Movie Review: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, 1993

Top Christmas Movie of All-Time


THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, 1993
Movie Reviews

Directed by Henry Selick
Starring: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Paul Reubens
Review by Jane Hopkins

SYNOPSIS:

Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is bored with doing the same thing every year for Halloween. One day he stumbles into Christmas Town, and is so taken with the idea of Christmas that he tries to get the resident bats, ghouls, and goblins of Halloween town to help him put on Christmas instead of Halloween — but alas, they can’t get it quite right.

OSCAR nominee for Best Visual Effects

REVIEW:

The first feature-length stop-motion film, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was a breakthrough when it was first released. Since then, it has been followed by other successful movies using the stop-motion technique, such as “Corpse Bride” and “Coraline.” With newer technology on their side, these more recent films feature even smoother, more lifelike movements than those in “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” However, even if its animation is not quite as advanced as the films that followed it, “Nightmare” still stands out with its meaningful story, memorable characters and gorgeous music.

Based on Tim Burton’s book, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” tells the story of Jack Skellington, the adored king of Halloweentown. But Jack has grown tired of frightening people, and thinks there must be something better than spending all year planning the next All Hallow’s Eve. When Jack accidentally stumbles upon a jolly new holiday, he decides to replace this “Sandy Claws” fellow and run things himself. Unfortunately, the world may not be ready for Jack’s brand of Christmas cheer…

Burton’s story is obviously an homage to Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” but the two stories are very different. True, they both revolve around the idea of hijacking Christmas, but unlike the Grinch, Jack Skellington is a gentle soul from the get-go. He doesn’t want to ruin Christmas; he just wants to become part of something that has made him feel alive again. The tragedy is that he nearly winds up destroying it – and himself – in the process. Burton takes Seuss’ classic tale and twists it, changing a tale of redemption into one of longing. ”

With the current popularity of CGI, stop-motion animation is an overlooked technique. To be sure, it is more time-consuming and less fluid than computer animation, but that doesn’t necessarily make it inferior. In fact, there is a whole different level of care and artistry that goes into stop-motion animation. Basically, when you have to move a puppet’s arm in twenty-four tiny increments just to equal one second of footage in a ninety-minute film, there just isn’t room for shortcuts. There is devotion in every frame of this remarkable film, and it all amounts to a visually enthralling experience.

While it is certainly possible to connect with computer-animated characters – as Pixar has shown time and time again – there is something to be said for the use of puppets. These complex models, built around flexible steel armatures and fitted with a range of expressive faces, have a presence to which pixels cannot compare. Although there’s a bit of jerkiness to the characters’ movements, that just reminds us that they’re physically there. It doesn’t take long before we buy the creatures of “Nightmare” as living, breathing beings – and considering our hero is a skeleton, that’s really saying something.

“The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a twist on the Disney musicals of the 90’s, with ten songs provided by composer and former Oingo Boingo front man Danny Elfman. These songs, with their clever lyrics and hummable tunes, perfectly capture the overall tone of the film: a brilliant balance between exuberance and melancholy. Elfman even sings the part of Jack Skellington, and his beautiful voice should be a pleasant surprise for those unaware of it. The score is just as fitting as the songs. By turns exhilarating and brooding, it keeps the storybook atmosphere alive.

The voice acting in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is marvelous all around. Catherine O’Hara takes on two roles, playing the wistful heroine Sally and the scheming witch-girl Shock. There are other Burton regulars in the cast: Beetlejuice’s Glenn Shadix plays the very literally two-faced mayor of Halloweentown, while Paul Reubens (a.k.a. Pee-Wee Herman) lends his familiar voice to puckish trick-or-treater Lock. As the speaking voice of Jack Skellington, Chris Sarandon really doesn’t get enough credit. Although it’s a real treat to hear Danny Elfman sing Jack’s songs, most of the character’s real warmth and nobility comes from Sarandon’s thoroughly likable take on the character. Rounding out the cast are Broadway’s Ken Page as the villainous Oogie Boogie and Edward Ivory as an understandably incensed Santa Claus.

