Wednesday, December 16, 2015

An Invitation to Classic Movie Christmas Parties

Christmastime is here. A time of get-togethers and good cheer, at your home, your neighbour's and with some old friends on the screen. Today I want to share some of my favourite Christmas parties from movies and television. 


Dashiell Hammett's dark and comic murder mystery was beautifully realized on screen in this adaption by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett directed by W.S. Van Dyke. William Powell and Myrna Loy are perfectly cast as Nick and Nora Charles. Nick, a former private eye now looks after his heiress wife's fortune. Nora is intrigued by her husband's past and is thrilled at the idea of helping to solve a real live murder! Their New York hotel suite is the site of a raucous Christmas Eve party. The revolving door of guests includes pug fighters, ex-cons, doxies, and dopes.

Nora:  "Oh, Nicky, I love you because you know such lovely people."


Betty Smith's enormously successful novel about the struggling Nolan family at the beginning of the 20th century was the first directorial credit for Elia Kazan. The film focuses on the first portion of the novel and stars special Oscar winner Peggy Ann Garner as Francie. Francie is a bright and imaginative girl trapped by circumstances, and longing for the freedom that comes from education.

Francie adores her father, a singing waiter with big dreams and a big heart. Francie has to learn to understand and accept her mother who bears the practical burdens of keeping the family together. The last Christmas Eve spent as a family includes a quiet, companionable party at home with thoughtful and practical gifts from the maternal side of the family.

Francie and her brother Neely's (Ted Donaldson) only hope of getting a Christmas tree to decorate is to hold on to one of the leftover trees tossed by the seller at the close of business. Their triumph in catching and keeping the tree brings joy and excitement to their family and the entire apartment house.    


Akira Kurosawa's film tells the story of an artist (Toshiro Mifune) who brings a libel suit against a magazine for publishing a false story about an alleged relationship with a famous singer (Shirley Yamaguchi). The idealistic artist hires as a lawyer, a rather shady character (Takashi Shimura). The lawyer's faults are easy for all to see, but his loving wife and devoted daughter who suffers from tuberculosis touch our artist's heart and he sacrifices his own interests to help the little family.

The artist and the singer combine forces to give the ill Masako a simple, but charming Christmas party with decorations, music, and food. The celebration is overwhelming in its sincerity and highlighted by a lovely rendition of Silent Night.

Later that night client and lawyer retire to the dubious charms of a tavern known as The Red Cat where the festivities end with drunken and remorseful patrons raising their voices in an off-key, dirge-like version of Auld Lange Syne.


John Ford's film is based on Bringing Up the Brass, the autobiography of West Point athletics instructor Martin Maher, an Irish immigrant played by Tyrone Power. Maureen O'Hara co-stars as his wife, Mary. It is an episodic film with healthy doses of humour leavening the reverence, along with the stroll through historic names and events.

The Christmas party scene is short and sweet in its manly sentiment. It is Marty's first Christmas after the death of his wife and the house is quiet and lonely. The stillness is interrupted by a few of the cadets bringing all their youthful energy, a tree, some punch, some song and good fellowship in a show of genuine affection. Actions speak louder than words.

DESK SET (1957)

Katharine Hepburn runs the research department of a TV network. Spencer Tracy is the consultant hired to computerize many of the network operations, including research. Things may be changing, but the office Christmas party must go on and this is the best movie office Christmas party ever! A piano escapes a rehearsal hall, making the rounds of the offices. Lowly delivery boys get dream tips. Secretaries and researchers alike get to relax and enjoy a bit of spiked punch. Conga lines snake the hallways. Gifts are exchanged. We laugh, sing and get to watch Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy fall in love.

Richard Sumner to Bunny Watson:  "I'll bet you write beautiful letters."


Here's a classic TV Christmas party from the 17th season of Gunsmoke. Jeanette Nolan guest stars as the skinflint manager of an orphanage. Jack Elam is the handyman who helps the kids in her charge (Patti Cohoon, Jodie Foster, Erin Moran, Josh Albee, Brian Morrison, Willie Aames, Todd Lookinland) run away in search of Christmas that is sorely lacking in the sterile facility.

Riding the rails, the ragtag group makes it to Dodge City where the whole town takes them under their wing. Eventually, it is discovered that the headmistress isn't hard-hearted or the most fearsome "outlady" in the west (Festus is often given to hyperbole), but does the best she can with the little money given for the orphanage. Forgiveness is the order of the day and the Longbranch becomes the site of a children's Christmas party. Why, Miss Kitty even gives Matt a kiss on the cheek.

Kitty:  "Merry Christmas, Cowboy."
Matt:  "Merry Christmas, Kitty."


  1. Jodie Foster must've been pretty young to have been in that GUNSMOKE episode. Eight? Nine?

  2. Jodie was only nine years old and already had over a dozen TV guest spots to her name, including three episodes of "Gunsmoke". A talent that could not be denied.

  3. Thanks for this, Pat.I haven't been to a Christmas party in years!! I'm off to visit with family for the holidays, will return in a few weeks. Just wanted to wish you and your family the Very Merriest Christmas and Happy New Year. God bless.

    1. A very merry Christmas from my home in Toronto to yours, Yvette.

    2. A very fun review! I just watched DESK SET, so your timing was perfect. It's not really a Christmas party, but I always liked the scene in THE CHEATERS where Joseph Schildkraut reacts A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

    3. I mean "reenacts" Dickens' work.

    4. Nobody, but nobody reacts and reenacts like Joseph Schildkraut!

      Glad you joined the party, Rick. A very Merry Christmas to you and those you hold dear.

    5. I know I read this, Woman, and I thought I had commented! Well, anyway, I want an invite to any party you ever throw! I do love A Tree Grows In Brooklyn so much, and Desk Set ... the only one I haven't seen is the Gunsmoke episode. I hope you are having a Merry Christmas!

    6. "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" breaks my heart. "Desk Set" makes me happy. "Gunsmoke" well, "Gunsmoke" is probably the world I'll disappear into when my mind goes all "Twilight Zone".

      Christmas, as always, is merry, sad and thoughtful.

  4. This is a really nice selection of Christmas always pick the best ones, CW. Have a happy New Year! We're looking forward to your posts in 2016.

    1. Thanks so much. From Kurosawa to Gunsmoke might seem like a leap to some, but not to classic movie buffs like ourselves.

  5. Of all these films, I have only seen The Thin Man, The Desk Set and The Long Gray Line. Love the first two. The Ford film is one of his that I find overdose on jingoism and sentimentality. I may have seen the Gunsmoke episode, my father loved the showed way back when. Have to see if it's going to be broadcast on cable in the next few days.

    1. Here in Toronto we don't get any of those channels that program the shows I grew up on. The silver lining is that I'd never get anything done if we did have those channels.

      If you get the chance in the new year to see the Kurosawa film Scandal, grab it.

      Merry Christmas.

  6. Nice choices -- I've never seen Shubun, but the scenes you describe sound so intriguing. I hope I get to see it sometime.

  7. It is one of my favourites from Kurosawa. A very emotional film.



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