Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Remember The Night


Premiered January 19, 1940.

Shortly before Christmas, Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) shoplifts an expensive bracelet and is subsequently arrested.  When her defense lawyer Francis X. O'Leary (Willard Robertson) suggests Lee committed the crime under hypnosis, her trial is delayed until after Christmas.

John and O'Leary face off during in court.
Prosecuting attorney John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) takes pity on Lee and doesn't want her to spend Christmas in jail.  He pays a bail bondsman named Fat Mike (Tom Kennedy) to get her out of jail for the holidays.  Fat Mike, thinking John has romantic feelings towards Lee, drops her off at Sargent's apartment.

Fat Mike takes Lee to John Sargent's apartment.  John's butler Rufus (Fred Toones) answers the door.
John is not happy about this and asks her to leave, but Lee has nowhere to go.

This is problematic, since John is getting ready to drive 750 miles to visit his mother in Wabash, Indiana.  During their dinner conversation, John learns that Lee is also from Indiana, about 50 miles away from John's mother.  They bond a bit over this and John agrees to drop her off at her mother's house and pick her up when he returns to New York.  Lee is touched by this offer and accepts it.

There trip to Indiana does not go smoothly.  Highway repairs cause them to take an alternate route and John crashes his car into a farmer's cow pasture in Pennsylvania.


They're arrested and charged with trespassing and petty larceny (for milking the farmer's cow).   While standing trial, Lee causes a diversion and they flee the state, which makes them fugitives.

When they arrive at Lee's old home, her mother (Georgia Caine) is not happy to see her.  She confronts Lee for taking money from her and never paying her back years earlier.


She wants nothing to do with Lee and reduces her daughter to tears.  John decides that he can't leave Lee there and brings her to his family home instead.

When they arrive the home  of John's mother (Beulah Bondi), her reaction is the exact opposite to Lee's mother.   Mrs. Sargent is delighted to receive an unexpected Christmas guest.  She lives in the family home with her sister (and John's aunt) Emma (Elizabeth Patterson) and Willie (Sterling Holloway), who works for them as a field hand.  


Lee joins them in their holiday preparations, stringing popcorn for the Christmas tree.

John and Lee take turns playing piano, Willie sings along with Lee's playing.  It is a wonderful Christmas celebration, Lee has never experienced anything like this.


Mrs. Sargent believes that John and Lee are in love.  John fills his mother in on Lee's legal issues.   His mother is heartbroken when she hears about this, but feels sorry for Lee.

On Christmas morning, the Sargents exchange gifts and have presents for Lee.  She is treated like a member of the family.


Over the next several days, Lee grows closer to John.  They attend a barn dance on New Year's Eve and share a "Happy New Year" kiss at midnight.  John and Lee are falling for each other.


Later that night, Mrs. Sargent has a private conversation with Lee.  She tells of how poor they were when John was growing up.  He worked early in the morning and after school, paying for his education, working extremely hard to get where he is.  Mrs. Sargent likes Lee, but fears that John would destroy everything he worked for if he falls for Lee.


Will John and Lee find a happily ever after?  Or will Lee have to face the music in prison?

J.A. Morris says:

I've been a fan of the work of director/screenwriter Preston Sturges (who wrote the script for this film) and Barbara Stanwyck for a long time.  But I hadn't seen Remember The Night until recently, since it was "out of circulation" for decades.

It's a good Christmas movie with some great holiday scenes.  John's invitation to help Lee is a wonderful Christmas gift.  There have been several Christmases in my life where my family has invited friends to spend part of Christmas with us, if they had nowhere else to go.  John barely knows Lee, but realizes she'll spend Christmas on the streets and (eventually) welcomes her into his family home.


The two leads have an interesting discussion about morality and why Lee steals.  When asked if he steal a loaf of bread if he was couldn't afford one, he says yes.  Lee says she'd simply go to an expensive restaurant and claim she forgot to bring her purse.  Remember The Night deals with subject matter that's a bit heavier than the average old time Hollywood romantic drama.

Georgina Caine, in a cameo role as Lee's mother, is also good.  She's one of the cruelest people you'll ever see in a Christmas movie.  

If I have problems with this movie, it's that it requires some major suspensions of disbelief, even by the standards of 1940s Hollywood films.  John and Lee talk about how their relationship could jeopardize John's legal career.  But I'm pretty sure that bailing her out of jail, let alone driving Lee to Indiana would be enough to get John disbarred.  Tabloid newspapers were around in the New York at the time and would've pounced on such a scandal.  So the story is a bit hard to believe.