The design of this film remains very faithful to the illustrations in Tim Burton’s book, down to the stunning Spiral Hill. The dreary, angular Halloweentown is, as others have noted, a wonderful nod to the dreamlike landscapes of German expressionism. By contrast, with its rounded shapes and bright colours, Christmastown is the perfect glittering confection to chase Jack’s gloom away. Our hero’s first glimpse of it is ours as well, and after the shadows of Halloweentown, this new world is truly dazzling. Yet, by the end of the film, it’s interesting to note how much more appealing Jack’s hometown really is. Although not nearly as colourful as Christmastown, Halloweentown’s residents have cheer to spare, and frankly, it just looks like a more interesting place to live. The brighter world proves a good place to visit, but the enchantment doesn’t last forever. Jack eventually realizes to which world he truly belongs, and it makes sense when he returns to his old home.

What makes this film so powerful is that it can appeal to kids and adults alike. While classified as a “children’s film,” the plot and characters still resonate profoundly with mature viewers. At the heart of all the spookiness lies a very human problem: Jack Skellington is questioning his purpose in life. After years of admiration and success, he can no longer remember what made him love his job in the first place. He craves something new to inspire him, and when he finds it, he thinks his problems are solved. Yet although he’s excited at the novelty of his new discovery, it still can’t truly fulfill him. These are concepts that become all the more meaningful with time, so although kids understand this film, the core issues have an even deeper impact on the adults in the audience.

Sixteen years after its release, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” has acquired a kind of cult status. In 2006, just in time for Halloween, it received a 3-D upgrade for a brief theatrical re-release, which has since become an almost annual deal. From more recent cameos in the “Kingdom Hearts” video games to his constant presence in “Hot Topic,” it seems Jack Skellington’s popularity has only increased. His quest for a purpose still inspires old and new fans alike, guiding them through a rewarding journey of discovery. And in “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” there is so much to see and hear along the way.

As a side note: Contrary to popular belief, Henry Selick directed “Nightmare,” not Tim Burton. One of the most frustrating things about this misconception is that advertisers use it to their advantage. Some of Selick’s subsequent films, such as “Monkeybone” and the superb “Coraline,” are credited in ads to “the director of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’” Given the title “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the confusion is understandable. However, because of the general belief that Burton directed “Nightmare,” Selick sometimes seems to miss out on the recognition he deserves. He is a highly imaginative filmmaker in his own right, and it would be a shame to overlook him because of some tricky advertising.

 

 

 

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Movie Review: SANTA CLAUS, 1985

Top Christmas Movie of All-Time

SANTA CLAUSTHE SANTA CLAUS, 1985
Movie Reviews

Directed by Jeannot Szwarc.

Starring: Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston, Burgess Meredith, Judy Cornwell, Jeffrey Kramer
Review by Russell Hill

SYNOPSIS:

The first half of this film, set hundreds of years ago, shows how the old man who eventually became Santa Claus was given immortality and chosen to deliver toys to all the children of the world. The second half moves into the modern era, in which Patch, the inventing elf, strikes out on his own and falls in with an evil toy manufacturer who wants to corner the market and eliminate Santa Claus.

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REVIEW:

Oh how I used to watch this movie when I was a child. Viewed on what seems like a hundred occasions since I was old enough to open my eyes, this movie just gets better after every viewing.

Santa (Huddleston) has been Saint Nick for some time now. Working alongside his happy elves ever since he landed the gig many centuries ago, Santa sets a challenge to his helpers to create a new production line technique to make the toys. The winner of this challenge is Patch (Moore) and soon he is in his element. However, after several disastrous mistakes which led to him being fired from the position, he leaves the North Pole for the world of humans where he strikes up a friendship with disgraced commercial toy maker BZ (Lithgow). Will their new relationship work? Or will Patch return to the North Pole and rejoin the land he belongs in?

Dudley Moore has always been a firm personal favourite. Although this was the first film I saw him appear in, viewings of “Arthur” have always been in constant stream on the DVD player, as have his “Derek and Clive” albums on my CD player. The man was downright, bona fide genius and for a gentleman to pass away at the ridiculously young age of 66 was a sad matter for everyone across the world. But, as demonstrated in this movie, we have evidence of a man in his prime when he played the role of Patch with such conviction that you really could believe Mr Moore’s real job was working with Santa and the other elves.

