DecemBER 2021 BREAKDOWN
- 27 films/series total (not including Hallmark films)
- 11 new classic films
- 6 re-watches
- 5 TV series
- 3 silent films
Biggest Disappointment: I Dream Too Much
Favorite Discovery: Ladies of Letters, Inn of the Sixth Happiness
Most Watched Actor/Actress: Lucille Ball – 4, John Hodiak -3
The Indian Doctor (2010) – I loved this series and decided it was time for another viewing. Set in a small Welsh coal village in the 1960’s it focuses on the arrival and integration of an upper class Indian doctor and his wife. It’s charming while also addressing the challenges of immigration and prejudice.
Republic of Doyle Season 4 – I’m not crazy about Leslie’s undercover storyline in the first half of the season, but I was so pleased that she and Jake finally get together in the last half. I’m also really missing Jake’s black leather jacket and his other car. But it does feel like a lot of unresolved issues and questions from previous seasons were finally addressed.
Ladies of Letters (2009) – What a delightfully snarky but hilarious little series this is. It features two older women who become pen pals and frenemies. It jumps the shark a bit in the final episodes of season one, but the performances by the two lead actresses still make it comedy gold.
Call the Midwife Christmas Special (2021) – I believe this may be one of my favorites of this series holiday episodes, mostly thanks to the sweetness of Cyril and Lucille’s relationship as they prepare for their wedding. The heart-warming Reggie eagerly looks for snow, while Dr. Turner became a favorite of a local crime boss and all the nuns and midwives were inundated with expectant mothers ready for delivery. I love that fan favorite Barbara (who died in an earlier season) was remembered by her former roommate and friend Phyllis. Once again, this show remains like a warm cozy hug, while also remaining relevant by discussing challenging topics.
Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye (2021) – As much as I looked forward to a new episode of Agatha and a Christmas one at that, I was disappointed with this one. I still love her family of friends, but this episode felt all over the place, Agatha came across a bit crazy and Roy’s charm was more of the obnoxious variety. I would like to see more of Sir Charles Fraith, particularly with Agatha. Overall, I feel like this series has jumped the shark.
Seven Years Bad Luck (1921) – This was my first Max Linder film and I can see why he was such a highly regarded comedian. Although I didn’t actually laugh out loud, I did think he was extremely creative. I can definitely see his influence on later silent film comedy stars like Chaplin and Lloyd. Comedy routine highlights include the mirror gag and the sequence where Linder is hanging out in the lions cage while the cops who are after him linger outside too scared to enter. I will definitely watch any more of Linder’s films that I may come across.
The Oyster Princess (1919) – This Ernst Lubitsch silent is much praised. I must be missing something as I felt very underwhelmed by it. Though there are some great visuals, his famous “touch” isn’t quite as evident yet. While I enjoyed some of the little moments, I didn’t appreciate the plot or the utter selfishness of the main characters. Neither did I find them physically appealing. And call me shallow, but I have a hard time watching films with unattractive actors.
Adam Had Four Sons (1941) – A young Ingrid Bergman plays a loyal governess in this family drama. Her character has a believable arc as the heart of the home after the family matriarch dies. Ann Sheridan, in an early role, plays the nasty wife of the oldest son to perfection. It’s also nice to see Warner Baxter in a starring role as the male head of the family. Though this is an average film overall these three make it believable, particularly Bergman’s and Sheridan’s scenes together.
Lured (1947) – I’m still working my way through Lucille Ball’s films and I have to say, she holds her own in dramatic pictures like this one where she teams with Scotland Yard to catch a serial killer of women. She’s joined by a fantastic cast including Charles Coburn as her boss, George Sanders and Cedric Hardwicke. I love how the film detours from the chase for the main suspect by depicting the various weirdos Ball’s character runs into in her investigation. Sanders is a bit of a red herring playing a man who is (or maybe isn’t) in love with Ball. Though crime dramas are never favorites with me, this one was very interesting.
Janie (1944) – I found myself frequently thinking how silly this little comedy is throughout its’ run time, but then thinking how much I enjoyed it by the end. Joyce Reynolds, who I always like seeing onscreen, plays a soldier crazy teenager whose antics always seem to get out of hand and create chaos for her parents. Unfortunately, one of her suitors is played by Robert Hutton who I always think is dull as dish water, but the rest of the cast including, Edward Arnold, Ann Harding, Alan Hale, Robert Benchley and Hattie McDaniel more than make up for it. One particular stand-out is Janie’s younger sister Elspeth who is wiser than her years, cynical and quite the little extortionist. If you’re looking for mindless fun, this is it.
