Rob Edelman: Holiday Cheer

Dec 3, 2012

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET. A CHRISTMAS CAROL (the 1938 and 1951 versions). CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT. THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER. THE BISHOP’S WIFE. A CHRISTMAS STORY. These are among the holiday perennials: the movies that we savor watching and enjoying, the films that are the equivalent of a warm fire on a cold night and the automatic smile that comes when you are handed a steaming cup of hot apple cider.

Well, there are other exceptional entertainments that surely will make you smile, sometimes broadly and other times wistfully, as you celebrate the season. One film that I constantly and proudly cite as a guilty pleasure is LOVE ACTUALLY, which was released in 2003. LOVE ACTUALLY is set in London, one of my favorite places in the world. Its scenario unfolds during the holiday season, and it charts the connections between a range of individuals who are in love or are looking for love. And the love is not just of the let’s-get-married or let’s-hop-into-bed variety. It may be between friends or colleagues or children. 

LOVE ACTUALLY also offers an uplifting take on our post-9/11 world, without glossing over the enduring tragedy of the day. In this regard, the film opens with what for my money is one of the most genuinely heart-tugging sequences in recent cinema.

One holiday song that has endured for decades is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which has been recorded by everyone from Frank Sinatra to James Taylor, Ella Fitzgerald to Christina Aguilera. How many know that the song was introduced by Judy Garland in MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS, the 1944 MGM musical? And if you ponder its lyrics, it is clear that the song pointedly reflects the era.

Back in 1944, of course, the U.S. had been involved in World War II for three long, hard years. Americans were war-weary. Surely, everyone knew someone who was in the military, battling the enemy and perhaps fated to make the supreme sacrifice. And the song’s lyrics, which include “From now on, our troubles will be miles away” and “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow,” clearly mirror the hope for a successful end to the war-- and a lasting peace.

Finally, I recently came upon a DVD which includes dramatic appearances by two extraordinary British actors from other eras. Both were broadcast on CAMERA THREE, a long-running CBS television series which spotlighted the fine arts. The first, which dates from 1958, explores the early writings of Charles Dickens and features Alan Bates, then on the cusp of stardom, playing Dickens. The only holiday connection here is that Dickens was to eventually pen A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

But in relation to the season, the second program is special. It aired in 1961 and centers on Richard Burton, who then was appearing on Broadway in CAMELOT, the Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe musical. Here, Burton reminisces about his friendship with Dylan Thomas, the Welsh writer and poet. Burton offers his impressions of Thomas, walks the streets of New York during Christmastime, and ends up at one of the writer’s favorite watering holes: the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village. At the White Horse, Burton orders a beer and reads “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” one of Thomas’s enduring works.

It is a pleasure to yet again hear Burton’s distinctive voice, particularly as he recites Thomas’s wonderfully nostalgic story.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of  Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

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