But that's okay, since we get such great acting from Barbara Stanwyck.  During so many scenes, Stanwyck is able to convey how happy Lee is to be with John's family through facial expressions alone.  After watching this film, I believe Stanwyck could have had a long career in silent movies.


Fred MacMurray gives does a nice job playing off Stanwyck.  The two of them appeared together in several movies, most notably the classic film noir Double Indemnity.  Their chemistry from that movie is also on display in Remember The Night.


The scene where the Sargents exchange Christmas gifts manages to be very touching and sentimental, without being at all maudlin or cloying.


It was also nice to see a New Year celebration.  There are tons of Christmas movies, but very few films or specials that celebrate the New Year.  The New Year's Eve barn dance makes Remember The Night feel even more festive.

The citizens of Wabash celebrate the New Year.
 Some notes about the supporting cast:

John's butler Rufus is played by character actor Fred Toones.  He's listed in the credits as"Snowflake," since African American actors were often forced to use degrading pseudonyms in old movies.


Rufus is an ugly stereotypical character, something that was very common in films of this era.  In Rufus' first scene, John calls him a "dumbbell" to his face.   There's a later scene where John says of Rufus, "He's not very bright, but he can cook."  I try not to judge pop culture of the past by standards of today, but John's treatment of Rufus seems cruel even for 1940.  It sort of took me out of the movie and made me like John a bit less.  The sad thing is that you can see that Toones had comedic talent, even in a thankless role like Rufus.

Toomes acted in over 200 films and TV shows between 1932 and 1951.  His credits include classics like I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang, A Star Is Born and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

Mrs. Sargent is portrayed by Beulah Bondi.  She isn't familiar to younger viewers, but she was a prominent actress in the 1930s through the 1970s.


Bondi received two Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress.  She later made several guest appearances on The Waltons TV series, which earned Bondi an Emmy Award at age 88.

Remember The Night marks a turning point in Sturges' career.  Mitchell Liesen, who directed the movie made edits to the script that Sturges didn't like.  After that, Sturges would direct all the films that he wrote.

This movie is available on DVD and also is also shown frequently on Turner Classic Movies.

While Remember The Night has a plot that is sometimes hard to swallow, it features some excellent acting by Barbara Stanwyck and some wonderful holiday sentiments.

J.A. Morris' rating:








3 candy canes.

A studio promotional photo for Remember The Night.

RigbyMel says:

Remember the Night was new to me in the past couple of years.   As J.A. Morris says above,  the acting is great, but the story has a tendency to strain credulity.    The judge in charge of Lee's trial actually sees her out at dinner with John and recognizes them both -- I think that alone would be cause for a mistrial at best and at worst could well see John disbarred.    (To say nothing of later events in the movie -- crossing state lines, going into Canada, etc.)

John and Lee share a kiss ... at Niagara Falls!
But I don't think the plot, such as it is,  is entirely the point with this movie -- it is more to do with the characters interacting and also with playing on the sense of nostalgia we tend to get around the holiday season.   This is evidenced by the goodness of the Sargent family -- they take an unknown woman and treat her like one of the family.


The barn dance is a deliberately archaic look back to a perceived "simpler time." The characters even joke about it: "This year we're having an old-fashioned barn dance like the hicks we're supposed to be."   At the same time, everybody gets gussied up in 19th century finery for the event.

Aunt Emma helps Lee squeeze into a corset!  To quote another movie,  "Hold on, and suck in!"
It's interesting to see Sterling Holloway -- best known to modern audiences as the original voice of Winnie the Pooh in various Disney shorts -- in a live action role.   (I don't know that I'd ever seen a live action film with him before.)   He sings a sentimental old parlor song,  "A Perfect Day" (first published in 1910),  in a rather sweet scene featuring the Sargent family gathered around the piano.  (Another nostalgic touch!)

Sterling Holloway and friend at Disneyland  some years after Remember the Night was filmed.
The warm, fuzzy nostalgia is contrasted with the quite literally dark  -- both in lighting and content --  scene where Lee's mother rejects her once again.   Late December is, of course, the darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and perhaps the light of nostalgia at the holidays is helpful in getting through the darkness.

Singing at the piano
The actors and the nice Christmas and New Year's Eve touches make the thin plot of this movie watchable.  It's fun,  but not quite a classic.

RigbyMel's rating:








.5


2 and a half candy canes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Teen Titans Go!: "Second Christmas"


Premiered December 4, 2013.

