“Merry Christmas, Mama”: Christmas scenes in non-Christmas films

For me, it’s always a treat when there is a Christmas scene in a film that isn’t considered a holiday film.

Not only is it because I’m a lover of Christmas, but usually something important or climatic happens during Christmas related scenes.

Below are a few non-Christmas films with important holiday scenes:

1. Battleground (1949): “Battleground,” starring a plethora of stars such as Van Johnson, John Hodiak and George Murphy, is a World War II film set during the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne. The Battle of the Bulge (Dec. 16 to Jan. 25) is when the Allies were surrounded by the Germans and were unable to get airborne assistance due to heavy fog and snow.

During one scene, a Lutheran Chaplain played by Leon Ames delivers a Christmas sermon for the men. It is a particularly moving scene, because he describes the importance of why they are fighting this war. It’s my favorite scene in the whole movie and still holds meaning today.

2. A Summer Place (1959): “Summer Place” is a stereotypical late-1950s sleezy melodrama. Already married Sylvia Hunter (Dorothy Malone) and Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan) were teenage sweet hearts and rekindle their romance one summer when their families meet on vacation in Maine. This breaks up their marriages with Bart Hunter (Arthur Kennedy) and Helen Jorgenson (Constance Ford). To complicate things further, Sylvia’s son Johnny (Troy Donahue) and Ken’s daughter Molly (Sandra Dee) fall in love.

While over-bearing Helen is decorating their Christmas tree, she discovers her daughter Molly has been writing and meeting up with Johnny.

In a rage, Helen slaps her daughter and sends her hurtling into their plastic Christmas tree which she earlier described as “solid plastic” and that it should “last for 10 years.”

Helen Jorgensen angrily slaps her daughter Molly in "A Summer Place" sending her into their plastic Christmas tree- Screen capped by Hollywood Comet

Helen Jorgensen angrily slaps her daughter Molly in “A Summer Place” sending her into their plastic Christmas tree- Screen capped by Hollywood Comet

In this unintentionally hilarious scene, Molly looks up from behind the strewn Christmas tree branches, tinsel and ornaments and says, “Merry Christmas, Mama.”

Helen looks at 18 stockings in "Yours, Mine and Ours"

Helen looks at 18 stockings in “Yours, Mine and Ours”

3. Yours, Mine and Ours (1968):  Frank (Henry Fonda), who has 10 children, marries Helen (Lucille Ball), who has 8 children, putting entirely too many people into one home.

The comedy follows the adventures of how a family that large serves breakfast, gets to school and how the older children accept their new parents.

Christmas also gets complicated. Frank is up all night playing Santa trying to put toys together and is still working when the children get up in the morning. Christmas morning is chaos with one daughter eating candy canes off the Christmas tree and a bicycle breaking as a child rides it around the house.

But the real climax comes when Helen finds out that she is pregnant again…with their 19th child.

4. Since You Went Away (1944): A film that is my all-time favorite movie, “Since You Went Away” follows Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) and her two daughters Bridget (Shirley Temple) and Jane (Jennifer Jones) as they adjust to life on the home front during World War II. Though this film gets shown frequently during the Christmas season, it really isn’t a Christmas movie.

It begins when Anne’s husband leaves for war and goes through fall, summer, spring and ends at Christmas.

The last 20 minutes of the movie is Christmas making you laugh and cry. Jane has transformed from a selfish young teenager to a young lady, who has lost her boyfriend to the war and is now working as a nurse. Anne has come to terms that her husband is lost in action and is trying to have a normal Christmas with her family.

Christmas party scene in "Since You Went Away" with everyone playing charades. -screencapped by the Hollywood Comet

Christmas party scene in “Since You Went Away” with everyone playing charades. -screencapped by the Hollywood Comet

The Hiltons throw a Christmas party with a woman Anne met through her war work, a soldier Jane helped nurse, a family friend Lt. Tony Willet (Joseph Cotton) and his friend (Keenan Wynn) and their boarder Col. Smollett (Monty Woolley).

The party scene is fun and happy, but after all the guests leave Anne sees their servant Fidelia (Hattie McDaniel) putting presents under the tree that Tim sent her both he was reported missing.

Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) receiving the cable gram that her husband is home safe. -screen capped by the Hollywood Comet

Anne Hilton (Claudette Colbert) receiving the cable gram that her husband is home safe. -screen capped by the Hollywood Comet

Anne opens her gift from her husband, a musical powder box that plays their song, and starts to cry. Then the phone rings and it’s a cable gram saying Tim has been found and is coming home.

The movie ends with happy tears, hugging and excitement.

What are some of your favorite non-Christmas movie holiday scenes? Share them below!

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Birthday Blogathon: Film #1 Battleground 1949

For my first evening of birthday favorite films I chose:

Battleground (1949)

Van Johnson and John Hodiak listening to a Christmas Eve sermon in "Battleground"

Brief plot: The film depiction of the 101st Airborne Division when they are trapped in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. The division is surrounded by Germans and unable to get any air support due to heavy fog that lasts for days. The World War 2 film has a star-studded cast with Van Johnson, John Hodiak, James Whitmore, Marshall Thompson, Riccardo Montalbon, George Murphy, Don Taylor and Leon Ames.

