The Inside Baseball of Film Versions of “A Christmas Carol” – Part 1

Anyone who has been reading my posts on this site for more than a year knows that I am a Christmas Carol fanatic.  So as a fair warning I’ll just say that this post is only for true Christmas Carol devotees.  Every word of it is subjective and dedicated to minutiae.  I have four versions of the film that I like and each has an aspect in which it excels the other three.  Every year I re-evaluate the films and debate with myself on trivial points that would have exactly zero importance to the overwhelming majority of the human inhabitants of planet earth.  Here goes.

Material that wasn’t in the book

A Christmas Carol was a novella.  It is brief and in places lacks details about the characters and events.

For instance, the book never says why Scrooge’s father treated him so poorly.  In the 1951 version it is stated that his father held it against him that his mother died in his childbirth.  And in the same version a similar grudge exists as the reason why Scrooge dislikes his nephew Fred.  It is shown that his sister Fan died giving birth to Fred.  In the 1984 version the same reason for his father’s dislike for Scrooge is presented.  But the death of Fan during Fred’s birth is not added.  What is interesting about these additions is that based on the original story they would be impossible.  In the book Fan is quite a bit younger than her brother Ebenezer.  Therefore, their mother couldn’t have died at the birth of her older child.  I suppose Fan could have been Ebenezer’s half-sister but I don’t imagine that a twice married man would still be holding his first wife’s death as a grudge against his son.  So, this addition is spurious.  But it is extremely dramatic and provides a timely reason for both father’s and son’s misanthropic behavior that could be somewhat excused and so leave room for deserved forgiveness.  And it has a highly effective scene where the older Scrooge hears his dying sister ask for his promise to take care of her infant son Fred.  We see that the younger Scrooge never heard the dying plea and the older Scrooge gets to belatedly beg his beloved deceased sister’s forgiveness for his heartless treatment of her only child.

And notice that the 1984 version borrows both the discrepancy of Fan’s age and the spurious grudge of Scrooge’s father but neglects the equally spurious grudge of Scrooge for his nephew.  I guess they thought those additions gave resonance to the story.

In both the 1951 and 1984 versions Scrooge’s fiancée is introduced during the Fezziwig party scene and give a name (Alice in the earlier version, Belle in the later).  Neither this early link to Scrooge’s life or the name show up in the book.  In addition, in the 1951 version it skips the scene introducing this woman’s later life with husband and large family but instead substitutes a scene during the Ghost of Christmas Present section where Belle is volunteering at a shelter for the poor.  Now whereas tying Scrooge’s love to the Fezziwig era of his life is fine and in fact better than the way the book presents it, I do not particularly favor the poor shelter addition.  It seems unwarranted.  I think the scene where she is surrounded by her family is dramatic enough in that it illustrates what happiness Scrooge has lost.

In the book the Ghost of Christmas Present visits the house of Scrooge’s nephew Fred.  The dinner guests are presented enjoying games such as blindman buff and forfeits which I take to be word games such as twenty questions.  One of the rounds determined that it was a disagreeable animal that growled and lived in London.  And, of course, it turns out to be Uncle Scrooge.  In the 1984 version the story is adapted so the dinner guests are playing a game called similes where they need to guess the end of a simile.  When Fred asks his wife to complete “as tight as,” she replies “your Uncle Scrooge’s purse strings.”  Scrooge hears this while in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  After his repentance and on the actual Christmas Day he meets his niece and discussing the game of similes he advises her that the simile, in case it came up, was “as tight as a drum.”  Nicely played.

