Christmas on Film: Christmas Eve (1947)

CHRISTMAS EVE (1947) is an often forgotten film. But it holds one distinction: it was the first writing job of screenwriter, director Robert Altman.

The film is about elderly Matilda Reid, played by Ann Harding. Matilda is extremely wealthy and eccentric. She invites birds inside her home to be fed and runs a train set at the dinner table, which delivers items like cream and sugar.

Matilda’s nephew, Phillip Hastings, played by Reginald Denny, is trying to prove that his aunt is mentally unfit and tries to become the executor of her estate. Matilda would prefer for her three adopted sons to manage her estate, but the trouble is that she hasn’t seen them in many years. She asks for lawyers to wait until Christmas Eve for her sons to return home to her and hires a private detective to help locate them.
As we meet each son, they have their own vignette to tell their story:
• Michael, played by George Brent, is a playboy; spending more money than he has. Michael tries to marry a wealthy woman to help pay off his debt of $70,000 in bad checks. Ann Nelson, played by Joan Blondell, is in love with Michael and tries to stop the wedding.
• Mario, played by George Raft, is in South America, where he runs a nightclub and is avoiding American police. He was involved in a crime in New Orleans and fled the country. Mario is dating Claire, played by Virginia Field, who he realizes is involved with Nazi war criminals, who he tangles with.
• Jonathan, played by Randolph Scott, is a broken down cowboy who drinks too much. Upon arriving in New York City on his way to see Matilda, he is sidetracked by a pretty girl, Jean, played by Dolores Moran. Jean is trying to expose an illegal adoption ring and wants Jonathan to pose as her husband to get a baby.

Aunt Matilda’s train set up at the table

The three find their way back to Matilda, all pretending that their lives are perfect, but Aunt Matilda sees through each of them.

Though titled CHRISTMAS EVE, the film isn’t solely a Christmas movie. With each story, it’s part comedy, film noir and adventure. Sometimes in each vignette, particularly George Raft’s area, you almost forget about the Matilda storyline. But the story ties together at the end, and we learn that cousin Phillip is responsible for the hardships of some of the boys. It’s also clear that Matilda won’t be alone anymore, as three baby girls make their way to her.

George Raft in “Christmas Eve”

The storyline in CHRISTMAS EVE is a bit unpredictable and catches you by surprise the first time you see it. You don’t go into this film expecting to see Nazi war criminals and a baby smuggling ring. But I still enjoy it.

What’s most notable about this film is Robert Altman’s uncredited work on the screenplay.

Today, most people know Robert Altman for his work in the 1970s; directing great films like M.A.S.H. (1970), THE LONG GOODBYE (1973) and NASHVILLE (1975) or writing the screenplay for McCABE and MRS. MILLER (1971).

But in his early days of Hollywood after serving in World War II, Altman worked as a writer in Hollywood. His first two films were CHRISTMAS EVE, for which he wasn’t credited, and the film noir BODYGUARD (1948), for which he received his first credit.

Altman’s father lived in Malibu, and below his apartment lived George W. George, the son of cartoonist and inventor, Rube Goldberg.

“George had an uncle who was a director. George was going to be a director, too, and I was going to be a writer, so we started working together. We wrote treatments and sold two of them, one to RKO The Bodyguard, with Lawrence Tierney, and Christmas Eve, with George Brent and Randolph Scott,” Altman said in an interview published in the book “Altman on Altman.”

The film was also known under the title SINNER’S HOLIDAY. Altman heard that producer Benedict Bogeaus was looking for a holiday tie in for the story, and made his way into the producer’s office to pitch an idea, according to Robert Altman: Jumping Off the Cliff by Patrick McGilligan.

While CHRISTMAS EVE was the starting point of Altman’s career, I feel like it was the downswing for most of its stars or their careers were beginning to change.