Over the years, the role of Santa has been played by many gentlemen. But here, in this very movie, David Huddleston certainly epitomises the look of Saint Nick with his larger-than-life personality and large belly which probably did shake like a bowl full of jelly. His devotion and admiration to Mrs Claus as well as providing the best possible presents to the millions of children who look towards him with such love and affection is remarkable, and a perfect example to every department store Santa and actor who wishes to hone their craft.

Looking back on matters, I am surprised to have initially watched this movie because of its director and what he has been responsible for previously directing. “Jaws 2” should never have been made, and “Supergirl” was okay in parts but completely detrimental to the memory of Christopher Reeve, but here Szwarc does a pretty damn fine job. Making the world believe a woman could fly was something he did not achieve, but here making children believe in Santa even more was quite something. There are no CGI effects here, but ones similar to what Donner used in the first Superman film in 1978. I must admit that they are not quite up to scratch of what we expect from contemporary cinema, but the efforts displayed here are far more effective and realistic; that successful you could be forgiven for thinking this action to be real rather than the “Video Game” effect which seems to be sloppily used nowadays.

I count my blessings that my modern-day thoughts of Szwarc did not deter me from watching this movie over the years. Every director makes one bad flick or two, and here this movie can not be counted amongst this cinematic group as it really is a classic.

 

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Movie Review: MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, 1947

Top Christmas Movie of All-Time

MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, 1947
Movie Review
Directed by George Seaton
Starring: Maureen O’Hara; John Payne; Edmund Gwenn
Review by Tom Coatsworth

SYNOPSIS:

When a nice old man who claims to be Santa Claus is institutionalized as insane, a young lawyer decides to defend him by arguing in court that he is the real thing.

REVIEW:

This movie was made with great care. It tells in the writing — which won it’s director an Academy Award. It tells in the casting — there is not one performance that seems at odds with the whole. There is not one extra who doesn’t fit perfectly into the overall work. The photography is beautiful. The direction is confident and invisible.

Kris Kringle is alive and well and roaming the streets of Manhattan. The beginning of the film follows a man in a fedora and overcoat in a montage of shots that have a documentary feel to them. When he finally stops at a shop the window-dresser does a double-take. One simple close-up later and we can understand why — it is Santa Claus, there can be no doubt. Or rather it is Edmund Gwenn as Santa in his Oscar nominated role. He’s enjoying the winter day and taking in the Macy’s Christmas Parade. The streets are lined with children. All’s right with the world until he has a run in with a float Santa who’s been imbibing. He insists on seeing the parade manager, Doris Walker (O’Hara). She’s a clear-eyed technocrat but she knows talent when she sees it. She convinces Kringle to replace the drunk Santa. He’s such a hit with the kids the store decides to keep him on as their resident Claus.

Back on the home front Doris is a single Mom. Her daughter Susan (a young Natalie Wood) is watching the parade from the apartment window of a neighbour, Fred Gailey (John Payne). The two have hatched a plot to get Fred invited to Christmas dinner — well, it’s Maureen O’Hara, so half the eligible men in the city are hatching plots. But Fred’s a handsome, gentlemen lawyer and Doris views the see-through ruse with a smile and she consents. They have differing world views, however. She is a hard-core realist: she won’t tell her daughter fairy tales or myths such as Santa Claus. Fred on the other hand is a bit of a dreamer. When he escorts Susan to Macy’s to see her Mother the following day they stop to see Santa (Kringle). This won’t fly with Doris and she tells him so.

Meanwhile a nasty personnel manager, Sawyer (Porter Hall) is trying to have Santa sacked: if the man claims he’s Claus then he must be a nut and possibly violent. Kris in turn is oblivious to store policy — when a customer chides him for promising an out-of-stock toy to a child he tells the woman exactly where in town to find it. Macy higher-ups bristle until the gesture spirals into a good will bonanza. Suddenly Macy’s is the store that puts customers above commercialism. Kringle’s winning streak ends, however, when he learns Sawyer has been feeding a young protege with negative psycho-babble. He cracks Sawyer on the noggin with his cane and Sawyer has him committed. R.H. Macy sees a public relations nightmare and orders Sawyer to spring Kris. But the State is involved now and a hearing is set. Fred quits his job at the firm and represents Kringle. This flies in the face of all reason and Doris breaks up with him. Fred retorts that it is the intangibles: the things you can’t see — love, hope and faith — that make life worthwhile.