Why I love it:

I originally saw this film when I was in high school-the sole reason I wanted to see it was because of my insane crush on Van Johnson.  But as I watched it, I feel in love with the script, the way it is shot, all of the characters and the tone of the film.

James Whitmore discovering the sun finally breaks through the fog, shouts "It's shinin'!"

Accuracy: World War 2 is my favorite period in history-the way the whole United States bonded together in a way that we will most likely never see again. I really like war films made during war time, but there is a certain amount of patriotic propaganda mixed in that makes war time battle films not as credible-I’m not saying I like them less for this, they just generally aren’t as historically accurate.

I also enjoy several war films made in the 1950s and 1960s, but they also have their own historical inaccuracies. The hairstyles and dresses are usually 1950s or 1960s styles, rather than 1940s styles. An example of this is Gina Lollabridgda in “Never So Few.” Her outfits are all wrong for wartime-let alone for a woman living in war torn Asia.

“Battleground” is made just soon enough after the war to be patriotic, but also very accurate. I’ve heard that it is one of the most accurate war films of the Golden Era- depicting conditions and sentiments of the soldiers. I would like to clarify that I say its the most accurate WW2 depiction of the Golden Era, because I realize that in recent years, films like “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “Band of Brothers” have given a better historic account of the events.

George Murphy as "Pop"

Filming: I love the way this film is shot. The darkness of their uniforms against the snow and fog that lead the soldiers to be trapped in Bastgone is perfect. There is almost a grittiness to it too. Though the snow is pure and white, it is ugly and dangerous because the reason why they are surrounded and with no help from air support. William “Wild Bill” Wellman directed the film, and this might have alot to do with the gritty feel of the film.

Cast: Look at the actors I listed above. Could you ask for a better cast? Sure, none of them were ever as big as Clark Gable or Spencer Tracy, but they were all amazing actors. I really think this film helped both John Hodiak and Van Johnson flex their acting muscles better than fluff films they were in before.  I also love Marshall Thompson’s performance. He starts off as a young kid, eager and excited to fight, but as the situation in Bastogne gets more serious, he becomes bitter.

Script: I enjoyed the story line, but I also liked the little Army jokes or lingo they used. For example, whenever they were talking about the Army, they had an ongoing joke of “I found a home in the Army.” Or how they called bombs “In-coming mail.”  Though the film is only 2 hours and doesn’t give us enough time to really get to know the characters, we learn their personalities enough by things they say or sing. The country character, Abner always says “That’s for sure, that’s for dang sure” and butchers the name of Bastogne calling Baaast-oog-nee.” Another example is John Hodiak’s character is well spoken, educated and was a newspaper man.  Douglas Fowley, who plays Private Kippton, always clicks his false teeth in the film-something he really knew how to do in real life and it added a bit of his personality to the script.

Another thing I like about the film is that the screenwriter actually fought in the Battle of the Bulge, so he had some knowledge of the events. Things like Ricardo Montalbon’s character never seeing snow before and getting excited, isn’t just hokey Hollywood glitter-it actually happened.

Marching back to Bastonge

To Review: This film was made at a time that MGM was switching from L. B. Mayer to Dore Schary as studio head, so it’s a little different from the frothy MGM movies we are used to.

Though I realize there are several World War 2 movies, more realistic than this one, “Battleground” is my favorite war movie. I think this film was made at the right time, giving the U.S. a few years to recover from the war but also before the downward spiral of the communist scare began.

Before I leave, I’d like to share with you my favorite scene:

This concludes Night 1 of Birthday Blogathon Week. Please stop by again tomorrow for another favorite film of mine!

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The Van Johnson War

In honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to share some of my favorite war movies.

But there’s a catch…they all star Van Johnson.

It’s no denying that Van Johnson was one of the most sought after actors on the MGM lot during World War II. Big names like James Stewart, Clark Gable and Mickey Rooney were overseas fighting the war.

Van Johnson trying to make scrambled eggs in his helmet in "Battleground" (1949)

But Van Johnson wasn’t able to get in on the action. A car accident during the filming of “A Guy Named Joe” left him with a metal plate in his head which omitted him from going overseas to fight.

 I do like other war movies besides ones that star Van Johnson. My undying love for Van isn’t the reason I’m dedicating this post to him, but because the films that Van made give a wide variety of the different aspects of war.

 War Abroad:

A Guy Named Joe (1943): The infamous movie that made Mr. Johnson a star and oddly paired him as Irene Dunne’s love interest.  Bomber Pilot Pete, Spencer Tracey, dies on a mission and becomes the guardian angel for a young pilot named Ted.  Pete helps Ted fly difficult missions and gives him his blessing as Ted starts to romance Pete’s old girlfriend Dorinda-played by Irene Dunne. Not one character is named Joe in this movie. The title comes from American soldiers nicknamed “Joe.” Filming was halted when Van had his car accident. It took three months until he could return but Spencer Tracey insisted that they keep him in the film. To Review: It’s a good movie and you get a glimpse of Esther Williams in one of her first roles (not swimming). I will say, Spencer Tracey does ALOT of talking. Not a bad thing, it can just get tiring.

