Showing posts with label Christmas movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christmas movies. Show all posts

19 December 2019

Angelic Voices


by Eve Fisher

'Tis the week before Christmas, and the rituals have begun:

Image result for vintage ceramic christmas treeWe put up our Christmas tree.  (Forty years ago, it was real; twenty years ago, it was artificial; the last five years it's been vintage ceramic!) 

We watch our favorite Christmas movies:  We're No Angels (the original 1955 version); The Man Who Came to Dinner; Reborn; Scrooge (1951, Alistair Sim); The Muppet Christmas Carol (I'm a sentimentalist at heart); The Bishop's Wife (1947, Loretta Young & Cary Grant); National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation; Blackadder's Christmas Carol; and all the Christmas Specials from Last of the Summer Wine.

We go driving around at night and look at Christmas lights.  Falls Park does a great light show; downtown's pretty; and there are all these old houses over by McKennan Park and elsewhere that have wonderful decorations.

Winter Wonderland at Falls Park
Sioux Falls - Falls Park's "Winter Wonderland"

And we go to various musical concerts.  Some years, Handel's Messiah, or Christmas at the Cathedral, or any of a variety of musical Christmas offerings.  This year we went to hear the Singing Boys of Sioux Falls at East Side Lutheran Church.  I hadn't heard of them before, and while I knew that there were men's choirs in Sioux Falls, I hadn't known there was a boys' choir.  So we went, and it was wonderful - beautiful music, beautiful voices, beautiful church.

Now boys' choirs developed in the Middle Ages, when women were barred from participating in any sort of performing arts in mixed company in churches, and they had to get sopranos from somewhere.
NOTE:  Later, of course, women would also be barred from participating in theaters, which leads to the crazy plots in Shakespeare, et al, in which a man playing a woman in disguise as a man courts another man playing a woman, who sometimes pulls a double switcheroo, and basically good luck keeping up with who's playing what when.  It makes our current touchiness about gender roles look pretty strange.
Anyway, it wasn't until the mid-1800s that women were allowed to join church choirs, which is why boys' choirs remained strong well past the Victorian Age. Cathedrals had cathedral schools for young boy singers, where a good voice could get you an education and perhaps even a career where you weren't plowing fields or living on the streets with Fagin.

And there were plenty of boys to choose from. This was because (1) people had a lot more children before birth control and (2) children didn't hit puberty until their mid to late teens because most of them were malnourished. Poverty was a huge factor. Most people were poor. Very poor.

We tend to forget how prevalent poverty was, is, and how it was one of the major subjects of most Christmas stories. Until now. Probably the last Christmas special on TV that centered on the poor - with any sort of accuracy - was the precursor to The Waltons, 1971's The Homecoming:  A Christmas Story.

But almost all Victorian Christmas stories were about the poor.  That or ghost stories (see my blog post https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2015/12/ghoulies-and-ghosties.html) .  Part of the reason why Dickens' A Christmas Carol became such a runaway bestseller is that it combined the two.


Christmas (12 days of it, thank you) with ghosts, and the poor, and sometimes they died! As in Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl - because no Victorian ever shied away from death, even the death of children. Especially the death of children. Think Little Nell, Tiny Tim (until Scrooge's repentance), Beth March, Smike, as well as a host of lesser known victims of the Victorians' love of a good cry, especially at Christmas. And well past Victorian times. There's O Henry's The Gift of the Magi.  There's Mary Mapes Dodge's Hans Brinker, or the Silver SkatesLittle Women opens with this famous sequence:
"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.
"It's so dreadful to be poor!" sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.
"I don't think it's fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all," added little Amy, with an injured sniff.
"We've got father and mother and each other," said Beth contentedly, from her corner.
The four young faces on which the firelight shone brightened at the cheerful words, but darkened again as Jo said sadly,—  "We haven't got father, and shall not have him for a long time." She didn't say "perhaps never," but each silently added it, thinking of father far away, where the fighting was.
Nobody spoke for a minute; then Meg said in an altered tone,—
"You know the reason mother proposed not having any presents this Christmas was because it is going to be a hard winter for every one; and she thinks we ought not to spend money for pleasure, when our men are suffering so in the army. We can't do much, but we can make our little sacrifices, and ought to do it gladly. But I am afraid I don't;" and Meg shook her head, as she thought regretfully of all the pretty things she wanted.
And then Marmee shows up and the girls go off to get the real Christmas spirit by helping the Hummels, German immigrants who are desperately poor, crammed 6 in one room, with a dead father and a very sick mother.

