Friday, December 20, 2019

JOAN BLONDELL CELEBRATES CHRISTMAS EVE, 1947

Joan Blondell
1906 - 1979

Joan Blondell is the TCM Star of the Month this December. It is safe to assume that rights issues have stood in the way of the network programming two of Joan's most acclaimed performances in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1945 and Nightmare Alley, 1947. However, I can't imagine anything standing in their way of giving us the holiday-themed Christmas Eve, 1947. A late night or early morning time slot would suit the oddball little film. TCM Underground, anyone?

Independent producer Benedict Bogeaus (Captain Kidd, Dark Waters, The Crooked Way) was the man in charge. The story is from Arch Oboler (Lights Out) with a screenplay by Laurence Stallings (What Price Glory) and Richard H. Landau (Back to Bataan).

My first viewing (yes, there have been more than one) of Christmas Eve occurred in my teen years in the wee small hours. I think that is the proper venue for this episodic (or we might say "choppy") movie with a great cast and a strange story.


Ann Harding plays Aunt Matilda, a wealthy New Yorker in a battle with her nephew Phillip played by Reginald Denny. Phillip is trying to take control of her finances by having Matilda declared incompetent. Aunt Matilda's kind habits can be considered "eccentric" when viewed a certain way and Phillip is counting on that view.

Christmas Eve was my introduction to Ann Harding, the uniquely glamorous leading lady of the 1930s. Ann was a mere 45 when she took on the role of senior citizen Matilda. Also released in 1947 is another Christmas mainstay featuring Ann as a wealthy woman more within her demographic, It Happened on Fifth Avenue.

Reginald Denny appeared in two other films produced by Benedict Bogeaus, The Mocamber Affair also from 1947 and Escape to Burma in 1955. 

Judge Alston played by Clarence Kolb agrees to give Matilda time to reach out to her three adopted sons in her defense. The trouble is that these sons have gone out into the world and are not aware of Matilda's dilemma. Matilda hires a private eye played by Joe Sawyer to track down these men, and we are frequently updated on their whereabouts as we head to the film's finale, 90 minutes hence.

George Brent is Michael, a ne'er-do-well playboy who has often clashed with Phillip over Aunt Matilda and her business holdings. Michael wins and loses fortunes and girlfriends. Joan Blondell is Ann, the one girl he can't shake. She trusts and believes in Michael or, let's say, she wants to trust and believe in Michael.

Joan still had looks and personality to burn, and she was at the top of her considerable game. During this decade, she was moving into the character actress phase of her career after those busy 1930s at Warner Brothers. That this curiosity of a film was released the same year as her Oscar-worthy turn in Nightmare Alley boggles the mind. 


George Raft is Mario and he is on the lam in South America, one step ahead of the Feds represented by John Litel. Mario also has a girl he loves, Claire played by Virginia Field. Does Claire love Mario or is she part of the unsavory crowd of Nazis led by Konstantin Shayne who threatens Mario's freedom and life?

George and producer Bogeaus worked together on two other movies, Mr. Ace in 1946 and Jet Over the Atlantic in 1959.

The son, as well as the plot given the shortest shrift in this kooky script, is Jonathan played by Randolph Scott. A cowboy on the rodeo circuit, he returns to the fold on Christmas Eve and becomes involved in a stolen baby racket being investigated by reporter Jean Bradford played by Dolores Moran. Douglas Dumbrille is the bad guy who didn't see them coming.

Scott's only other film with Benedict Bogeaus is Captain Kidd, 1945 with Charles Laughton.

Will Aunt Matilda's boys make it home in time, especially Mario? What plot twists are waiting for us? What will the future hold for Aunt Matilda and her devoted sons and staff? Maybe you can guess, but that's alright. You've stayed awake this long, so you might as well stick it out to the end. And by next Christmas, you'll find yourself unexpectedly thinking about that peculiar little movie you watched last year and wondering if you'll find it again.