From the book we know that Jacob Marley died seven years earlier on Christmas Eve.  And we are informed that Scrooge inherited his house.  What the 1951 version does is tie these facts together in a scene.  We have Jacob Marley’s charwoman come to the office and interact with Bob Cratchit and Scrooge.  Then we have Scrooge being warned by a dying Marley that their misanthropy would endanger their immortal souls.  And this then links both the charwoman’s stealing of his bed curtains and bed clothing and her later spurious appearance after the last of the spirits depart and Scrooge wakes up on actual Christmas morning.  In this scene the charwoman (identified incorrectly as Mrs. Dilber) is bringing in Scrooge’s breakfast and witnesses his reformation into a caring human being.  His manic happiness frightens her and when he gives her a gold sovereign coin as a present, she assumes it’s a bribe to keep her quiet about his strange behavior.  When he tells her it’s a Christmas present and he is quintupling her salary she is overcome with happiness and rushes off with her own characteristic version of a Merry Christmas greeting.  I find this addition to the story especially apt.  In the story the charwoman selling Scrooge’s bed curtains comes off very negatively.  But humanizing her by including her positively in the scene about Marley’s death and allowing a rapprochement with a penitent Scrooge on Christmas morning improves the story and ties these aspects of the story together in a way that gives the story more depth.  It reinforces that Scrooge’s repentance touches every aspect of the world we have been shown in a positive way.

Overall I’d say that the film additions to the plot have been acceptable and true to the spirit of the story.

Cyrano de Bergerac – An OCF Classic Movie Review

With enormous trepidation do I write this review.  In this year 2018, surrounded by the mores and mentality currently on display in the former realm of Christendom, how can you explain, never mind, recommend the story of Cyrano de Bergerac?  To a generation that embraces Miley Cyrus, Beyoncé and the Kardashians how do you justify Cyrano’s chaste love for Roxane.  To a world that needs safe spaces to cower in at the very hint of harsh language how do you explain two men fighting to the death with rapiers over an insult?  It’s ludicrous to even consider.  The very word honor has ceased to have an explicable meaning.

No, there is no way.  This story can only be presented to an older generation.  And even to them, watching it would be a jarring exercise in switching gears from the world of Caitlyn Jenner and Hillary Clinton to the chivalry of seventeenth century France.  So, I cannot expect any sympathy from a modern audience for such a story. Even when this movie was filmed in 1950 the plot was considered much too sentimental.  In fact, the only saving grace it had was the tour de force performance of its star Jose Ferrer.  Even critics who savaged the rest of the production including the rest of the cast, declared Ferrer’s portrayal of Cyrano as a masterpiece and his recital of Rostand’s words inspired.  And so, they were.  Ferrer’s mastery of the material only seems the more convincing compared to the journeyman competence of his fellow cast members.

For those who have read this far but do not know Rostand’s plot, Cyrano is a musketeer in the employ of the King of France in the seventeenth century.  He is also a poet and a deadly skilled swordsman.  He also possesses a very large nose about which he is devilishly sensitive.  One word or even a glance at his nose is enough to trigger a duel from which the offender will exit without his life.  And Cyrano is secretly in love with Roxane his distant cousin and one of the most beautiful women in Paris.  Because of his relationship with Roxane he is compelled by his sense of honor to help her in whatever she asks.  Unfortunately, what she asks him is to help his rival in love to succeed in his courting of Roxane.  When Cyrano meets this rival Christian, he discovers that he is unable to string romantic words together in a way that appeals to Roxane.  So, Cyrano must become Christian’s coach in writing and speaking poems of love.  And finally, when it becomes too difficult, he uses the darkness of night to impersonate Christian under Roxane’s balcony and succeeds in winning her love for Christian with Cyrano’s own passionate declaration of love.

There follow several obstacles, a nobleman as rival to Christian who is also his superior officer in the army and a war with Spain.  Marriage, sorrow, misunderstanding and death stand in the way of true love.  But revelation finally occurs, if too late to allow for happiness.  All of this is brocaded with a script that Ferrer delivers with wit and panache.  For a man of the late nineteenth or early to mid-twentieth century it is a treat and for those afterward a puzzle only.

Recommended only for the true sentimental idealist.

The Maltese Falcon – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Back in late October of 2016 I reviewed Dashiell Hammett’s crime novel “The Maltese Falcon.”  To describe the review as highly enthusiastic would be an understatement.  I raved about the book.  Well, I’ll almost repeat the performance for John Huston’s film.  There are differences, of course.  And if you had read the book before seeing the movie you’d feel that both Bogart and Astor were physically miscast.  But the movie on its own merits is superb.