The leads of Ann Harding, George Brent, George Raft, Joan Blondell and Reginald Denny all found their greatest success in the 1930s, particularly during the Pre-Code era. While they were all still active in films, they weren’t of the same caliber. Here are some of the shifts in careers:
• At 45 and around the same age as her male co-stars, Harding plays a woman of 70 convincingly. This same year, she was in another holiday film, IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE. Now, she was playing mothers, while in the 1930s, she played women of questionable morals, like in DOUBLE HARNESS.
• This was Randolph Scott’s last non-western film, though he still plays a cowboy. Scott performed strictly in westerns until his last film in 1962.
• George Brent was also moving into parental roles, with his next film as Jane Powell’s father in LUXURY LINER.
• After Christmas Eve, Joan Blondell wouldn’t appear in another film until 1950.
• Actress Dolores Moran was the newest to Hollywood of the group, starting in films in 1940 with her first credited role as grownup Deidre in OLD AQUINTANCE (1943). Extremely beautiful, Moran was a popular pin-up of World War II, and her popularity seemed to diminish after the war. Moran was married to the film’s producer Benedict Bogeaus, and she also didn’t make another film until 1950.

CHRISTMAS EVE was later remade for television in 1986 with Loretta Young as the elderly woman. In the next adaptation, she is looking for her grandchildren, and it’s her son who is trying to say she is senile. Bringing everyone back together could also be compared to the television movie, THE GATHERING.

While CHRISTMAS EVE (1947) may not be a memorable Christmas favorite, I still find it enjoyable. It has something for everyone: drama, comedy, film noir and the holidays. It’s a bit of a wild ride, but a fun one.

The Christmas Tree (1969)

I’m on a constant quest for new-to-me Christmas movies. I search for them like I have a job in it with benefits.

And that’s how I found Terence Young’s “A Christmas Tree” (1969), also titled “L’arbre de Noël” and “When Wolves Cry.”

Starring William Holden, Virna Lisi, Bourvil and Brook Fuller, Laurent (Holen) is a widower who goes on summer vacation with his son Pascal (Fuller). Pascal wants to do something new and go camping on a remote island in Corsica.

While camping and swimming, Laurent and Pascal witness a plane carrying crash into the ocean and explode, and Laurent learns that the plane was carrying a nuclear device.

Pascal starts to have strange symptoms, like blue spots appearing and disappearing on his skin. He’s diagnosed as having an incurable disease due to nuclear exposure and is only giving a few months to live.

Not telling his son his diagnosis, Laurent pulls Pascal out of school, and they leave Paris and head to a chateau in the countryside of France. Laurent and the groundskeeper Verdun (Bourvil) let Pascal have whatever he wants — including a tractor to ride around the property and stealing wolves from the zoo.

The wolves are vicious creatures, but Pascal tames them with his gentle nature.

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Christmas on Film: The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

2019 update: The Holly And The Ivy was released on DVD and Blu-Ray for the first time in Nov. 2019 by Kino Lorber. 

Like most of us, I grew up on classic Christmas films—from White Christmas to The Bishop’s Wife to Christmas in Connecticut. And as I realized new-to-me pre-1968 Christmas movies were dwindling, I began scrounging for more. Surely there were still some left to discover!

That’s how I stumbled upon “The Holly and the Ivy” (1952) last Christmas while browsing Amazon. But much to my dismay, the only DVDs sold were Region 2 (not able to play on U.S. devices) and it didn’t appear to be streaming online.

So as the holidays rolled around again this year, I searched and found someone selling a DVRed copy of this English film and I snatched it up.

Starring Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson, Denholm Elliott, Margaret Leighton, Hugh Williams, Margaret Halstan and Maureen Delaney, the film takes place as a family returns home on Christmas Eve. And in the midst of the bright holiday, none of them are very happy and are hiding their troubles.

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Christmas on Film: Junior Miss (1945)

junior missThe same year Peggy Ann Garner performed her award winning role in “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” the 13-year-old actress found herself in a coming of age comedy, “Junior Miss” (1945).

Similar to “And So They Were Married” (1936), Christmas is merely a backdrop to adolescent antics in “Junior Miss” (1945), but the holidays play larger roles in this coming of age film.  Continue reading

Christmas at Comet’s: “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” (1947)


It’s easy for this Christmas film to slip through the cracks.

It isn’t as well-known as other Christmas classics such as “Miracle on 34th Street” or “White Christmas.” And many of the leads are character actors rather than superstars who star in other Christmas films like Barbara Stanwyck or Loretta Young.