Two Smart People (1946) – Considering I’m not a fan of John Hodiak, I Iiked this cat and mouse romance drama about two con-artists who fall in love while travelling back to prison with a cop, a lot. There were light comic touches woven into what could have been a dark story, such as the two cons’ bonding over a shared love of great food. Lucille Ball is smart, gorgeous and beautifully dressed as the female con and shares good chemistry with Hodiak. Lloyd Nolan is likable as the patient, friendly cop and Elisha Cook Jr. is delectably smarmy as Hodiak’s former partner whose menacing presence lurks throughout the film. Hodiak and Ball are the most likable, fun con artists I’ve run across in a while.
Dance Girl, Dance (1940) – I knew I’d seen this before, but had no memories of it. But after reading Maureen O’Hara’s autobiography where she mentions that this is the film where she met Lucille Ball and they became life long friends, I gave it another watch. Both actresses are good in their roles as frenemies, Ball as the successful burlesque star who is alternately kind but then not to O’Hara, whose dream is to be a ballet dancer. Director Dorothy Arzner gave it a feminist slant in an era before that was a thing and I do like the way the story explores female relationships and the hypocrisy of men and their consumption of female art forms. But even with all that talent, there just seems to be something missing that keeps it from being great.
I Dream Too Much (1935) -This drama which features real life opera star Lily Pons as an undiscovered talent who marries wannabe composer Henry Fonda had potential. The trouble is that I am not a fan of opera music, so I skipped through many of Pons musical numbers. Fonda’s character is all over the place and many times says and does unlikable things. The highlight for me was Eric Blore as a has been vaudeville performer who has a seal partner named The Duchess.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941) – Many people deride Alfred Hitchcock’s only comedy, which I think is unfair. I’ve always liked this film, even though it is outside his oeuvre. Carole Lombard and Robert Montgomery are good as feuding exes who secretly still love each other, but allow their pride and hurt to get in the way of reuniting. In my opinion, this still has some of Hitchcock’s signature on it in the way it presents a slightly darker look at love and the war between the sexes.
The Marines Fly High (1940) – Lucille Ball is one of the best things about this film which includes a love triangle with Richard Dix and Chester Morris and also adds in a plot about Marines who are trying to prevent revolution in some unnamed South American country. Dix and Morris play rather cliché characters and don’t even bother to make them interesting. The second half picks up a bit with some skirmish action between the Marines and the potential revolutionaries. But I doubt it is a film which will stick in my memory.
Man of the World (1931) – Any William Powell film is a good film in my book. I love his suave, sophisticated image in his sound films. Even when he’s playing a rather despicable character as he does here as the editor of a gossip rag who bribes the wealthy to keep their name out of his paper, he’s still absolutely charming. He does get some deeper moments of introspection which allow him to show a more serious side. Wynne Gibson is a standout as his former lover and partner in crime who is jealous of his new mark and love interest played by Carole Lombard. Lombard unfortunately is unremarkable in her role. There’s little trace of the comedienne she is famous for being. This has a surprisingly realistic but unromantic ending, but I respect the film the more for it.
A Star in the Night (1945) – A classic holiday short which deserves to be seen! It’s a reimagined version of the Christmas story at the Star motor court, with gift bearing cowboys, a grumpy innkeeper, a hitch-hiking stranger and a bunch of guests who get drawn into helping with an unexpected birth.
The Music Box (1932) – This Laurel and Hardy short which features them as moving men who run into difficulties when trying to get a piano up a flight of stairs and into a home is always entertaining. It’s definitely one of their more well known performances and with good reason. It’s such a simple but creative idea with lots of inherent (and physical) comedy.
A Little Romance (1979) -After being on my radar for a while, I finally gave this one a chance. Thankfully my bias against seventies films didn’t stop me from being utterly charmed by it. Anchored by a strong performance from Sir Laurence Olivier as a sweet, elderly pickpocket who helps two young teenagers travel from Paris to Venice, it’s a bit of a modern fairytale. I was especially impressed with the maturity of Diane Lane in her debut as the young Lauren. The added bonus of this picture is that it takes the viewer along for the ride with beautiful cinematography in Paris, France, Italy, Verona and Venice.