Besides the actual story of the birth of Jesus, i.e., the Incarnation (which most Victorian authors considered too sacred to write directly about), this was what Christmas used to be all about - helping the poor.  But any more it seems that modern Christmas movies are either comedies (increasingly raunchy) or the neverending Hallmark offerings, which specialize in Christmas Princess and other glittery tales of beautiful young women meeting the perfect hunky guy in the perfect snow-covered site - well, I think this video sums it up best:




But back to boys' choirs.  Most of the old 1940s/1950s movies (The Bishop's Wife, Going My Way, and The Bells of St. Mary's) showcased the Mitchell Singing Boys, led by Robert Mitchell from 1934-2000.  (Mr. Mitchell himself lived from 1912-2009!).  The example below is from The Bishop's Wife.



Today, boys' choirs are up against increasing affluence.  Frankly, boys today get a lot more to eat, so the boys go through puberty earlier and earlier.  This means that the general age of boys' choirs have decreased.  And a 10 year old can't be expected to have the same musical ability, understanding, and musical ability as a 15 year old.  The result is that modern boys' choirs have greater turnover, and are often singing much less complicated music than they used to.

Meanwhile, let's listen to the Vienna's Boys' Choir from 1957, with (according to YouTube) boy soloist Michael Paddy Quilligan.  And have a very Merry Christmas, with or without ghosts!







25 December 2018

A Stay at Home Christmas


by Paul D. Marks

Well, since my post falls on Christmas Day this year, I thought I should do something Christmassy. I thought I might preach but that would get preachy. I thought I could make snowballs, but I don’t have any snow, though we do get it here sometimes. So instead I thought I’d make a list of Christmas or holiday movies that I like. You probably have your own, which I hope you’ll add in the comments. And then, with Janet Rudolph’s kind permission, after the movies is a list of Christmas mysteries. So, even though by the time you read this the actual holiday will be half over, the season is good at least until the first week of the New Year, so catch up on some good movies or good mysteries and have a very HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON AND NEW YEAR! (Oh, and if you want to get a last minute gift for yourself or someone you’re a little late with…Broken Windows deals with things in the news this past week, immigration, and no one gets off unscathed.)

So, here we go:

Bishop's Wife, The

Black Christmas…

Christmas Carol, A (Reginald Owen version)

Christmas Carole, A (Alistair Sim version) – This is probably the best version. A paranormal Christmas, along the lines of The Blair Witch Project (well, not really). Amy’s (the wife) favorite Christmas movie. Every year she wants to watch it. Every year I balk. And every year I end up enjoying it. One year, in the days of VHS, I bought her tapes of every version of A Christmas Carole that I could find, including Mr. Magoo’s version, the Muppets and everything and anything else.


Christmas Holiday – With Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly

Christmas in Connecticut – Barbara Stanwyck, SZ Sakall, Reginald Gardiner, Sydney Greenstreet and Robert Shayne, who played Inspector Henderson on Superman – how can you go wrong? Oh, and the premise is funny, too.


Christmas Story, A – Gotta watch this at least once each year. But sometimes we just put on Turner when they’re running it 24 hours and catch bits and pieces here and there.

Comfort and Joy

Cover Up

Die Hard – There’s an argument as to whether or not this is actually a Christmas movie, but since they play Let It Snow that’s good enough for me.

Four Christmases

Holiday Affair – Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh.

Holiday Inn – The movie that introduced White Christmas. That’s enough.