Kringle’s magic is beginning to work on Susan. She’s starting to believe in him (and so is her Mother). Before the hearing she writes him a letter of support. Her Christmas wish has been a home on Long Island — she’s given Kris a picture and it’s a tall order but he’s promised to try.

She addresses her letter to the court house. The Post Office, in a humerous mood, sends all the letters addressed to Santa to the court house — mountains of them. This is the proof Gailey needs and the judge and prosecutor are happy to drop the case. Everyone is either relieved or elated, and Fred and Doris reunite.

After a Christmas party the following day Susan sees the house she’s dreamed of — she has them stop the car and she rushes inside. The house is for sale. It seems a childish dream until they see a familiar cane leaning in a corner. Was it Santa? Or just a nice old man? The script walks a thoughtful line; but jaded Academy members weren’t taking any chances — they gave Gwenn the Oscar.

 

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Movie Review: A CHRISTMAS STORY, 1983

Top Christmas Movie of All-Time

A CHRISTMAS STORY,   MOVIE POSTERA CHRISTMAS STORY, 1983
Movie Reviews

Directed by Bob Clark

Starring Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin and Zack Ward
Review by Andrew Kosarko

SYNOPSIS:

This vignette-laden, nostalgic view of Christmastime in 1940s Indiana follows nine-year-old Ralphie, who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas–and is waging an all-out campaign to convince his reluctant parents that the toy will be safe in his hands. By turns warped and winsome, the comedy follows Ralphie as he prepares for the big day with his rather idiosyncratic family. Based on the novel by humorist Jean Shepherd, who also narrates the film.

REVIEW:

A Classic.” “The timeless story of Christmas” “Child hood Favorite” ….but to this reviewer? A tad bit overrated. Yes, that’s right I said it. I watched this film on December 5th, not the all day Christmas Eve marathon like many of you. And maybe the farther away I get from the holiday the more unbias I am to the flaws of the movie. Maybe as I grow into an adult or become more experienced as a film maker I lose touch with being part of the audience. Or maybe I’ve just seen this movie one too many times. Either way – the film is far from being technically perfect.

The Story: A “single” story from a collection of short stories that Jean Shepherd wrote for – get this; Playboy magazine. Who would have knew eh? Anyway, my problems from the structure come out of the fact that it’s pretty scatter brained. It’s episodic and tangential 99% of the time. Which may make it a horrible film, but it makes for great TV viewing – act breaks that really don’t matter and things happen that never really have anything to do with the overall story. It’s basically a short film’s plot littered with little “slices of life” to fill the cracks. And yes, there are some interesting characters that really ride the waves and keep us watching. For me, it’s really Ralphie and his father. Randy and the mother annoy the living Christmas out of me. All the other characters are pretty flat and one dimensioned. And the narrating is really the only thing pulling it all together.

Acting: You may not have noticed it, but I did. The narration not only holds the story together but it hides a lot of the bad acting as well. Whatever the actors can’t get across themselves is covered in VO. Not exactly strong film making to me, but I’ll live with it. It adds only to the “slice of life” of it all. Darren McGavin is the only actor to really fill his role in a way that I enjoy, and Zack Ward, aka Scott Farguson is the only actor to have moved on to a fulfilling career. Strange since he has the least amount of dialogue in the film.

Directing: Now, Bob Clark may have a story and some acting that I don’t connect with. However, he did hit the nail on the head in terms of the production value. I also give him credit for going from a film like Porky’s to a film like this. While I have problems with it, the film does have a lot of heart to it and I think that’s what rings true to everyone when they watch it.

Cinematography: This is one of the elements that really nails it’s column. The film was shot in the 80’s but set in the 40’s. It even has the grit and grain of the 40’s production value and look it all. This, combined with they 70’s overblown yellows adds a mood to the film that makes it instantly nostalgic. Even upon first viewing, you’re visually intrigued as to what your seeing.