John Huston based the movie quite faithfully on Hammett’s book.  Humphrey Bogart is Sam Spade, one half of the San Francisco based private detective firm of Spade and Archer. He’s also his partner Miles Archer’s wife Iva’s former lover (now that’s a complicated sentence!).

The story opens up with Spade’s secretary, Effie Perine, announcing a new client, Miss Wonderly (played by Mary Astor).  Wonderly starts telling a tale to Spade and also Archer as he walks in during the story.  The story is a fabrication about a make-believe teen-age sister who has been spirited away cross country by a real gangster named Floyd Thursby.  Spade and Archer agree to tail Thursby in return for some also very real hundred dollar bills that Wonderly pays them.

Archer is shot and killed during his surveillance and this begins a sequence of events that involves Spade in a confusing search for the truth about a globe-trotting quest to obtain the legendary Maltese Falcon.  We meet corpulent Caspar Gutman played by Sidney Greenstreet, who is the ringleader behind the search.  Then there is Joel Cairo, played by Peter Lorre, a mincing effeminate who sometimes works for Gutman and sometimes doesn’t.  There is Wilmer Cook, Gutman’s young triggerman who would rather shoot his opponents than negotiate terms.  And finally, we have the good cop/ bad cop duo of Detective Tom Polhaus and Lieutenant Dundy.  They show up at strategic moments to inform Spade that he is everyone’s favorite suspect in several murders.

The exact details of the plot are too much fun to spoil so I won’t go into much detail but suffice it to say there really aren’t any innocent parties involved unless you include Effie Perine.  Wonderly, which isn’t the last fake name she’ll go by in the film is up to her neck in the crimes but she becomes Spade’s femme fatale in the story.  Spade is a ruthless but strangely honorable character who lives by his own logic.  The criminals (almost everyone) spend the entire movie double-crossing each other in various iterations.  They all prove, with some prodding from Spade, that there is indeed no honor among thieves.  But the plot moves along smartly and by the end all the loose ends are neatly tied up and Sam Spade is sort of the last man standing.  Bogart even gets to apply an ironic tagline to describe the futility of the whole mad enterprise.

When I said that Bogart and Astor were physically miscast it’s because in the book Spade is described as a tall muscular blond-haired man.  Bogart is none of those things.  And in the book Mary Astor’s character is a woman in her twenties which at the point when this movie was made could hardly describe Astor.  Regardless, they make the characters their own.  And especially Bogart’s Spade is iconic and basically defines the Sam Spade character for most of the people who have heard of the Maltese Falcon.  The rest of the cast is also excellent.  Greenstreet and Lorre are so interesting and memorable that at certain points in the movie they push even Bogart out of the spotlight.

If you’ve never seen the Maltese Falcon then shame on you.  In fact, if I had my way people would read the book first and then watch the movie.  But this is a fallen world we live in.  So, I guess I’m already asking too much to recommend a black and white movie.  Highly recommended.

To Have and Have Not – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I think it’s a pretty remarkable fact, that of the seven films Humphrey Bogart was in that I consider worth owning my least favorite is Casablanca.  It’s possible I’ve just seen it too many times already.  But I’ve watched the Maltese Falcon many times more and I keep putting it back on.  It’s probably just individual preference.  But for whatever the reason, it tells me that Bogart was in a relatively large number of excellent films.

Next up is “To Have and Have Not.”  This movie is based on the Hemingway story.  Several of the story elements seem to be repeated in Casablanca.  A French colony is the locale.  There are Nazis and their local collaborators as the heavies.  Resistance fighters including a husband and wife team are looking for help from Bogart’s character.  There is a damsel in distress as the love interest.  And there’s a singer at a piano that entertains us here and there.  Honestly, I actually prefer this earlier film to Casablanca.  It seems less strained.

