Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Merry!

I'm going off the grid until after New Years. While the jungle resort where I'll be staying has WiFi (!), I will be too busy drinking things involving rum and bananas and trading Indiana Jones quotes with The Boyfriend to keep the hell fresh.

In the meantime, watch some holiday movies, hug your loved ones, pick up a major award. Play some games, even the kind that don't beep or give Jack Thompson agita. Write if you feel like it and don't if you don't.

I leave you with a piece I wrote during my three-year stint as a columnist on classic movies for Girls on Film, which is not the kind of website you think it is. Years ago the site was bought by Bolt and then by Oxygen (yes, Oprah's internet play) and then closed down, so I have no idea who owns the rights to my columns but I know it's not me. Please don't sue.

Anyway, enjoy. I've kept the dated refences intact partially for your amusement (Shasta McNasty! VCRs!) and mostly because I am lazy.

Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, Festivus, Chrismukkah, and all the very best wishes for the new year!

A Classic Christmas

Heaven help us, Ricky Martin has a Christmas special. Amidst the seasonal faves "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (starring Heat-Miser and his chilly bro), TV this time of year chokes on Very Special Episodes of shows that were dreck even before getting dunked in eggnog. Me, I'm headed straight for the video store. Come along before the cast of "Shasta McNasty" goes caroling.

The undisputed champeen of holiday flicks, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946) stands up just fine under the ritual yearly viewing. For both of you who haven't seen it yet, LIFE is about Everyguy George Bailey (James Stewart) on the worst night of his life. Sent to save him is Clarence (Henry Travers) an angel who not only hasn't earned his wings yet, but has by all accounts "the I.Q. of a rabbit."

George's story is one of kindness and self-sacrifice, starting from saving his brother's life as a kid. Putting aside his own grand dreams, George grows up to see everyone around move on to apparently bigger and better things. Pal Sam Wainwright (Frank Albertson) makes a fortune in plastics. Brother Harry (Todd Karns) goes to college and becomes a decorated Navy pilot. For his part, George quietly but surely becomes a pillar of his town, marrying the radiant Mary (Donna Reed) and starting a family.

Missing money, threat of arrest, and a string of other indignities drive George to the brink of suicide. Clarence counters by showing George what life would be like had he not been born: not a pretty picture. The town teems with sleazy bars and pawn shops. People are mean and hard. Harry and all the men he would've saved as a pilot are dead. George sees the light and runs home to a triumphant Christmas Eve, the community he served for so long now coming joyfully to his aid.

If you think LIFE is just a goody-goody holiday tale, think again. It zings with humor and stellar performances, stuffed with more terrific lines than a fruitcake has nuts. It's a wonderful film (pardon the pun), from the charming walk home that George and Mary share after their first date to their magical wedding night. More than just about Christmas or angels, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is about the often-forgotten fact that each of us touches many other lives, a sentiment well worth remembering this time of year.

Check out WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) if you want to score big with your Great Aunt Marge. Bing Crosby, musical numbers, Vermont through Hollywood eyes... it's 1950s eye candy with a yuletide twist that'll have Aunt Marge swooning into her Pink Lady.

Bob Wallace (Crosby), a well-known crooner, and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), a wannabe entertainer, first meet as soldiers in WWII. After the war, Phil joins Bob in his act, the pair becoming hugely successful. A businesslike look-see at the singing Haynes Sisters -- Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera Ellen) -- turns into more as the gents join the gals at a Vermont inn for their holiday gig.

Who should be running the inn but their old General, now retired and finding business dangerously slow. Our heroes decide to give the General a whopper of a Christmas gift, and pull all kinds of strings to move their sellout Broadway show up to the mountains. Naturally, love blooms among the fir trees for one and all.

Make no mistake, WHITE CHRISTMAS is a musical. Aside from the numbers sensibly staged in clubs and rehearsals, these folks break into song at the drop of a top hat, from musing about snow on the train to serenading each other over liverwurst sandwiches. And break out the Benadryl if you're allergic to huge production numbers-- this is old-style Hollywood, with the dancers and spangles to prove it. WHITE CHRISTMAS is also trademark post-war fare, with appropriate respect for the veterans of World War II. The soldier element might be enough to keep Uncle Mort awake, but don't bet on it.

So don't let holiday TV turn you into a Scrooge. Your VCR can be your window on Christmases Past. Grab some vids, mull the cider and snuggle close to the ones you love. Happy Holidays!

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