Part II—Offbeat Movies

North Texas Catholic
(Dec 4, 2023) Books-Movies

A happy family watches movies during a Christmas evening at home. (iStock/evgenyatamanenko)

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 websites, 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

A still from the 1957 movie Auntie Mame. (Public Domain)

7. Auntie Mame (1958), a splendid 2 ½ 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 mad-cap 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 sixty 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

A still from the 1939 movie Bachelor Mother. (Public Domain)

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

A still from the 1951 movie The Lemon Drop Kid. (Public Domain)

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 a 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 likable yarn.

Wright’s rating: All ages


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

A movie poster for the 1944 movie I'll Be Seeing You. (Public Domain)

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 an 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

A movie poster for the 1961 movie Pocketful of Miracles. (Public Domain)

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, with her fiancé — a Spanish count — in tow. The Dude comes up with a penthouse for Annie and 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

A still from the 1985 movie The Fourth Wise Man. (Public Domain)

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