29 comments:

  1. Man, why can’t more Hollywood make Christmas movies more like this, where the holiday itself is incidental?

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    1. Hollywood has gone crazy with the Christmas tie-in. There are so many of the same sort of movies that they are like bumper cars ramming each other out of the way to grab an audience.

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  2. Paddy Lee, I enjoyed reading your fine review of a Christmas movie that I have never seen. I would like to view this curio when I get a chance.

    I've enjoyed reading your takes on Joan "The Great" Blondell. She has been a favorite of mine since I first remember seeing her on the WREC-TV Channel 3 Early Movie in BULLETS OR BALLOTS(1936) back in the 1960's.

    I wish you and your family A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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    1. Sincere Merry Christmas wishes to you and yours, Walter. Thank you so much for stopping by. It's funny how we remember the first time we saw some of these special actors. May the New Year bring happiness and health to us all.

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  3. VIRGINIA FIELD was once married to PAUL DOUGLAS. I remember that you like EXECUTIVE SUITE. I also saw Paul in A LETTER TO THREE WIVES(with another Douglas-KIRK-no relation) and THE MATING GAME with DEBBIE REYNOLDS and TONY RANDALL. Paul played himself where LUCY RICARDO gets a job on his show on one of those hour-long eps that LUCY & DESI did. At the time of his passing in 1959 Paul was married to JAN STERLING. They married in 1950. According to imdb he had two children, one with Virginia and one with Jan. Paul was married 5 times altogether.

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    1. I find Virginia Field to be a very interesting actress. I appreciate her, the more I see her. I hadn't realized she was one of Paul Douglas's wives. I can't imagine getting married over and over again. I guess he kept going until he got it right.

      Merry Christmas!

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  4. Whee! Happily, there is a version of this on YouTube which isn't half bad. I've bookmarked it to watch later. Thanks in advance for the introduction.

    Also: Warmest season's greetings to you and your family. I hope this season brings you love, laughter and wonderful memories.

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    1. Ruth, may all of the things that make beautiful memories be yours. I hope you get the chance to slow down and take it easy as we rush headlong into 2020. Thanks for all wonderfulness (is that a word?) that you bring to our classic movie universe.

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  5. If you go to bat often enough, youre bound to get a hit-that's what PAUL DOUGLAS said about marrying his fifth wife JAN STERLING. Like I mentioned Paul was in THE MATING GAME(his last movie). Jan was in THE MATING SEASON with THELMA RITTER.

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    1. I had forgotten Jan Sterling was in The Mating Season. I haven't seen either of those "Mating" movies in quite a while. Thanks for reminding me.

      All the best to you this Christmas and good wishes for a wonderful new year.

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  6. MERRY CHRISTMAS and good wishes to you too! Speaking of Lucy earlier VIRGINIA FIELD was in DANCE, GIRL, DANCE with LUCILLE BALL and MAUREEN OHARA. Lucy was a blonde then. I saw it on AMC in the late 80s. Virginia was married 3 times. She was still married to her third husband at the time of her passing in 1992. He was actor WILLARD PARKER. I don't think that I am familiar with his work. I remember that you said you saw KISS ME KATE. He was in that and also he did some western movies and shows.

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    1. I am familiar with Willard Parker from a lot of westerns. He and Virginia would have made quite the attractive couple.

      If you get TCM, Virginia shows up in another 1947 movie on December 28th at midnight and again on the morning of the 29th when they air Repeat Performance on Noir Alley.

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  7. VIRGINIA and WILLARD married on OCT. 12, 1951, three days before I LOVE LUCY premiered. They were married a little more than 40 years. According in imdb Virginia did 6 eps of PERRY MASON.

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    1. I enjoy seeing Virginia on Perry Mason and would be hard-pressed to choose a favourite episode. It might be The Case of the Simple Simon because Tom Conway is also in it (see Repeat Performance).

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  8. What are your favorite CHRISTMAS movies? Also what about the animated specials?