Production Design: Same as above – this is another area that really draws you into the world. Christmas wasn’t as high tech as it is today. It was the kind of presents you really could believe that Santa could make and deliver on. Now he’d need a degree from MIT. The ancestry of the production design is the salt and pepper of the main feast of the cinematography. It really is part of what makes the movie work. And not only is it perfect, but it also did more for the novelty lamp industry than any movie in history.

Editing: Here’s a place I take issue with. The editing is part of the reason that the film is scatterbrained and episodic. Yes, I understand it all comes from the story and then most of all it’s about shooting for the edit in production, but something here is awry. Shots hold for entirely way to long and things happen in sequence that hold no connection to what we just saw a moment before. Every scene feels like a cut away that happens and ends up distracting us from the fact that most of the things we just saw remain unresolved. I guess it’s gets away with it because we just let it go since they didn’t mean much to us anyway.

Score: There’s Christmas music and also pieces from productions of Hamlet. I’d say that’s quite an ingenious combination myself. But the actual production of the Christmas music matches the time period of the film so once again, that nostalgia factor grabs at our heart strings.

Special Effects: Not applicable. At all. Unless sped up film counts. And if so, then it’s cheap.

In closing: There’s a reason most people watch this once a year on Christmas day. It’s because it pulls the nostalgia card a little too often and that’s the number one thing people are looking for on Christmas day. Mix in a bit of witty dialogue and one or two relatable characters in situations that have no plot meaning but are all too familiar and you have a classic. I’ll still watch the film on Christmas as I’m not special from that day and the love of this movie, but this isn’t a movie I can watch the day after thanksgiving and get all Christmasy because of it. I’ll save that for a few other films that were better achieved.

 

 

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Movie Review: THE REF, 1994

Top Christmas Movie of All-Time

The Ref, 1994
Classic Movie Reviews
Directed by Ted Demme
Starring: Dennis Leary, Kevin Spacey, and Judy Davis
Review by Carey Lewis

Synopsis:

A cat burglar is forced to take a bickering, dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve.

Review:

Christmas brings out the craziness in everyone as the holiday season becomes more and more festive. There are great family movies to watch during this time that will put you into the yuletide spirit, such as A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street. However, I’ve always been the type to go against the grain, for better or worse, and I quite enjoy my counter-culture programming. The Ref isn’t as counter-culture as say, Black Christmas (one of the all time best horror movies), but it’s not a movie that you can sit down and watch with young children.

The movie starts with Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis respectfully) at a marriage counseling session. Right away from the language that’s used, and the timing, and the vulgarity, you can tell this is a different kind of Christmas movie. It’s pretty clear that their marriage is on shaky ground.

Meanwhile Gus (Dennis Leary) is robbing a rich home. After the botched attempt, his partner, Murray (Richard Bright) fleas the scene, leaving Gus to fend for himself in this upscale Connecticut town. Gus ends up taking Lloyd and Caroline hostage.

The comedy starts right away as Lloyd and Caroline can’t help but bicker with each other, even when being held at gunpoint. Gus is forced to wait at the house until his partner can find and steal a boat, as all the roads are blocked off as the cops scour the town for the robber. But it’s not going to be that easy…

The Chasseur’s son, Jesse (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.) comes home from Military School, where he’s been sent for being an unruly child, and has been blackmailing one of his teachers. Not only that, but Lloyd’s brother and his family are coming to dinner, along with his despicable mother. To get through this mess, Gus pretends to be the marriage counselor, Dr. Wong. How Leary explains his name to the mother is an example of one of the many great dialogue exchanges through this film:

Mother: Your name is Wong?
Gus: My Mother was Irish.
Mother: And your Father?
Gus: Wasn’t.

During this night, Caroline decides she wants a divorce and gets a little drunk, and the gloves really come off. Gus won’t let Caroline and Lloyd be in separate rooms from him, so they’re forced to confront each other and talk. Or maybe yell. It’s a bit of both. Because they have no escape they’re forced to finally communicate. And communicate they do; and the whole family gets in on it. Gus, who’s the criminal, actually has it together more than anyone else in the room.