Holiday, The



Home Alone

It Happened on Fifth Avenue

It’s a Wonderful Life – It’s got Gloria Grahame, if no other reason that would get it included. But it’s good on all those other levels too.

LA Confidential – You know, Bloody Christmas, thus a Christmas movie.


Lady in the Lake

Love Actually – I figured I’d get shot if I didn’t include this. But, hey, I do like it.

Meet Me in St. Louis 

Miracle on 34th Street – The original, of course. My favorite Christmas movie because it proves that Santa Claus is for real. What more do you want?


Remember the Night – Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray pre their Double Indemnity teaming. Hard not to like anything with Stanwyck. And written by the great Preston Sturges. I really like this one.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians – Amy has fond memories of this from when she was a kid. Go figure kids’ tastes... If you like cheesy sleazy with terrific production values (is my nose growing?) this is the movie for you. And let’s not forget it was Pia Zadora’s debut as Girmar.

Scrooged

Shop Around the Corner, The – A charming, wonderful movie. I even like the remake, You’ve Got Mail, but not so much the musical version, In the Good Old Summertime.


White Christmas

And every Hallmark holiday movie ever made… ;-)  (Actually, I’ve never seen any, but I understand they’re very popular.)


And here’s Janet Rudolph’s lists of Christmas Crime Fiction:

A-E
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-crime-fiction-authors-e.html


F-L
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-crime-fiction-authors-f-l.html


M-Z
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-mysteries-authors-m-z.html


CHRISTMAS MYSTERY SHORT STORY ANTHOLOGIES & NOVELLAS
https://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2018/12/christmas-mystery-short-stories.html


Thank you, Janet.

~.~.~.~



And now for the usual BSP:

I’m thrilled by the great reviews that Broken Windows has been receiving. Here’s a small sampling:

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:  "Broken Windows is extraordinary."

Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element:  "Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s."

"Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show."

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:  "This electrifying novel will jolt your sensibilities, stir your conscience and give every reader plenty of ammunition for the next mixed group where the I [immigration] -word is spoken!"



And I’m honored and thrilled – more than I can say – that my story Windward appears in The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler I wrote a blog on that on SleuthSayers if you want to check it out: https://www.sleuthsayers.org/2018/10/the-impossible-dream.html

I’m doubly thrilled to say that Windward won the 2018 Macavity Award.





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25 December 2017

Christmas Miracle Movies


by Jan Grape

Trying to come up with a post for Christmas wasn’t easy. It's such a joyful time for a huge population. You know, pushing and shoving to reach the Filene’s gift that is just perfect for your Uncle Billy Bob or for your Grandmother Ella Daye. For some people, including myself, Christmas can be somewhat depressing. Bah. Humbug.

However, I didn’t want to post a somber or sad article for this December 25th, 2017. Instead, I turned to two storie from childhood, The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell and The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson. I found both on YouTube in Animation and Leigh helped me posted them.

It seems the early versions of The Littlest Angel weren’t well preserved. Either the pictures faded or the sound track deteriorated, or both. This one seems the least damaged.


The Little Match Girl has even more editions, a few as early as 1902, 1914, 1928, and 1937. I first saw the 1954 version, one of the least faithful to the original story, although the narrator sounds like Vincent Price. There are beautiful versions from many countries, politically slanted versions, a peculiar Legos WW-II stop-action and a Disney release. Disney’s ending is cleverly shaped so that it seems uplifting to children, but an aware adult can read it differently.

Look at the sublime special effects of the 1902 version. Charming!


Leigh selected this beautiful Vietnamese rendition.


Please everyone have a Merry and a Happy and prosperous 2018.

22 December 2015

Have a Holly Jolly Crime Season


by Paul D. Marks

Since Christmas is a couple+ days off and New Years a week or so away, but as we’re in the middle of the holiday season, I thought I’d try to find some appropriate movies and books for the season. And though I wrote this over a week ago it seems that great minds think alike as Eve also did a post on holiday movies. Luckily there’s really not any crossover in our choices.

