’Tis the season to review offbeat, obscure classic Christmas movies (Part 2)

Ginger Rogers, director Garson Kanin and executive producer Pandro S. Berman are pictured on the set of "Bachelor Mother" in 1939. (Wikimedia Commons)

Picking up where we left off last time with descriptions of odd-yet-worthy Christmas films, Your Humble Scribe presents six more cinematic gems appropriately viewed throughout the Twelve Days of Christmas. Available for your viewing pleasure on DVD, Blu-Ray, several streaming services, free on YouTube, Internet Archive, and other website, each one contains a redemptive note or two.

NOTE: The Wright’s Wrating system employed here is based on nothing other than my own opinion. Your Humble Scribe encourages parents to preview my selections to ascertain whether my choices coincide with your own.

January 1 — 7th Day of Christmas — Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God

7. Auntie Mame (1958), a splendid two-and-a-half-hour romp, depicts the life of free-spirited Mame Dennis. After her millionaire brother suddenly dies, her young nephew Patrick is plopped into her life. It’s love at first sight.

Mame and Patrick share a series of sidesplitting adventures, aided by her equally madcap friends, among whom are the book publisher in love with her; an acerbic, New York actress, and a progressive nudist schoolteacher. The sweep of the tale carries viewers from the Roaring ‘20s, through the Great De­pression, and into the hopeful, postwar 1950s.

Comedy that it is, Auntie Mame, is not without heartwarming moments such as when Mame, fired from a Christmas job at Macy’s, hails a cab. Reaching into her purse and finding only a dime, Mame waves the driver away. With great dignity she sol­diers through the falling snow, cheerfully dropping the dime into a Salvation Army kettle. Shades of the widow’s mite! And Your Humble Scribe weeps unabashedly at the “Lady Iris — Lord Dudley” exchanges.

The versatile Rosalind Russell starred as Mame for two years on Broadway. The film version was her greatest cinematic hit. She imbues Mame with wit, glamour, pathos and charm. Miss Russell netted both Tony and Oscar nominations as Best Actress.

Nearly 60 years ago in Los Angeles, with FM radio in its infancy, I heard a DJ suddenly announce that for the next three hours he would be putting on long-playing records since he didn’t want to miss Auntie Mame being broadcast that night on local TV station KHJ-TV, Channel 9. He then invited his audience do the same. Wright’s Wrating: All ages

January 2 — 8th Day of Christmas — Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzus

8. Continuing the theme of unexpected motherhood, Bachelor Mother (1939) is a sidesplitting Christmas/New Year’s frolic starring Ginger Rogers as a soon-to-be-discharged, seasonal-salesgirl. Coming upon a baby abandoned in a basket, she brings the child to an orphanage. Assuming the child is Ginger’s, the nurses make her keep the baby.

Charming as ever, David Niven, son of gruff store owner Charles Coburn (who steals nearly every scene he’s in), takes pity on the girl, keeps Ginger employed, and falls in love with her, as so often occurs in buoyantly screwball comedies. While getting in a few digs at Disney saturation marketing — over the top even then — this plot is also a painless homily appealing to women to accept the joys of parenthood, even when encountered without warning. Wright’s Wrating: All ages

January 3 — 9th Day of Christmas — The Most Holy Name of Jesus

9. The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) is based upon a farcical Damon Runyon tale. Bob Hope plays a hapless tout who steers gangster Moose Moran’s moll away from betting on the winning horse.

Having to repay Moose, the Kid concocts as scheme, hiring other colorful, Broadway denizens as street-corner Santas to collect donations, ostensibly for an old folk’s home.

Smelling easy money, Oxford Charlie muscles in on the racket and the plot thickens. Playing the Kid’s hapless girlfriend, Marilyn Maxwell and Hope introduce the now-familiar Yuletide favorite, “Silver Bells” in this very likeable yarn. Wright’s rating: All ages

January 4 — 10th Day of Christmas — St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

10. I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) is a vintage slice of World War II Americana. Ginger Rogers switches gears to portray Mary Marshall, convicted of accidental manslaughter while fending off the advances of her lecherous boss. After serving three of her six-year sentence, Mary is given eight-day parole to spend Christmas with her family.

On the train she meets Zach Morgan (Joseph Cotton), a psychologically fragile, shell-shocked veteran, furloughed from an Army psych ward so he can readjust to society. These two lonely souls respond to each other. Learning each other’s misfortune creates a need for mutual forgiveness in this affectionately restrained, sentimental romance.

Tom Tully, Spring Byington and the teenaged Shirley Temple are very effective as Ginger’s relatives. This small movie was the other side of the coin to producer David O. Selznick’s big budget flag-waver, Since You Went Away, also about life on the home front during the war which concludes at Christmas. Wright’s Wrating: All ages

January 5 — 11th Day of Christmas — St. John Neumann

11. We’re back in Damon Runyon territory with two cinematic versions of his cockeyed fable “Madame La Gimp”: Lady for a Day (1933) and Pocketful of Miracles (1961), both directed by Frank Capra.

New York gangster Dave the Dude (Warren William/Glenn Ford) superstitiously buys apples from a frowsy Broadway panhandler, Apple Annie (May Robson/Bette Davis), before all his big capers. When Annie has an attack of cirrhosis, he starts worrying about his supply of apples.

Christmas nears when Dave learns that Annie’s secret, convent-bred daughter (Jean Parker/Ann-Margaret) is arriving from Spain, her fiancé — a Spanish count — in tow. The Dude comes up with a penthouse for Annie then executes a highly improbable plan to make her a high society doyen.

Tremendous fun, both comical parables bear out Capra’s underlying Christian film philosophy which critics usually dismissed as “Capracorn”. Wright’s Wrating: All ages

January 6 — 12th Day of Christmas — Solemnity of the Epiphany of Our Lord

12. For dioceses tied to the optional “move it to Sunday” observance, Epiphany will be celebrated on Jan. 7. Nevertheless and notwithstanding, Your Humble Scribe is celebrating on the traditional date of Jan. 6.

To celebrate Epiphany, our film choice is The Fourth Wise Man (1985). Artaban the astrologer beholds a magnificent star. Realizing its importance, he prepares three precious gifts and trots off to join his brother Magi. Arriving in Bethlehem too late, Arteban spends the next 33 years seeking the King of kings.

Based on Henry van Dyke’s classic 1896 novelette, The Other Wise Man, Martin Sheen gives a shining performance, as do Alan Arkin, Ralph Bellamy and Sydney Penny in support. This is several notches above standard TV movie fare. Wright’s Rating: All ages

Sean M. Wright, MA, an award-winning journalist, Emmy-nominated television writer, and Master Catechist for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in Santa Clarita. He responds to comments sent to [email protected].


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