So, Thanksgiving, right? I feel under some pressure to do a “what I’m thankful for” post, so here it goes…
Ha ha! I almost had you, didn’t I? I think you guys know me better than that.
‘Tis the season for “top Christmas movie lists.” Let’s talk about that.
Do we really need to be told that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is something people watch? And if you’re a fan of “A Christmas Story,” skip it this year. Instead, if you can find it, check out the darker, edgier and so much funnier “Phantom of the Open Hearth,” which aired on PBS in the 1970s and is the original movie based on the Jean Shepherd essay that the Christmas movie later came from.
My friend Brian Ruel and I saw “A Christmas Story” when it first came out. He had to review it for the late, great Biddeford Journal-Tribune, which no longer exists, and we saw it in an afternoon showing at the Cines 5 theater in Biddeford, which had just opened, but also no longer exists. When it ended we both said something like, “Wow, they really watered down ‘Phantom of the Open Hearth.'”
But I digress.
Want to see a Christmas movie you haven’t seen a zillion times? Watch “Desk Set.” I downloaded it from Amazon Prime Video — I also have it on DVD, but it was easier to buy it from a streaming service than to hook the DVD player back up.
The 1957 Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn film has a snappy Henry and Phoebe Ephron script that’ll soak into you like heavily spiked egg nog in front of a fire.
The movie begins in November and you can feel that pre-Christmas giddiness that you’re all probably feeling at this very moment. Its climatic scene is one of those boozy office-shredding Christmas parties that have gone the way of the Journal-Tribune, Cines 5 and “Phanton of the Open Hearth.”
The biggest gifts are some classic Tracy-Hepburn scenes, including lunch on a roof early in the movie and a bottle of champagne and some whip-smart flirting in the research stacks during the Christmas party.
But the best is a dinner scene at Hepburn’s apartment involving her, Tracy, Gig Young and a monogrammed robe Hepburn was going to give Young for Christmas. The scene is perfect in every way, and I’d put it up against anything from “Elf” or whatever else people put on their “best Christmas movies list.”
There aren’t any fart jokes, excrement in the punch bowl, the dog getting electrocuted by Christmas lights. It’s not about a guy trashing his dreams and resigning himself to a life in a go-nowhere job because everyone in his town is too hapless to get out of their own way if he isn’t there to hold their hands. Sorry, maybe I’ve seen that one too many times.
The technology aspects of the plot — the movie was bankrolled by IBM — may seem dated, but it’s really not. The gals in the research department of a TV station are afraid a computer is going to take their jobs. When I turned the movie off, I switched on an episode of “Superstore,” and the gang at the store was afraid a new robot that cleans floors and stocks shelves was going to take over their jobs. Ditto for some of the gender issues — sure they’re through a 62-year-old lens, but things haven’t changed nearly as much as they should have.
Anyway, the plot is secondary to what’s going on, if you know what I mean.
Wow, not to interrupt, but I just saw on TV that the HLN Thanksgiving “Forensic Files” marathon begins at midnight. It’s going to be a late night for this mashed potato!
Speaking of Thanksgiving, I heard someone say recently that there are “no good books” centered around Thanksgiving. Not for nothing, but my second Bernie O’Dea mystery, NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS, has a climatic Thanksgiving Day scene, where an uncooked turkey rotting on a counter is not even in the top five of bad things that happen. And, not to brag or anything, but a reader at an author talk this summer told me I ruined Thanksgiving for them forever.
You know? I know I said this wasn’t going to be some sappy post about what I’m thankful for, but man — from “Desk Set” to “Forensic Files” to “Hey! I’m a writer who does it well enough to ruin holidays for strangers!” — if I were the kind of person who said said things like “I’m truly blessed” I’d say it.
Happy Thanksgiving folks!