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    1. Favourites, eh? Scrooge, 1951, Holiday Inn, It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Remember the Night, The Holly and the Ivy, Miracle on 34th Street, 1947, The Bishop's Wife, plus oddballs like We're No Angels, 1955, The Curse of the Cat People, Lady on a Train, and Kathy O'.

      I'm as nostalgic as the next guy about the animated TV specials, but topping the list are A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

      Are there special Christmas movies in your traditions?

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  9. This is an odd little Christmas movie, with its 3 intertwined but not interacting plots; but Hollywood had a habit of making odd little holiday movies that were distinctly low-budget. There's Beyond Tomorrow, in which C. Aubrey Smith, Harry Carey, and Charles Winninger help a young couple at Christmas and then, after the 3 of them die in an accident, continue to help the pair from the afterlife. Even odder is The Great Rupert, which stars Jimmy Durante and a dancing squirrel at Christmas time. Ah, now THOSE were Christmas movies!

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    1. Indeed. "Odd" is sprinkled throughout because it fits, but the cast and the nostalgia I have for the strange little feature endears it to me.
      Don't get me started on Beyond Tomorrow! Okay, you did: https://www.caftanwoman.com/2013/12/christmas-movie-blogathon-beyond.html

      Merry Christmas!

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  10. I enjoyed your article. Thank you. Christmas Eve (1947) and A Christmas Carol (1951) are among my traditional viewing every Christmas Eve.
    MERRY CHRISTMAS! ��

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    1. I'm glad to hear that this strangely endearing and goofy movie is part of your tradition alongside a genuine classic.

      Thanks for coming by. I must add you to my blog list. I sometimes miss so much that is worthwhile out there.

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  11. When I was a kid I watched these animated specials on CBS every year-A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER and FROSTY THE SNOWMAN. My favorites are Rudolph and The Grinch. I also like Frosty a lot.

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    1. It is comforting to return these favourites during the holidays.

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  12. This is another one I haven't seen in a long time! Imagine what it must have been like for Joan's character to raise young versions of George Raft, George Brent, and Randolph Scott? Like you, I'd love to see more holiday movies like this as opposed to the very familiar ones each year (besides, I own copies of most of those familiar ones).

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    1. TCM has done a good job of digging up some treasures, but I won't be able to give them a hearty slap on the back until they bring us Kathy O'!

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  13. JERRY HERMAN, composer and lyricist, died on Dec. 26, 2019 at the age of 88. His BROADWAY productions include HELLO, DOLLY. Also two with ANGELA LANSBURY, MAME and DEAR HEART. Have you seen anyone do those three musicals in person-even a local production? I bet you probably have some of the cast albums. I cant remember if you mentioned it before.

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    1. It was sad to hear of Jerry Herman's passing. I grew up loving his music. He means show tunes to me.

      My husband and I started dating while appearing in a community theatre production of Hello, Dolly. I was Ermengarde, Horace's niece.

      Angela Lansbury appeared in Mame in Toronto back in the 1970s. I think the other Herman show is Dear World.

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  14. Besides JOAN BLONDELL, BEA BENADERET and GALE GORDON were also born in 1906. Bea, whose passing was in 1968, did an ep of I LOVE LUCY. Of course, GALE worked with Lucy on all her TV shows. Besides being a regular on THE LUCY SHOW, HERES LUCY, and LIFE WITH LUCY he guest-starred on I LOVE LUCY and the hour-long one of LUCY & DESI. His passing was in 1995. As you mentioned one time JOAN worked with Lucy on some eps of THE LUCY SHOW. Sadly, CHRISTMAS DAY was the 40th anniversary of the passing of Joan Blondell. Just think how much laughter these three-Bea, Gale and Joan- gave millions of people! And of course Lucy did too!

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    1. Truly, we are indebted to these performers. Gale Gordon also worked on Our Miss Brooks, which was a Desilu production. Lucy and Eve Arden met back in their days at RKO and made a wonderful team in Stage Door.

      Bea Benadaret was without peer. What a marvelous actress!

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