Daily Archives: December 24, 2006

Rated Xmas

Happy Winter Solstice Everyone! That’s the time of year our Pagan Foremothers set aside to deal with seasonal depression. Throwing a dinner party and exchanging gifts with friends is a perfect way to chase away the blues. And so is a nice phallic symbol — like a fir tree decorated with sparkling baubles. No wonder those pushy Christians decided to co-opt it –ignoring the fact that the itinerant rabbi they cliam to be the “Son of God” made his debut sometime late July or early August.

So

“Deck US ALL with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-garoo!

Don’t we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby Lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don’t love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!”

then settle back to watch a nice movie before the tryptophane really kicks in.

Up until about ten years ago this meant It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra’s cautionary tale of the undoubted allure of suicidal self-pity. Now, however Ol’ Shep’s lovely A Christmas Story has taken the place of honor. Yes Little Ralphie, the Old Man and all the kids are a delight. But for some of us enough’s enough. So in that spirit I’d like to make 10 suggestions. Some of them are available on homevideo and some are not. So this is being done in the hope that some DVD concern or other will get up off its lazy butt and oblige us all.

10. The Prodigal

Nothing better represents the season than Lana Turner as High Priestess of the Goddess Astarte. Resplendent in an outfit that resembles an Earl Carroll wet dream Lana drives Edmund Purdon wild. But according to my friend Hank Moonjean it was the other way around. And “not in a good way”, either.

Hank, who in his long and illustrious career produced everything from Stroker Ace to Dangerous Liasons, was working as an all-purpose a.d. at Metro when he got a call to report to The Prodigal set to replace an ailing assistant. It was an “intimate scene” they were shooting that day, with Purdom lounging on a divan and Lana — complete with High Pristess headdress — hovering above him and moving in for “the kill.” All of a sudden her voice rang out “The Englishman’s got a hard-on — I’m leaving!” And with that all five feet nothing of Metro’s “Sweater Girl” stomped off to her dressing room. Hank was implored to go and get her to come back. So he went, knocked on the dressing room door and said “Miss Turner, they’re waiting for you,” to which she replied “TELL THEM TO GO FUCK THEMSELEVES!” Hank dutifully reported back and was told to try again — getting the same response from Lana. He was told to go back yet again — and as he later learned this was done in order to indicate in that day’s shooting report that Miss Turner had been “uncooperative” despite numerous entreaties. So Hank knocked at Lana’s door yet again. This time she opened it. The goddess stood there wearing the Capri pants she’d arrived on set in and her costume top and headdres — both of which she was abotu to exchange for street clothes. “Tell me,” the goddess asked Hank,” you got any family?” “Well . . .a sister,” Hank replied. “WELL THE TELL HER TO GO FUCK HERSELF!!”

Ah for the Golden Age . . .

9. The Victors

Written and directed by Carl Foreman, this all-star World War II saga was withdrawn and re-edited by the studio shortly after its release, its original version never to be seen again. Reviewers expressed sock at its harsh view of a presumed to be “popular” war, especially for a scene in which a deserter faces a firisng squad while the voice of Frank Sinatra can be heard on G.I. radio singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

That’s the Christmas spirit alright!

8. Remember the Night

Preston Sturges wrote and Mitchell Leisen directed this comedy-drama (with a lot more of the latter than the former) about a soft-hearted D.A.who brings a pickpocket home for the holidays. With Fred MacMurray as the D.A. and Barbrara Stanwyck as the thief this is in many ways a “preview of coming attractions” for their classic pairing in Double Indemnity./A> This time, however, there’s a happy ending. A sweet film in many ways, but with a lovely undertone of grimness and defeat.

7. Mr. Arkadin

Orson Welles was deprived of the opportunity to properly edit this brilliant variation on The Third Man, with a little bit of Citizen Kane thrown in for spice. Most versions have as their narrative center Robert Arden’s Van Stratten visiting Akim Tamiroff as Jakob Zouk, an old compatriot of the Onassis-like billionaire playboy Gregory Arkadin (Welles) on Christmas Eve. Promising to give the grifter the information he’s looking for (Arkadin has hired Van Stratten to investigate his life — the better to kill off everyone who knew him in the old days) Zouk demands “a goose liver, with apples” for his Christmas dinner. The meal is delivered but Arkadin makes sure it’s never eaten. Yummy!