Bogey is a charter boat captain named Harry Morgan and Walter Brennan is his first mate Eddie.  Eddie is a garrulous alcoholic and Harry’s best friend.  They’re on a two-week charter out of Florida to the French island of Martinique.  Martinique is part of “Free France” but under the thumb of the Nazis.  Harry meets Marie Browning, played by a very young Lauren Bacall, as she is stealing the wallet of Harry’s charter client.  He takes the wallet from her and discovers from the contents that the client was about to skip out without paying him.  Grateful for her unwitting help he strikes up a friendship with her.  Of course, under the circumstances, their relationship is always awkward and tentative.  He calls her Slim which rankles her so she calls him Steve probably from spite.  But for all their verbal jousting the sparks begin to fly and it’s easy to see that their relationship will be at least one of the major plot lines.

The hotel where Harry, Marie and apparently anyone involved in the resistance ends up staying is owned by, of course, Frenchy, or so he is called by Harry.  He is the clandestine leader of the resistance.  Several of his friends get into a gun battle with the local police and this leads to Harry and Marie falling under the suspicious eye of the local police chief.  He seizes their passports and money and grills them for information on the resistance.

Being strapped for cash Harry accepts a job ferrying some resistance fighters onto the island, Paul and Hellene de Bursac.  Paul gets shot during a sea voyage while evading the harbor patrol.  Harry acts as a cut-rate trauma surgeon and removes the bullet.  The police finally decide to put the squeeze on Harry by grilling Eddie this triggers a confrontation that Harry controls with the help of a few well aimed bullets.  Throughout Marie is at Harry’s side, for the most part, trading wisecracks and supporting the cause.  Eddie supplies the comic relief and Hoagy Carmichael as Cricket plays the piano and employs Marie as an ersatz lounge singer.

Bit of well-known classic Hollywood trivia, the sparks flying between Harry and Marie were mirrored in real life between Bogart and Bacall and they shortly afterward became man and wife in real life.  And the chemistry they had translated excellently to film.  Their sparring courtship is fun to watch and although stylized in the manner of director Howard Hawkes’ staccato bantering dialog it comes off as interesting and of its time.  Highly recommended.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – An OCF Classic Movie Review

There is a school of thought that says Bogart became a big star because of the Maltese Falcon.  It was his first role that extended his acting range beyond the gangster parts he had been doing up to that point.  And the story was a popular book and John Huston’s script was a pip.

So, I’m sure Bogart was more than anxious when he had a second chance to work with Huston.  The Treasure of the Sierra Madre was once again based on a popular book.  And once again Huston’s script is a pip.  Bogart is an American named Dobbs in Tampico, Mexico who is broke and looking for an opportunity to make some money.  After some difficulty collecting back-wages he teams up with two other Americans.  Walter Huston, John Huston’s actual father, plays an old gold prospector Howard and Tim Holt is Curtin who hopes to make a stake before returning to the United States.  The three men discuss what it would take to make a prospecting expedition to the Sierra Madre.  By an amazing coincidence Bogart wins the amount they need off of a lottery ticket and donates it to the expedition.  On the train ride at the outset of the journey to the Sierra Madre, the partners encounter bandits.  This is followed by a long trek through jungles and desert and mountains.  And just as Dobbs and Curtin have become discouraged and want to give up the search Howard mocks them with the news that they’ve been surrounded by gold for the last day but they were too ignorant to see it.  The partners get to work and start a mining operation that rewards their hard work with generous amounts of gold.  And at this point we begin to see the destructive effect of greed and mistrust.  Pretty quickly Dobbs becomes dangerously suspicious of his partners and all remnants of amicable relations evaporate and all that is left is the business of harvesting the gold.  During this time there are episodes involving a claim jumper and later the bandits return.  A very well-known exchange occurs between the head bandit and the partners.  The bandit is pretending to be a policeman and when asked to show his badge he sputters, “Badges?  Badges?  We don’t need no stinking badges!”  The return journey also contains some interesting episodes that eventually split up the partners and leads to open warfare between Dobbs and Curtin.  For the better part of the movie we’ve been watching as Fred C. Dobbs slowly descends into gold madness.  Now he reaches the point of attempting murder.  The end of the movie follows the last scenes where we learn the fate of the partners, the bandits and the gold.

