himself sharing the mansion with Army veteran Jim Bullock (played by Don DeFore) and  yet others. It Happened on Fifth Avenue has plenty of humour and plenty of Yuletide spirit. Viewers probably won't be surprised to learned that it was originally optioned for Frank Capra, who elected to direct another holiday classic instead (It's a Wonderful Life).

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942): Quite simply, this is one of the greatest Yuletide movies of all time. It has an incredible cast, particularly Monty Wooley in his best role, the acerbic  Sheridan Whiteside. Sadly for the Stanley family, Mr. Whiteside slips on the ice on their steps and injures himself, and as a result must stay with them for several days. The film's cast included Bette Davis as Sheridan Whiteside's long suffering secretary Maggie, Ann Sheridan as film star Lorraine Sheldon, Jimmy Durante as entertainer Banjo, and Grant Mitchell and Billie Burke as the much put-upon Stanleys. Its screenplay by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein (based on the original play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman) has more laughs in a minute than many films have in two hours.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958). Many people might not think a film about a romance between a witch and a mortal would make good holiday fare, but Bell, Book and Candle certainly does. Its leads (Kim Novak as witch Gillian Holroyd and Jimmy Stewart as Shep Henderson) give excellent performances. They are supported by a great cast, including Jack Lemmon as Gillian's brother Nicky, Elsa Lanchester as Gillian's aunt Queenie, and Ernie Kovacs as writer Sidney Redlitch. Set during the holidays, it captures the Yuletide spirit better than many more mainstream holiday films.

For whatever reason Turner Classic Movies is not showing The Apartment (1960), The Bishop's Wife (1947), or I'll Be Seeing You (1944), but I fully recommend you catch them on DVD or, if you can find them, on streaming!