The Harvey Girls (1946) – I’ve always been interested in the history of the real Harvey Girls, and while this may not be historically accurate, it is a lot of fun! Judy Garland of course is fabulous as an innocent young lady with a backbone of steel who meets with more than she bargained for moving to the “wild west”. John Hodiak is her love interest and I’m glad that he didn’t play his saloon keeper character as a stereotype. The rest of the cast only adds to the quality of this production. Though I didn’t find any of the songs extremely memorable or exciting, the musical performances were top notch. Otherwise, this may be one of my favorite musical discoveries of 2021.
Malaya (1949) – I chose to watch this because James Stewart starred in it. However, this WWII drama about a group of men working to sneak an entire supply of rubber off a Japanese occupied island is all Spencer Tracy’s film. He completely overshadows Stewart’s performance. I was rather distracted the first half of the movie, but it finally captivated my attention the last half, mostly on the strength of the Tracy’s performance and the unique plot. I did think it vastly under-utilized Lionel Barrymore and John Hodiak in roles that could have been filled with less famous faces. Of all the big names in this drama, Sydney Greenstreet in a supporting role was the only one to match up to Tracy onscreen.
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) – Wow. What a moving film this was. I always enjoy bio pics about ordinary people and this one about British missionary to China, Gladys Aylward, shows the impact one person full of determination and love can make. The performances by Ingrid Bergman as Aylward, Robert Donat as the Chinese government head of her village and Curt Jurgens as a military captain who befriends Bergman are all exceptional. It was bittersweet to see Donat in his last performance. This is the second picture I’ve seen starring Jurgens and he has really impressed me. I will be on the lookout for more of his movies. I highly recommend this.
It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947) – In recent years, this has become one of my favorite classic holiday movies. Though there are some scenes that could have been cut to improve the film, overall it’s charming, sweet and funny and full of good performances by great character actors. One of these days I’m going to write a full review on why this picture is so lovable.
Never Say Goodbye (1946) – This is another film that has become a regular part of my annual Christmas lineup. I’ve written about it several times already, but suffice it to say, I love it. Errol Flynn and Eleanor Parker are utterly charming as a divorced couple, still in love whose daughter is trying to reunite them.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) – This is a newer family favorite. The colors and sets are so rich and I love the creative take on Charles Dickens and his inspiration for writing A Christmas Carol. While there are some dark threads in the plot, there is also redemption and a positive message.
Love Actually (2003) – I’m sorry to say, I never quite understand the hype over this Christmas film. Most of the characters go through sad, depressing things or completely awkward situations, which always leaves me feeling a bit down. It’s more of a holiday filler movie for me than anything.
Christmas with the Chosen: The Messengers (2021) – I was actually going to write a full review after seeing this in the theater, but have been under the weather and not feeling up to it. One of the series famous lines is “get used to different”. I guess I should have taken that seriously. I don’t know why, but I was expecting a feature length film about the birth of Jesus so I was unprepared for what it actually was. This is not a movie, but an experience, with over an hour of Christmas music performances by various Christian artists as well as some spoken word performances before the Chosen’s actual Christmas episode depicted from the perspectives of Joseph and Mary. The word performances were the best part and extremely powerful in sharing about the various names of God. I do feel that there were too many song performances and that trimming a few would have helped keep my attention from wandering. The standout musical performances for me were the Bonner Family singing How Great Thou Art, a childrens’ choir which performed What Child Was This, and the final song Joy to the World which featured all the previous musicians singing together. As for the portrayal of the Christmas story, there is nothing grandiose about it, instead it is a very humble, simple perspective showing two very human people in uncertain, frightening circumstances which I really appreciated.
Hallmark Movies: 27 total, favorites highlighted
Hallmark: Project Christmas Wish, Gingerbread Miracle, Christmas in My Heart, Once Upon a Christmas Miracle, A Timeless Christmas, A Bramble House Christmas, Miss Christmas, A Holiday Date, Five Star Christmas, A Dickens of Holiday!, Angel Falls: A Novel Holiday, Christmas by Starlight, Coyote Creek Christmas, A Very Merry Bridesmaid, A Royal Queens Christmas, A Bride for Christmas, USS Christmas, Angel of Christmas, Christmas in Vienna, Write Before Christmas, Tis the Season to Be Merry, Christmas Cookies, Snow Bride, Christmas With the Darlings, Just in Time for Christmas, One Royal Holiday, The Spirit of Christmas, Christmas with Holly, Hearts of Christmas