The way the family members face each other and stop “acting” in front of each other is hilarious. No subject is taboo, and everyone finally learns how they’re really thought of, and how they feel about the others.

Ted Demme does a great job walking the tightrope in this comedy. Everyone is hilarious, but he manages to keep it from going over the top and becoming a comical farce. Certain elements to the plot are setup, but don’t seem like a setup because they’re funny, which is very important. In too many movies, there’s something near the beginning that happens that you know will come back later to tie the story up, because it seemed to serve no purpose. Well, the setups in The Ref, you think are there because they’re funny, so there’s a satisfaction that comes when you realize later that it was a setup for a payoff later in the film.

Demme also does a great job setting up the differences between the class system which exists in the world, and he manages to do this without being heavy handed about it.

The script by Richard LaGravenese and Marie Weiss is comic gold in the hands of the fine actors in this film. Every character is defined and not alike another in the film. I’m sure most people will recognize some elements of every character in their own family, which is another reason this film is so great. Everyone knows people like these, and chances are, you’re related to some of them!

The Cinematography by Adam Kimmel is always warm, which is important for a film like this. Many people won’t realize this, but the look of this film is part of its heart. The warmness of the picture is the reason why we can find humor in this family’s misery, and why we know things will be better in the end. If it had been cold, or desaturated, we wouldn’t want to laugh, and we’d take the movie in a much more serious tone. There’s nothing flashy about the photography, which is good for this movie.

And then of course there’s the cast, which really makes this picture work. Every character gets to spit out some fantastic dialogue, but they also get their serious moments too. Leary does a great job of restraining himself (if you’ve ever seen his stand-up you’ll know what I mean), but Demme gives him enough room to let fly at the right moments. In this film, before Kevin Spacey was THE Kevin Spacey, you’ll see that he had great acting ability all along. His timing is impeccable and his line delivery is nothing short of perfect. Davis is also great as the hurting wife who feels cornered, who has more than a few jabs to lash out, but also does a fantastic job of exposing her inner turmoil. These three roles are really key as the film is about stripping away the facades until you get to the core of the truth.

So if you want to sit down with the family and get the warm and fuzzy feelings of Christmas, I don’t recommend this movie. But if you want an anti-Christmas movie, and ever wish of telling family members that you only see a couple of times a year what you really think of them, throw this flick into your DVD player. You won’t be disappointed, and you might find a new holiday favorite.

 

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Movie Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL, 1951

Top Christmas Movie of All-Time

A CHRISTMAS CAROL, 1951
Movie Review
Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst
Starring: Alastair Sim, Kathleen Harrison, Mervyn Johns, Francis De Wolff, Michael Dolan, Glyn Dearman, Michael Hordern, George Cole
Review by Megan Powers

SYNOPSIS:

Bitter miser Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his dead partner Jacob Marley on Christmas Eve. He’s told he’ll be visited by three more spirits in an attempt for him to changes his unfeeling ways. He is given one night to re-examine his life and redeem himself.

REVIEW:

Alastair Sim was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1900. He was an elocution and drama lecturer at Edinburgh University from 1925 until 1930. He loved the stage and made his London stage debut in Othello in 1930 and appeared for a season at the Old Vic. Sim made his film debut in 1935 and started a decade of prolific supporting actor roles. He was often stole the scene from the star. By the 1940’s, he advanced to leading roles, and became one of the most popular actors in Britain. Comedian Ronnie Corbett (of The Two Ronnie’s) described Sim as a “sad faced actor with the voice of a fastidious ghoul.” Very funny and true, Sim had a long successful career that end with his death in 1976.

Sim’s most indelible role was his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1951). This story has had many incarnations, but in my opinion this version is the best. The story is well known and has been told and retold, from Mister Magoo to The Odd Couple television show to Bill Murray in Scrooged. Why would this film be the best? Well, because it tells the story in the best way, it feel authentic and because Alastair Sim is the personification of Scrooge.

In Hollywood versions I find the lead actor’s unbelievable as the miserly Scrooge. But Sim is frightening as the bitter and emotionally bankrupt Scrooge. Scrooge’s negative energy just about leaps off the screen at you. His misery is palpable and he chooses to be this way. Every withering look and condescending tone in his voice is chillingly real.

