Christmas Eve Always a Holiday Favorite

November 5, 2010

Hollywood loves Christmas movies, and in 1947 United Artists came out with one of the best in the comedy-drama genre, the always entertaining Christmas Eve. Movie memorabilia collectors love this entry as well, with prices still on the very affordable side.
Christmas Eve was produced for Miracle Productions and United Artists by Benedict Bogeaus. Based on a story by Laurence Stallings, Richard H. Landau and Arch Oboler, Christmas Eve was written for the screen by Stallings and an uncredited Robert Altman, the latter of whom later directed such films as M*A*S*H (1970) and Nashville (1975). Directing the action was Edwin L. Marin, whose previous credits included Speed (1936), Married Before Breakfast (1937), A Christmas Carol (1938), Tall in the Saddle (1944) and Abilene Town (1946). Heinz Roemheld crafted the original music score, with Gordon Avil as cinematographer and James Smith as film editor.
George Raft as Mario Torio, George Brent as Michael Brooks and Randolph Scott as Johnny head the fine cast. Other players include Joan Blondell (Ann Nelson), Virginia Field (Claire), Dolores Moran (Jean Bradford), Ann Harding (Aunt Matilda Reed), Reginald Denny (Phillip Hastings), Douglass Dumbrille (Dr. Bunyan), Carl Harbord (Dr. Doremus), Clarence Kolb (Judge Alston), Molly Lamont (Harriet Rhodes), John Litel (FBI Agent Joe Bland), Walter Sande (Mario’s Hood), Joe Sawyer (Private Detective Gimlet), Konstantin Shayne (Gustav Reichman), Andrew Tombes (Auctioneer), Claire Whitney (Dr. Bunyan’s Wife), Dennis Hoey (Butler) and Marie Blake (Reporter).
Christmas Eve was filmed in Hollywood from November 21 to December 23, 1946. Director Edwin L. Marin later shot retakes in January 1947.
Like many similar movies of the era, Christmas Eve is a madcap affair. The film centers on wealthy, eccentric Matilda Reid, whose scheming nephew Phillip Hastings launches a plan to have her declared legally incompetent in order to claim her estate. Matilda is the mother of three adopted sons who have scattered to various parts of the globe. Mario is a falsely convicted racketeer on the lam in South America where he runs a nightclub and tangles with a vicious Nazi. Michael is a dapper playboy whose proliferate spending and high-living has led him to accumulate a small fortune in bounced checks. Jonathan – or Johnny – is a cowboy and bronco buster out west with a taste for the hard stuff. All their stories are told via flashback, including the boys’ eventual encounters with their respective girlfriends: Claire, Ann and Jean.
It’s old Matilda’s desire to have her sons return on Christmas Eve to her Manhattan mansion, holding a press conference and hiring a private eye to locate them. This the boys must accomplish in order to save their mother’s sizable fortune from the clutches of conniving nephew Phillip. Time is of the essence as Judge Alston will soon rule on the elderly Matilda’s competence.
Christmas Eve is packed with fun, intrigue and action in its 90-minute running time. There are gunfights, fistfights, romance, a crooked baby adoption racket, a persistent FBI agent, a sleuthing private detective and a handful of holiday tunes, including "Jingle Bells" (heard during the movie’s opening and closing credits), "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night, Holy Night."
Christmas Eve was released on October 31, 1947. The initial reviews were harsh, with the passage of time, however, resulting in a much kinder view of this offbeat holiday movie.
"Christmas Eve, a film package which has rushed that festive season and which came to the Broadway Theatre yesterday, seems to have been filled with all manner of things. But none of the slightly scrambled contents has the elements of surprise or imagination. For this episodic potpourri about a rich, aged eccentric maiden lady about to be declared mentally unfit, and her three errant wards, tries hard to emulate the pattern of such successful episodic yarns as Tales of Manhattan and only succeeds in being transparent, plodding and occasionally confusing," reported A.H. Weiler of The New York Times (November 28, 1947).
"Christmas Eve, a less appetizing holiday confection, concerns an eccentric old gotrocks (Ann Harding) and her far-flung adopted sons (George Raft, George Brent, Randolph Scott). They surmount the world, the flesh and the devil to reach her side on Christmas Eve—just in time to save her from the booby hatch for spending $500,000 on 500,000 dead rats. Producer Benedict Bogeaus spent considerably more on this dead rat," opined Time magazine (December 8, 1947).
Christmas Eve movie promotional material is both colorful and attractive, with values on the reasonable side. The standard one sheet poster (27x41-inches) in very good/fine condition sold for $38 at auction. An insert poster (14x36-inches), the movie’s campaign or pressbook and several ad slicks in very good condition were offered as a lot, bringing $35 at auction. A lot of three different lobby cards in very fine condition, originally displayed in a movie theater lobby in order to promote the film, brought $19 at auction.
Autographs of the principal players are also coveted by collectors. Book values for signed photographs include the following: George Raft (1901-1980) $150, George Brent (1899-1979) $60, Randolph Scott (1898-1987) $130, Joan Blondell (1906-1979) $65, Dolores Moran (1924-1982) $50, Ann Harding (1901-1981) $35, Virginia Field (1917-1992) $20 and Reginald Denny (1891-1967) $30.
Christmas Eve was later remade as a TV movie in 1986 starring Loretta Young, Arthur Hill, Ron Leibman and Trevor Howard. The original Christmas Eve, which was later reissued under the title Sinner’s Holiday, is currently unavailable on DVD. Perhaps Santa can eventually remedy that, making Christmas Eve on DVD a favorite stocking stuffer for holiday movie fans of all ages.
(All photos and auction results courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries, Dallas, Texas)


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