Phyllis Thaxter and Van Johnson as Ellen and Ted Lawson in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo"

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944): The true story about Dolittle’s raid on Tokyo after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The story follows Van Johnson playing real life soldier Ted Lawson. Lawson and the rest of the men, including actors Robert Walker, Don DeFore and young Robert Mitchum, train for the mission and then drop bombs on Tokyo.  There are several scenes in the movie of Lawson marrying his wife Ellen, played by Phyllis Thaxter, their last times together and him remembering her. This may seem cheesy sometimes with lines like Him: “How did you get to be so cute?” Her: “I had to be if I was going to get such a good lookin’ fella.” But you have to consider the context. In Lawson’s book he said the only way he got through the war was thinking about his wife. To review: This is one of my favorite World War II movies. Very patriotic, interesting, exciting and Van Johnson. Dolittle’s troops also trained at Lake Murray which is about an hour and a half from my house.

Battleground (1949): What can I say about my favorite war movie of all time? Van Johnson is a bit older and not just the fresh faced innocent soldier. This time he’s a bit more cynical and has seen a lot more life as his character Holley. The innocent kid in this movie is played by Marshall Thompson. This is a star studded film with actors like George Murphy, Ricardo Montalbon, John Hodiak and James Whitmore. The soldiers are fighting the Battle of the Bulge and dealing with heavy fog and lack of supplies. Since this film wasn’t made during the war, it isn’t as glitteringly patriotic. The soldiers are cynical, mockingly saying, “I found a home in the Army” and you watch the new recruits change from wide-eyed babes to hardened non-believers. To review: I’ve heard that this is one of the films that veterans consider the most accurate when it comes to World War 2 movies. It’s my favorite war movie as well as one of my favorite films. I don’t just like it for the lineup of attractive male stars but also the realism. The soldiers get downtrodden and tired. It’s exciting and nail biting at times while other times make you want to cry. I think my favorite part is Leon Ames’ Christmas sermon about the “$64 question” if the men felt that the war was necessary or not.

War on the Homefront:

War Against Mrs. Hadley (1942): Van Johnson has a very small role, but never the less the film is great. The wealthy Mrs. Stella Hadley (Fay Bainter) thinks she is above the war and that everyone is making a fuss about nothing.  The attack on Pearl Harbor ruined her birthday and her family has the nerve to volunteer to help with the war effort. The widow thinks her husband’s status as newspaper publisher will keep her son away from the fighting and keep her daughter away from canteens. She thinks she can work her way out of black outs and rationing with the help of her government friends in Washington. However, Mrs. Hadley finds that even money can’t get you a break in the war. Van Johnson plays a young service man that Mrs. Hadley’s daughter, Pat (Jean Rogers), meets while volunteering at a canteen. They marry and mother disapproves. To review: I love this movie. Fay Bainter does a terrific job. Though Van has a small role, I think it illustrates how everyone wasn’t for the war when it started. I think it delivers a great message, even today. A country isn’t solely going to serve its people. You have to pitch in too.

The Human Comedy (1943): This is another early Van Johnson film. Mickey Rooney is really the star here. Fay Bainter (nice in this one) plays the mother of Mickey Rooney, Van Johnson, Butch Jenkins and Donna Reed. Her husband has recently died and Van is leaving to go fight in the war. The movie really shows how small town life functioned during the war. Young Mickey Rooney helps old Frank Morgan run the telegraph office. Donna Reed and her friends go to the movies with soldiers that may never come home from overseas. To review: It’s a really poignant view of small town American life during the war. Sometimes it’s beautiful and other times tragic. War movies don’t just have to be about the Pacific and European theaters. Wars also affect people at home. This paints an excellent, innocent portrait of this.

Who should Van choose? Gloria or June?

Two Girls and a Sailor (1944): The plot is very simple. June Allyson and Gloria De Haven are the Deyo Sisters, daughters of vaudeville parents. When they grow up they start their own night club act and entertain soldiers in their home after the show. A mysterious stranger donates an old warehouse to the girls so they can start a top notch canteen. Performers like Jose Iturbi, Xavier Cugat, Lena Horne and Harry James all come and perform at this club. Van Johnson is the sailor torn between the two girls with soldier Tom Drake as his competition. The whole time the girls are trying to figure out who their mysterious donor is. To review: No one ever said every movie had to be as serious as “War and Peace.” This movie’s plot may be as light as a feather but it is so much fun. It’s actually one of my favorite movies. Lots of great musical performances and sweet moments.  The movie shows how people wanted to entertain and help soldiers on leave and unselfishly let them into their homes.

By no means are these the only great war movies out there, but it’s interesting to see how one actor’s films can span so many different aspects of the war.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Memorial Day and remember the real reason of the holiday, not just a free Monday off from work or school. Have fun and be safe.

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