For me this movie is an almost perfect gem of a tale.  It has an interesting blend of humor, adventure and a study of human nature.  Toward the end, Bogart is almost over the top in his manic portrayal of Dobbs but he is an interesting character.  Tim Holt plays the most sympathetic character as Curtin but without a doubt, Walter Huston steals the show from everyone else as the old prospector Howard.  His character is colorful, glib, humorous and just plain engaging.

I highly recommend this movie for everyone.  It’s a classic and timelessly entertaining.

The March of the Wooden Soldiers – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I guess this qualifies as a fantasy too but to me it’s a holiday classic, thus the title.  Every year during my childhood at Thanksgiving time WPIX (Channel11 in NYC) would show “The March of the Wooden Soldiers.”  And even back then it was obvious that the movie was a throwback to an older time.  What passed for costumes and “special effects” in this film would outrage even a toddler from today.  The action was often interrupted while the romantic leads would burst into an operatic rendition of some fairly soporific song.  Some of this is explained by the fact that the film was a reworking of a musical light opera that was staged under the name “Babes in Toyland.”  And in fact, all of the movie’s shortcomings were even the subject of mockery on an episode of the Simpsons.

But none of this is at all important because of two extenuating circumstances, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, or as their characters are named Stanny Dum and Ollie Dee.  Laurel and Hardy are the show.  These two clowns keep the audience from wandering away, at least until the Wooden Soldiers are unleashed.  Stan and Ollie move from one failure to the next, at every step, irritating every mean or impatient character they meet with their fumble-fingered efforts and their simple-minded attempts at cleverness.  As I said, until the climax of the movie, they are the show.

The plot, such as it is, involves Stan and Ollie trying to prevent the evil miser Barnaby from evicting the Little Old Lady that Lives in the Shoe.  One of her children is Little Bo Peep who is in love with Tom-Tom the Piper’s Son.  After Stan and Ollie are foiled in attempting to steal the mortgage from Barnaby and are sentenced to be banished to Bogeyland (a place outside of Toyland where the savage Bogeymen live) Bo Peep agrees to marry Barnaby in exchange for forgiving the mortgage and releasing Stan and Ollie.  This leads to further tomfoolery by Stan and Ollie.  When Barnaby is defeated again in his desire to marry Bo Peep he conspires against Tom-Tom and gets him banished to Bogeyland.  After the banishment, evidence is discovered by Stan and Ollie that exonerates Tom-Tom and proves Barnaby’s guilt.  At this point Barnaby flees to Bogeyland to take command of the Bogeymen and lead them against Toyland.

The inhabitants of Toyland, being feeble nursery rhyme characters are helpless (mostly) against the savage Bogeymen.  And all seems lost until suddenly Stanny Dum realizes that an earlier blunder of his would now be Toyland’s salvation.  Working for the Toymaster he misunderstood Santa Claus’s order to make six hundred wooden soldiers one foot tall and instead made one hundred wooden soldiers six feet tall.  Stan and Ollie activate the army and the soldiers get right to work and rout the bogeyman in stirring fashion, all to the accompaniment of the music that gives the movie its name, The March of the Wooden Soldiers.

I have to confess that even at my advanced age I always feel a thrill of excitement as the Wooden Soldiers assemble and march to the beat of the song and provide in their mechanical and disciplined way the just desserts that Barnaby and the savage Bogeymen so richly deserve.  And right up until the very last frame Stan and Ollie are right there snatching personal defeat right out of the jaws of victory.

This movie is a museum piece with a hackneyed plot, obtrusive and boring songs and awful special effects.  But Laurel and Hardy are worth the price of admission, namely your time.  They are worthy buffoons who exaggerate our own foolishness.  And for the little boy in every man, the Wooden Soldier battle is a stirring pantomime that actual little boys will enjoy.  Highly recommended for the child in all of us.

Gunga Din – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“…

So I’ll meet ’im later on

At the place where ’e is gone—

Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.

’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals

Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,

An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!

Yes, Din! Din! Din!

You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!

Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,

By the livin’ Gawd that made you,

You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”

(Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling)

 

Kipling’s poem celebrates the courage and loyalty of Indian water bearer Gunga Din.  The 1939 film builds on the bare sketch of the poem and adds in the British soldiers from Kipling’s Soldiers Three stories.  Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. portray Sergeants Cutter, MacChesney and Ballantine.  The three sergeants are comedic partners in crime constantly in trouble for their off-duty brawling and ridiculous escapades.  But they are also ferociously courageous and loyal to the British Army to their core.  And attached to the regiment that the sergeants serve in is the regimental bhisti (or water carrier), Gunga Din.  Gunga Din is also a minor partner in the sergeants’ syndicate.  He convinces Cutter that they can cart off a temple made of solid gold that’s just there for the taking.  Superimpose the sub-plot of Ballantine’s upcoming nuptials as a threat to the triumvirate and then top the whole thing off with a Thuggee Mutiny planning to drive the British out of India.

Sam Jaffe plays Gunga Din and along with the three co-stars they chew up the scenery and move the plot along smartly.  By the climax we find out why Gunga Din is a better man they are.  And we get to see the British Army (or the Hollywood version of it) unleashed on the Thugs.

The movie features a goodly amount of action adventure scenes but for me the stand out is the comedy.  The exchanges between Cary Grant (featuring his most over the cockney accent) and Victor McLaglen are very funny and make me wish they had co-starred in other action comedies.

It goes without saying that the movie could never be made today.  It features language and plot elements that would be labelled, racist, sexist, colonialist and white supremacist.  And if they got around to it, I’m sure the critics could come up with an angle that made it homophobic and transphobic too.  But it is solid entertainment that creates a comedy adventure out of the reality of the British Raj.  Of course, this is a Hollywood fantasy version of the Raj.  In this version, the British Army is powerful and the generals are competent and all the good Indians are loyal subjects of the Queen-Empress and all the bad Indians are disloyal, murderous followers of Kali, the goddess of death.  In this version the non-commissioned officers are anxious to re-enlist every 11 years without fail.  But it’s got fight scenes, battle scenes, comedy, pathos, dynamite tossing and even an elephant-based jail break.  What else could anybody ask for.

A Christmas Carol Snippet

Just to get us in the mood.

Marley’s Ghost and Scrooge discuss business.

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.

“Mankind was my business.

The common welfare was my business;

charity,

mercy,

forbearance,

and benevolence,

were, all, my business.

The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

 

Here’s the best film version I’ve ever seen.

 

The Bells of St. Mary’s – An OCF Classic Movie Review

This week is Thanksgiving and that means we’ve reached the Holiday season.  And going hand in hand with that is my annual holiday movie watching and reviewing ritual.  In years past I’ve especially concentrated on versions of “A Christmas Carol.”  And rightly so.  It is almost a transfiguration of the generosity of the Christmas holiday into a mythic experience.  There is an actual catharsis associated with experiencing Scrooge’s repentance and rebirth.  So, without a doubt I will have something new to say about Dicken’s classic again this year.

But let’s return to the task at hand.

Tonight, I watched again “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”  I’ve seen it many times before.  First off, it’s not actually a Christmas movie.  The movie begins in the Fall and ends in the late Spring.  There is indeed a scene or two associated with Christmas as it relates to the eponymous Catholic grammar school that is the focus of the film.  But it is incidental, not central to the plot.  Strictly speaking, there is no holiday theme to the movie at all.  What there is, is a representation of an American Roman Catholic parish grammar school from the middle of the twentieth century.  And when I say it is a representation and not an actual reflection, I can speak with all the assurance of thirteen years of Catholic school experience to back it up.  Without a doubt, the priests and nuns that I encountered in school and church bore not the faintest resemblance to the kind, patient, loving and wise religious figures that exist in the film.  Quite the contrary, I know without a doubt that some of the priests, brothers and nuns that I knew were truly evil and committed atrocities for which they can never be forgiven.  So, I have no illusions as to the reality of Catholic education and those administering it.

Also, this is a movie from 1945.  America was close to defeating the Axis powers in World War II when the movie was being made.  The populace was united and determined and looking forward to winning the war and returning to normal life including marriage and children.  Everything about the movie reflects a societal view that was carefully orchestrated by Hollywood and the Federal government to maintain morale for the civilians at home and the troops abroad.  Wholesome entertainment and Christian values were the coin of the realm.  And they were especially important around Christmas time.  So, what we see is the Hollywood idealization of Catholic grammar school life.