Mine are appropriate for people who are into crime for whatever demented reasons we are. So, much as I love Miracle on 34th Street, The Shop Around the Corner, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and others—and by the way, that’s my way of getting these non-crime holiday movies that I like mentioned here—the focus here will be on holiday movies/books with a crime element. Though I will exclude horror and stick to mystery and thriller.

So, without further ado:

Movies:




Christmas Holiday – Deanna Durbin is a torch singer in a dive club. There’s violence and insanity. And Southern gents—nasty Southern gents. Prison breaks and Murder. And murder cover-ups. So I ask you, what the hell more do you want in a Christmas movie? Based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham of all people. And directed by Robert Siodmak, one of noir’s iconic directors. Maugham and Siodmak, a match made in......Hollyweird.






Comfort & Joy – My wife’s favorite on this list. In fact, she made me add it at gunpoint. A 1984 Scottish movie about a radio DJ who gets stuck in the middle of a feud between rival ice cream trucks. The grisly carnage of melted ice cream on velour upholstery is not for the faint of heart.





Die Hard – There’s a Christmas party happening in the Nakatomi Building in LA (incidentally not too far from where I lived when the real building was going up and I could see its progress every day).  Everybody’s happy! Until some guy named Hans Gruber—you know he’s a bad guy with a name like that—spoils everybody’s fun, taking them all hostage. Luckily, there’s a barefoot Bruce Willis in the head ready to save the day. So Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow—of course, in LA when you say that you might not be talking about condensed water...



Die Hard 2 – “Another basement, another elevator...how can the same thing happen to the same guy twice?” asks Bruce Willis’ John McClane in the first of 739 sequels to Die Hard. (Don’t get me wrong, I like ’em...except for that last horrid thing set in Russia, and maybe that’s the real crime here re: the Die Hard movies.) It’s Christmas Eve, Bruce is waiting for his wife (Bonnie Bedelia) at Dulles Airport in DC. Franco Nero arrives around the same time, a South American drug dealer being brought here to stand trial. But the bad guys have other plans for him. Not a creature was stirring, not even a louse, ’cause what they didn’t know was that John Mclane was in the house. So Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!




Holiday Affair – Robert Mitchum gets Janet Leigh fired from her job in a department store. Hilarity ensues. Maybe not really a crime story, but since Mitchum is the cause of Leigh’s losing her job, we’ll call that a crime and let it squeak by. Besides, who’s a bigger iconic noir actor than Mitchum—that’s enough to let it qualify.







Home Alone – Cuter than beans Macaulay Culkin gets left behind by his oblivious family when they go on vacation. Hey, that’s nasty stuff. And there’s burglars (hence crime) in the form of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. And if you’ve seen Goodfellas you know what a nasty SOB Pesci is. So we’re good here for a crime Christmas movie. And it’s directed by Chris Columbus and, if you listen to some people, you know that Mr. Columbus is the cause of all the problems in the New World. Crime, baby!





Ice Harvest – John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Randy Quaid. From a book by Scott Phillips.  Christmas Eve. Wichita, Kansas. A mob lawyer, a pornographer and a mob boss (walk into a bar...). What the hell more do you want in a Christmas movie?






LA Confidential – Hey peeps, on the lowdown, who do you think of when you think of Christmas? Bethlehem? Hell no! Santa Claus, you nuts? James Ellroy of course. It’s Christmas time. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is beating up a wife abuser. The cops are having a Christmas party in the station. They decide to beat up some Mexicans. It’s Bloody Christmas. But keep it quiet, friends, off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush. So what is your valediction, boyo? Kevin Spacey’s is Rollo Tomasi. Mine is just Rolos.



Lady in the Lake – On Christmas Eve, Philip Marlowe wants to publish his mystery stories, but the publisher wants to hire him as a detective instead, can’t imagine why. But we here all know that’s just a way of saying go jump in the lake (and maybe you’ll find the lady in there), we’re not interested, like saying “we love it, but it’s just not right for us at this time” and “good luck with it elsewhere”. Robert Montgomery directs and stars as Philip Marlowe in this experimental (photography-wise) version of Chandler’s book. The subjective cinematography is interesting but wears after a while.