Beast Boy: Don't mind us, we'll just be waiting another 364 days till next Christmas.
Cyborg: 364.  Doesn't seem so long!   I can't do it, man! I just can't do it!  It's too many days!!
Beast Boy: It's not fair!  Why does Starfire get a second Christmas? 
Starfire:  Are my ears hearing correctly?  There is a second Christmas coming? 
Narrator:  And with that one question out of Starfire's mouth,  the magic of Second Christmas was born ... 


The Teen Titans wake up on Christmas morning, excited about celebrating a day of presents and ugly sweaters.

"So ugly!"  "Yet still festive!"
Their seasonal joy increases exponentially when they learn it’s snowing outside!  After playing in the snow, it's time for a bountiful Christmas feast.



The next morning, they wake up … realizing that there are 364 days until Christmas comes again.


Starfire (Hayden Walch) is off to her home planet Tamaran to celebrate the Great Kergoff.    When Starfire compares Kergoff to Christmas, some of her teammates are jealous and say Starfire is lucky she gets to celebrate a second Christmas.  When she hears this phrase, she asks if there is such a thing as "second Christmas."
SECOND CHRISTMAS!
Cyborg (Khary Payton), Raven (Tara Strong) and Beast Boy (Greg Cipes) decide to trick Starfire into believing there's a second Christmas that's celebrated on December 26.  It even features a "second Santa" who is skinny, wears a green track suit and flies around with a jet pack.

Second Santa will deliver a miracle of ... someting.  
When Starfire says she wants to see Second Santa, her teammates tell her she needs to buy them gifts, decorate Titans Tower with more lights, cook a Second Christmas dinner and fly the Second Christmas kite.  After that, Second Santa will deliver the Second Christmas miracle.  Robin (Scott Menville) tries to intervene and tells Starfire the others are just trying to get more presents.


Will Cyborg, Raven and Beast Boy come clean and tell Starfire there's no such thing as Second Christmas?   How will Starfire react when she learns she missed the Great Kergoff for nothing?

J.A. Morris says:

"Second Christmas" is a great holiday episode of a generally great series.  It made me think of how I often felt when I was a little kid on December 26 (or some years, the afternoon of Christmas Day).  Sure, my family always made sure I got good presents, but I felt a bit sad that Christmas was over and there would be no more holiday specials or songs and the anticipation of Christmas presents was gone.


The Teen Titans have that feeling here and do something about it.  Of course they go about it wrong, lying to Starfire, and just like in real life, little lies lead to more lies and get you in trouble.


I also appreciated Starfire's comments about her home planet's greatest holiday, the Great Kergoff happening right after Christmas.  It's a reminder to us Earthlings that many holidays and celebrations other than Christmas occur at the same time of year.

On Starfire's home planet, children get presents from Gilnark, The Terrible instead of Santa!
There are even some "Easter eggs" in the background, such as the ornaments on the Titans' Christmas tree.


"Second Christmas" can be streamed on Amazon and iTunes.  It's also available on Teen Titans Go!:The Complete First Season blu ray.  This series also airs all the time on Cartoon Network, so check their listings.


I have a feeling that I'll be watching this on December 26 for years to come.  "Second Christmas" is very funny and highly recommended for superhero fans and people (like me!) who have trouble adjusting to life when Christmas is over.

J.A. Morris' rating:







4 candy canes!

RigbyMel says:

I learned the term "anticlimax" on the day after Christmas when I was around 8 or 9, so I understand the Titans' sense of letdown.    Their solution is certainly creative,  even if the lack of honesty seems beneath them.     Then again,  they are teenagers and haven't settled into mature superhero-dom.

Starfire is starry-eyed about Second Christmas.
Starfire's enthusiasm for the hastily made up "Second Christmas" is actually kind of sweet.
Moreover, Beast Boy as a cat is adorable.

Look at him ... adorable!!! 
Even goth-chick Raven is not above getting excited about a "Pretty Pretty Pegasus" doll.  (Collector's edition!)


It's also amusing that Robin, the "Second Christmas grouch," is gung-ho about getting back to the team's regularly scheduled training while the others want to extend the holiday festivities.    I am sure we've all known (or been) on both sides of that equation.

 
The denouement of this episode deserves to remain unspoiled, but is also ... creative, and pretty wickedly funny.


Teen Titans is a super fun show in general and the post holiday mayhem of "Second Christmas" is great for helping to get over the post-holiday blues.   Highly recommended.

RigbyMel's rating:






4 candy canes!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Tick: "The Tick Loves Santa!"