6. The Apartment

Nothing says “Christmas” like lonely Jack Lemmon finding an even lonelier Shirley MacLaine in his apartment. And how does he find her? Splayed across his bed at death’s door from a suicide attempt. Tis the season!

5. Lady in the Lake

Robert Montgomery’s deliciously amusing all-subjective-POV rendition of Raymond Chandler’s classic has been criticized by the literal-minded for the fact that the only time we get to see our detective hero is when he looks at himself into the mirror. Less mentioned is the fact that this murder thriller takes place at Christmas. The credits even have a Chirstmas theme with typical holiday illustrations and cheery carols — in preparation for the murder to come . Fun, fun, fun!

4. Gremlins

Why did this Joe Dante gem premiere in the summer? Perhaps because its vision of Christmas mayhem — little beasties from who knows where running amok in a small town deliberately evocative of It’s a Wonderful Life — was “too much” for the Holidays. It’s greatest scene — Phoebe Cates recounting of the death of her father — was too much for the suits at Warner Bros. who wanted to cut it. But to the everlasting credit of executive producer Steve Spielberg, the scene stayed in. It’s the cherry on top of a perfect film whose tone is set from nanosecond one as Darlene Love’s “Christmas Baby Please Come Home” blasts forth on the soundtrack.

3. The Gospel According to Matthew

OK, OK, OK! You want to “put Christ back in Christmas”? Fine. And the man for the job is everybody’s favorite gay Marxist atheist, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Look closely and you’ll see his inamorata Ninetto Davoli in a walk-on. So much better than Mel Gibsons NASCAR Jesus I don’t know where to begin.

2. Brazil

Santa makes a “very special appearance” in the climax of the complete version of this Christmas classic — more timely than ever what with terrorist bombings so much in the news.
Go to “Information Retrieval” and score yourself a copy.

And don’t let them send you to “Information Adjustments,” either!

1. Christmas Holiday

The greatest of all Christmas movies stars Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly. Sound sticky sweet, doesn’t it. Well it was directed by Robert Siodmak (the same year the great dark master helmed The Suspect , Phantom Lady, and the immortal Cobra Woman from a script by Herman J Mankiewicz (perhaps your familiar with a little programmer he once wrote for Orson Welles) adapted from a W. Somerset Maugham story. Set in New Orleans it finds Universal’s loveliest child star now facing adulthood as never before. Found in a “road house” (ie. brothel ) she sings though barely moving lips a lovely song written by the great Frank Loesser especially for this picture:

“Spring will be a little late this year
A little late arriving
in my lonely world over here
For you have left me,
and where is our April of old?
You have left me,
and winter continues cold,
As if to say Spring will be
a little slow to start,
A little slow reviving
the music it made in my heart.
Yes, time heals all things,
so I needn’t cling to fear,
It’s merely that Spring will be
a little late this year.”

As we learn in flashback, Deanna was once happily married to Gene. Then she discovered he was a “mother-fixated” (ie. queer) congenital liar, petty thief, and (you just knew this was coming) homicidal maniac. In the film’s grand finale he returns in order to murder her. But the cops step in and mow him down in a hail of gunfire — and he dies in her arms.

Delightful. Too bad you can only get it on a Region 2.

So in conclusion — take it away Darlene!

Christmas
The snow’s coming down
Christmas
I’m watching it fall
Christmas
Lots of people around
Christmas
Baby please come home
Christmas
The church bells in town
Christmas
All ringing in song
Christmas
Full of happy sounds
Christmas
Baby please come home
They’re singing “Deck The Halls”
But it’s not like Christmas at all
‘Cause I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year
Christmas
Pretty lights on the tree
Christmas
I’m watching them shine
Christmas
You should be here with me
Christmas
Baby please come home
If there was a way
Christmas
I’d hold back this tear
Christmas
But it’s Christmas day
Please
Please
Please
Please
Baby please come home
Baby please come home
Baby please come home
Baby please come home!”