The film opens with Peter Bull’s wonderful narration, his booming voice sets the tone letting us know we are about to be told a great story. The crisp black and white cinematography is beautiful in its depiction of England in the 1800’s. We are transported there to bear witness to the story as Scrooge will have to witness his past and present. There’s a beautiful scene of Tiny Tim looking through a toy shop window. All the toys look magical in their splendor. Tim sees a big toy sail boat taken out to be sold and we see his sad longing face. But Tim is an optimist and doesn’t dwell long on this and is soon smiling again at the bountiful toys. We watch Scrooge’s empty lonely existence turning down charity donations, eating alone, refusing his nephew’s invitation to dinner, and he notices nothing wrong with his life. A blind man’s dog drags away his master as Scrooge approaches. This scene is a wonderful example of the dread that this man carries.

Scrooge is visited by his old partner Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern) on Christmas Eve. He’s told that he’ll be visited by three more spirits to help save his soul. Scrooge remarks that Marley was a good friend and good man of business Marley laments “Business…mankind was my business.” To illustrate the point Marley shows Scrooge spirits attempting to help a woman and her child and they are unable to assist. It torments them. Scrooge looks on in horror.

Scrooge is dubious that he can be helped or that what he’s seeing is real. As Scrooge is shown by the spirit of Christmas Past we see a young Scrooge (George Cole) lonely and left behind at school. His sister comes for him explaining that their father is much kinder know. Scrooge’s mother died giving birth to him and his father had always blamed him. Scrooge truly loves his sister Fan and is devastated when she dies giving birth to her son. Scrooge reacts just as his father did and blames the child for her death. But this time he hears her final wish that he would take care of her boy. He is stricken by this revelation. “Forgive me, Fan, he cries.

Noel Langley, who also wrote the adaptation of The Wizard of Oz (1939), does a wonderful job of creating the chapters in Scrooge’s life. We see the character and the milestones in his life and how those events and his choices slowly changed his disposition. His sister’s death, his sweet-natured employer loosing his business, the insidious love of money over people leading to losing his fiancé, meeting, working with and growing deceitful together with Mr. Marley all contribute to the man we first meet and wonder how he became that man.

Sim gives a rich layered performance. We can see his cold heart slowly melt as he views his past and present. As he watches the poor Cratchit family celebrate Christmas with a robust spirit despite having little money, he is visibly ashamed of how he acted towards Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns). He begins to invest his feelings in the family, especially Tiny Tim. Once Scrooge returns from his visits and awakes in his room, he is a man possessed. He vowed to change and he’s good to his word. He has an amusing exchange with his housekeeper (Kathleen Harrison) who believes he’s gone insane since he’s never been hospitable or kind to her before. Sim displays a manic euphoria as Scrooge is grateful that the spirits have allowed him a chance to redeem himself to mankind. He is suddenly full of life and is clearly enjoying the warmth of connecting with other people. I watch this film every Christmas and have done so since I was introduced to it as a child. I continue to enjoy it and discover new nuances in Sim’s performance every time. When Scrooge changes at the end, it as if Sim’s changed every molecule in his character’s body and truly became a new man. That’s what a great actor he was. The supporting actors are all excellent. Mervyn Johns as the put upon clerk Bob Cratchit embodies the good-natured loving husband and father of the Cratchit brood. Kathleen Harrison as Scrooge’s housekeeper Mrs. Dilber is wonderfully dour. Hermione Braddeley as the feisty Mrs. Cratchit. Patrick Macnee better known for the British TV series the Avengers, is the young Jacob Marley. Ernest Thesiger from The Bride of Frankenstein makes an amusing appearance as The Undertaker. Young Scrooge is played by George Cole, who Sim later unofficially adopted to his family. They appeared together in five more films.

Charles Dicken’s message in A Christmas Carol is more relevant then it’s ever been. Mankind is our business and it’s important to practice kindness and compassion all of the days of the year and not just one. Enjoy the film!