Put all that together and you have to conclude that this movie is a lie.  A deliberate fabrication.  Shouldn’t it be derided for deluding the public?  Maybe.  After all, if the Catholic Church has been enabling predatory pedophiles for decades maybe movies like the present one are part of the front that allowed this practice to exist.  That may be true.

But if you watch this movie you see a story about people working together to raise children not only by educating their minds but also by nurturing their spirits.  The pastor and the nuns spend the time to find out what problems the children are experiencing and giving them practical advice and help to overcome their problems and face the real world they will soon be joining.

The portrayals by Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman are extremely enjoyable.  Both of them radiate warmth, intelligence, humor and vitality.  Bergman especially shows us a sensitive woman enduring an extremely confusing and demoralizing reversal in her life.  Some of the other characters and circumstances have some predictable tropes and stereotypes painted on but these do not greatly distract us from the central plot lines and some are quaint in and of themselves.

Overall, I found this movie to be a beautiful story.  Whether it’s classified as a story, a fantasy or propaganda it is emotionally powerful and very enjoyable.  For the Christmas season it provides an idealized version of what the Christian religious community is supposed to be.  If only it truly were like the movie.

Double Indemnity – An OCF Classic Movie Review

Fred MacMurray was a big movie star of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s who transitioned into a beloved TV father figure in his long running series My Three Sons.  In almost all of that long and popular career he was always the kind, mild-mannered and upstanding American man.  There were three exceptions that I can think of.  One was a film I’ve previously reviewed here, “The Caine Mutiny” in which MacMurray was a manipulative naval officer who brings about a mutiny for which he escapes blame but others are court-martialed.  Another was a movie called “The Apartment where he is a philandering corporate executive.  And the third is the present film, Double Indemnity.  MacMurray is insurance salesman, Walter Neff.  Barbara Stanwyck is Phyllis Dietrichson, the wife of one of Neff’s policy holders and Edward G. Robinson is Barton Keyes an insurance investigator and Neff’s good friend.  The story revolves around the plot by MacMurray and Stanwyck to murder her husband and collect on a double indemnity life insurance policy.  The details of the murder are actually kind of ingenious and the story has plenty of interesting twists and minor characters that enliven the action.  All in all, the production is well acted and very well written.  In particular, Edward G Robinson’s character steals the show.  He is clever, likeable and provides the moral anchor against which we can weigh the evil being perpetrated by MacMurray and Stanwyck.

The only real problem with the movie is that MacMurray’s character is supposed to be a fast talking, wise cracking, hard boiled character.  He’s supposed to be the kind of character that George Raft or Humphrey Bogart might have played.  But he’s Fred MacMurray.  So, every time he calls Barbara Stanwyck, “baby,” which by the way he seems to do about a hundred times, all I can think of is him playing absent minded Prof. Ned Brainard in Disney’s movie the “Son of Flubber.”  It just doesn’t work.  He’s too nice a guy to believe as a cold-blooded murderer.

The other hiccough in the plot is the scene where MacMurray and Stanwyck fall out.  At one point, Stanwyck abandons here cold-blooded behavior with an altruistic explanation that must have been based on a Hayes Code requirement but just doesn’t make any theatrical sense.

These two considerations aside the movie is an entertaining story with an engaging plot and good acting by both the primary and secondary characters.  Even with my reservations about MacMurray’s believability as bad guy I can still see this movie over and over and still enjoy it.  The secret I believe is Edward G Robinson.  His character allows us to side with the forces of rationality when they intervene and subdue the chaotic outbreak that Neff and Dietrichson unleash with their clever plan.  And Robinson gets to hammer home his side of the story in the final scene where he confronts his murderous friend and tells him how it all will end.  The only accommodation he makes to their old friendship is lighting a match for Neff when he is too weak to light his own cigarette.  And in a 1940’s movie, if you can’t even light your own cigarette you know you’re as good as dead.