Lady On a Train – Nikki Collins (Deanna Durbin again) is on a train heading for New York at Christmas. Reading a mystery book. She looks out the window to see a man in another window getting clomped on the head. But no one will believe her. Think Rear Window on steel wheels. And from there the plot thickens into a nice roux of murder and mystery with Ralph Bellamy, David Bruce, Edward Everett Horton and Dan Duryea. It’s more fun than a barrell full of gunpowder. And anything with Dan Duryea is worth watching. And Deanna’s not too bad either.

Lethal Weapon – Mel Gibson beating up bad guys, doing his Three Stooges Routine, getting drunk and blessing out an LA Sheriff’s deputy with every expletive and racial slur he can think of in his drunken state—oh wait, that last bit was real life. But Lethal takes place during the Christmas season and even has a clip from the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol on a TV in the movie and some Christmas songs. Yup, it qualifies.



Remember the Night – Barbara Stanwyck. Fred MacMurray. Black and white photography. Crime. A 1940s flick. You’re thinking Double Indemnity, aren’t you? Nope! This flick came a few years before. Stanwyck is a shoplifter, arrested right before Christmas. MacMurray is the DA prosecuting her, but he feels sorry for her and takes her home to his family for the holidays. Fun ensues.







And last and maybe least Santa Claus Conquers the Martians – well, the crime here is that this movie exists at all. Though my wife does have fond memories of it from when she was a kid. Go figure kids’ tastes... If you like cheesy sleazy with terrific production values (is my nose growing?) this is the movie for you.






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And now for some favorite movies set during the holiday season, even if they don’t have crimes in them:

Can’t Buy Me Love (Well, it’s partially set during the holiday season and it’s my list so I can do what I want!)
Christmas Story, A
Christmas Carol, A, in its many forms
It’s a Wonderful Life
Miracle on 34th Street – my personal fave, followed by the one below:
Shop Around the Corner 

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I’m sure I’ve left some of your faves out, so make your own damn list and check it twice.


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Novels:

I was going to try to pick out a handful of Christmas murder mysteries. But the list is long and I came across Janet Rudolph’s lists of holiday mysteries. She collected a more complete list than I ever could. So I thought instead of my compiling a few titles, I’d give links to Janet’s comprehensive lists:

2015 Christmas Mystery List/s:

A to D: http://www.mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/12/christmas-mysteries-authors-d.html
E to H: http://www.mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/12/christmas-crime-fiction-authors-e-h.html
I to N:  http://www.mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/12/christmas-mysteries-authors-i-n.html
O to R:  http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/12/christmas-mysteries-authors-o-r.html
S to Z: not yet available


2105 Hanukkah Mystery List:

http://mysteryreadersinc.blogspot.com/2015/11/chanukah-crime-fictionhanukkah-mysteries.html


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And my wish list for Santa (’cause I'm pretty sure he reads this blog):


  1. A slot car racing set
  2. Bob Dylan to come out with Volume 2 of his Chronicles autobiography
  3. Mark Lewisohn to come out with Volume 2 of All These Years, his Beatles bio
  4. Rain for California
  5. An Edgar award
  6. Another Shamus award
  7. An Academy Award
  8. A trip to the Amazon
  9. A Macavity Award
  10. An Anthony Award
  11. The Croix de Guerre
  12. The Idi Amin Most Medals Award (take a look at his chest sometime)
  13. Rain for California
  14. My hair back in all its former glory (see pic)
  15. Vintage Marx playsets
  16. Rain for California
  17. A computer that doesn’t drive me nuts
  18. Every noir movie ever made to be available for streaming free
  19. And, of course, World peace, ’cause Miss America’s got nothin’ on me.
  20. And...Rain for California.




AND HAPPY HOLIDAYS TO EVERYONE!



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And speaking of Christmas, how 'bout picking up a copy of Vortex, White Heat, LA Late @ Night or Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea – hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t invent commercialism at the holidays. Or signing up for my newsletter.



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