Premiered November 25, 1995.

"Lowly wretch!  This is the last time you make epic naughty in Santa threads!"
-  The Tick


At Christmas time, a thief is on the run after robbing a bank.  While fleeing from the police, he encounters a sidewalk Santa and steals his Santa costume.


The superhero duo known as the Tick (Townsend Coleman) and Arthur (Rob Paulsen) are Christmas shopping nearby.  The robber, now wearing the Santa suit, accidentally bumps into the Tick.  The hero thinks it's the real Santa!  When Tick sees the police chasing "Santa," he intervenes and shields the robber.


The fake Santa flees, running over rooftops, but accidentally crashes into a neon sign.


Tick is distraught and screams "We fried Santa!"  But the robber has survived and been given the power to clone himself.  Multiple Santa (Jim Cummings) is born!


Later, Arthur and Tick are hosting a Christmas party, attended by other superheroes including American Maid (Kay Lenz) and Die Fledermaus (Cam Clarke).

Fledermaus tries to get American Maid to kiss him under the mistletoe.  It doesn't work.
Tick doesn't feel like making merry at the party, believing he's helped kill Santa.  Arthur tries to get him to snap out of it, to no avail.  The other superheroes go out caroling and take Tick with them.


At the same time, Multiple Santa robs an appliance store.  Arthur, Tick and the other heroes are caroling nearby and battle the Santas, but the Tick hesitates.


He can't bring himself to punch Santa, even if it's not the real Kris Kringle.  Multiple Santa escapes, leaving the heroes battered and angry at the Tick for not fighting.


After flaking out on the fight, the Tick and Arthur receive a visit from a very special Christmas guest -- the real Santa! -- accompanied by secret service elves!

The Tick sits on the real Santa's lap.  
Santa encourages Tick to take on this candidate for the top of the Naughty List.

Multiple Santa realizes his powers are generated by electricity.  Each time he makes contact with electricity it gives him the power to create more clone Santas.  The villain decides to visit the largest supply of electricity in the area -- the hydroelectric plant!


Can Christmas be saved?  Can Tick and Arthur stop Multiple Santa?

J.A. Morris says:

Back in the 90s, I was a fan of The Tick  comic book and I enjoyed this animated series.  For those who missed the series, it was a parody of superhero shows, but it also existed in a wonderful absurd universe all its own.

Santa's "Secret Service" elves case Tick & Arthur's apartment before "Big Red" arrives.
The Tick was always a bit too enthusiastic (about everything) so it makes sense that he's a Santa lover and a Christmas fanatic.  As usual, Arthur serves as the sane member of the duo, forced to talk Tick back to reality.  This is a bit of a role-reversal, since sidekicks are usually the ones who need to be reined in.

Arthur tries to explain Santa to the Tick.
Townsend Coleman always did a great job voicing the Tick.  He's even better than usual in "The Tick Loves Santa," dialing up the insanity to a higher level for the holiday season.

The superheroes go caroling!
This is a fun episode, with lots of humor, so-bad-they're-good puns and exciting fight scenes.  But "Santa" gets electrocuted multiple times and is even presumed dead at one point.  This is the sort of thing that could upset small children, so parental discretion might be advised.

The Tick has sugar plums dancing in his head!
"The Tick Loves Santa" can be found on a DVD set titled The Tick Vs. Season Two.

This episode is recommended to Tick fans and any adult who never stops "believing" in Santa Claus.


J.A. Morris' rating:




.5


3 and a half candy canes.

RigbyMel says:

This is an enjoyably goofy episode of a fun and somewhat subversive series.   I watched The Tick sporadically when it first aired, but somehow never realized that there was a CHRISTMAS episode of the series.

As with other installments of the series, this ep features jaw-droppingly silly (and awe-inspiring) puns and generalized hilarity.

"It's a Yule tide!"  *rim shot* 
However,  as J.A. Morris mentions above,  "The Tick Loves Santa" is probably not something you want to have to explain to very small children.  That being said,  it's very entertaining for the snarky and cynical among us.   (And what grown-up doesn't feel a little cynical about holiday craziness from time to time?)

EVIL fake Santa!!
It's interesting to note that stone cold bad guy Multiple Santa is voiced by Jim Cummings, who has many voice acting credits, but who might be most familiar as the current voice of both Winnie the Pooh AND Tigger!


The humor of the Tick may not appeal to everybody, but if you enjoy subversive silliness, "The Tick Loves Santa" is well worth including in your holiday viewing.

RigbyMel's rating:







3 candy canes.