You may have never seen or heard of “It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947), but this film is far too charming for that not to be remedied- and soon.

The story begins with homeless Aloysius McKeever (Victor Moore) sneaking into the wealthy mansion of Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles), the second richest man in the world. The O’Connors live in Virginia during the winter. For the past four winters, McKeever has stayed in the O’Connor home in New York from November 3 until March 13 while the family is away.

McKeever eats their food, wears Mr. O’Connor’s clothes, and occasionally dusts off the furniture.

When the O’Connor’s come back to New York, McKeever heads to their winter home in Virginia.

Homeless McKeever (Victor Moore) dressed in Michael O'Connor's clothes as he stays in his home.

Homeless McKeever (Victor Moore) dressed in Michael O’Connor’s clothes as he stays in his home.

With a set of keys to several mansions in New York, McKeever explains one day, he got tired of working and has been house hopping for the last 20 years and never has been caught.

But this winter, McKeever has company for the first time.

He meets Jim Bullock (Don DeFore), a veteran who was recently evicted from his apartment. The apartments are going to be torn down by Michael O’Connor’s company to build a skyscraper.

McKeever finds Jim sleeping on a park bench and invites him to his home, vaguely explaining that he is a guest of the O’Connor family.

But the O’Connor house gets more crowded than just the two men.

O’Connor’s daughter Trudy (Gale Storm) runs away from finishing school and goes to the house for clothes. The men think she is a thief, and she doesn’t correct them, but they let her stay.

Then Jim runs into his old Army buddies (Alan Hale, Jr., Edward Ryan) with their wives and children living in a car. They are invited to the O’Connor mansion too until they can find a home.

Wives of Jim's Army buddies use the foyer of the O'Connor home for hanging laundry as the house gets more crowded.

Wives of Jim’s Army buddies use the O’Connor home’s foyer for hanging laundry as the house gets more crowded.

The kicker is when Michael J. O’Connor (Charles Ruggles) and his ex-wife, Mary (Ann Harding), stay at their home-pretending to be homeless- in search of their daughter.

All the while, Jim and his Army friends are trying to bid on an Army camp for veterans who can’t find a home. Their bidding opponent is O’Connor.

“It Happened on Fifth Avenue” was originally supposed to be a Frank Capra Liberty Film. Still, he chose to make “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) instead, according to “Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas” by Alonso Duralde.

Wealthy Michael O'Connor (Charles Ruggles) exchanges his fancy clothes to dress like he is homeless.

Wealthy Michael O’Connor (Charles Ruggles) exchanges his fancy clothes to dress like he is homeless.

The film was originally supposed to be released during the Christmas season in 1946 but wasn’t released until Easter of 1947, Duralde wrote.

It isn’t surprising that Capra considered this film. The theme of the poor creating life lessons for the rich is similar to many of his other films.

“It Happened on Fifth Avenue” is funny, far-fetched and charming.

It’s a comedy that makes fun of the rich, like the O’Connors, and makes the heroes poor. The O’Connors have an opportunity to look at their lives with the help of McKeever: Michael has disregarded everything for money, Mary lives in Palm Springs and denies she’s middle-aged, and Trudy is unhappy.

Romance blossoms between Trudy (Gale Storm) and Jim (Don DeFore)

Romance blossoms between Trudy (Gale Storm) and Jim (Don DeFore)

Money is what broke up Michael and Mary O’Connor’s marriage. It takes a homeless man to bring them back together again. Trudy finds love and happiness with Jim, the unemployed veteran.

“There are richer men than I,” O’Connor says of McKeever.

Amongst the life lessons and heartwarming scenes, the movie is also hilarious.

With lines such as:

“That joint is as empty as a sewing basket in a nudist camp.”


“He called me ‘Sugar,’ because I was hard to get”-referencing rationing during World War II.

While on a mission to see every classic Christmas film I could get my hands on, I came across “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” back in 2010 when it was shown on Turner Classic Movies. Since then, it has become a family favorite in the Pickens household.

Add this one to your yearly Christmas viewing and see that “a house is only what its occupants make it.”


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