 

 

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Movie Review: WHITE CHRISTMAS, 1954

Top Christmas Movie of All-Time

WHITE CHRISTMAS, POSTERWHITE CHRISTMAS, 1954
Movie Reviews

Directed by Michael Curtiz

Starring: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen
Review by Jayvibha Vaidya

SYNOPSIS:

Two former war buddies join showbiz forces with a pair of talented sisters to increase business for their old general’s fledgling inn during the Christmas holiday. But they’ve got their work cut out for them: no snow, no audience and no luck with romance.

NOMINATED FOR 1 OSCAR – Original Song “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep”

REVIEW:

“Where’s the snow?!”

Meeting in the army during World War II, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) is saved in battle by Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) and a friendship is born. Showcasing their singing and dancing skills, they give their beloved general, Thomas Waverly (Dean Jagger) a rousing send-off as the war comes to an end. Years later, Wallace and Davis are a successful producing team when they meet their former general again. General Waverly is a struggling inn-keeper with a heart of gold, and Wallace and Davis decide to save him from bankruptcy by throwing a Christmas show to end all shows. White Christmas was released in 1954 and was the first film produced in Paramount’s wide screen VistaVision, becoming the year’s top grossing film.

Essentially a buddy film, the story follows Bob and Phil as they bicker, entertain and support each other in their mission to save the Vermont inn. Bob is the more serious of the two, constantly putting in long hours. Phil requests Bob find a bride so he can get some “time to go out and get a massage or something.” The scene when they discuss this matter in their dressing room is shot well; they change out of their costumes, tossing hangers, shirts and matching movements in a perfectly timed scene with energy and humour. Crosby and Kaye display an ease with each other and on screen.

Phil’s wish begins to come true when they meet the Haynes Sisters, a musical act. Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera Ellen) are gorgeous, talented and sweet. Both men are instantly smitten. Grabbing the opportunity to spend more time with them, Phil sneakily maneuvers another meeting with them which lands all four of them in Vermont. A spectacular Christmas show begins to take form despite the lack of snow, people and money.

Even though it’s a holiday film, the story doesn’t focus too much on Christmas, other than some sets and costumes. Its focus lies in the romance that forms between the sisters and the gentlemen as well as the loyalty they feel toward their former general. A misunderstanding between Betty and Bob causes a rift until she realizes his true intentions. A fake engagement between Judy and Phil results in disaster until they give in to their true feelings. But the most moving storyline is definitely the one that saves the General’s inn. Combining humour, song and gorgeous costumes, the rousing final title song, “White Christmas” tugs on heart strings. A tribute to their former general and a full inn brings in business and more importantly, snow!

Costumes by the talented Edith Head are beautiful and lavish. Cinched waists, flowing skirts, titled top-hats and bright colour all add to the visual appeal of the film. Choreography is intense and Vera Ellen shines in all her numbers, showcasing her teeny-tiny waist and mile-long legs. Bing Crosby croons with ease, displaying one of the best voices to grace the silver screen. His rendition of Berlin Irving’s “White Christmas” at the beginning and end of the story make the film. His duet “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” with Rosemary Clooney is sweet and gorgeously sung. With his kind eyes and tilted hat Crosby exudes a sincerity that works for the holiday-themed film. Danny Kaye as Phil is energetic and funny. Sliding into the role at the last minute, he does well in all the musical numbers, keeping Crosby on his toes in their scenes together. Kaye is especially good at physical comedy, displaying quick reactions and energy. Rosemary Clooney is elegant and confident in every movement; a fine partner to Crosby’s Wallace.

Although the film can sometimes dip into corny territory (an unintentionally funny ode to snow on a moving train: “I want to wash my hands, my face and hair with snow!”) it’s still very entertaining. The songs are lovely; the costumes and musical numbers are bright and cheery. The last song when the entire crowd sings “White Christmas” as the stage is filled with a world of red and white is heart-warming despite being slightly cheesy. And when the snow arrives, the audience can’t help but smile.

White Christmas is a gorgeously shot and well-performed film celebrating one of the world’s most popular holidays. The songs, colour, costumes and sets all add to a festive look, celebrating some of the most loved Hollywood actors in a well-made holiday film. As the huge Christmas tree lights up on stage and General Waverly smiles, it’s a touching moment. Acts of service, contribution and compassion are highlighted in this film, making it one of the best Christmas movies to watch during the holidays.

 

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