Thursday, December 29, 2005


I'm usually a sucker for Christmas-themed films, but this year, my cinema stocking was rather bare. My annual holiday TV-movie, CHRISTMAS IN BOSTON, on ABC Family, was pretty lame. The plot device had potential: a man and woman who have never met but have been pen-pals for years finally arrange to meet, but then chicken out and each has a friend pose as him or her. The friends wind up falling in love, and so do the pen-pals, without knowing each other's real identities until the end. The acting was OK; Patrick J. Admas fit the bill nicely as the requisite blandly handsome leading man, though I can't say much for Marla Sokoloff as his pen-pal. As an average TV-movie romance, this is pretty average; the real problem for me is that the holiday element is completely beside the point. This could have been set on Labor Day or Arbor Day or June 8th, and the film totally wastes any possibility for using holiday cheer, charm, and magic.

The Christmassy TENTH AVENUE ANGEL is a movie I've avoided watching in the past, mostly because the movie guide critics really hate it and give it one star or less. The "civilian" reviewers on IMDb, however, tend to love it and give it all the stars they can, so I broke down and watched it this year. It's not quite as bad as the professional critics say (Halliwell calls it "icky" and Maltin gives it a Bomb rating), but it's not one I'd rush to watch again. Ten-year-old Margaret O'Brien plays the title character, a whimsical Pollyanna-type who lives in the tenements and zips around on her roller skates, brightening the lives of the neighborhood residents. Her mother (Phyllis Thaxter) and father (Warner Anderson), though loving parents, are secondary characters next to her aunt (Angela Lansbury) and Lansbury's boyfriend (George Murphy). Murphy has just returned home from prison (O'Brien was told he was traveling the globe) and is trying to put his life back together; his buddy at the taxi company where he used to work (Barry Nelson, with an unbecoming pencil-thin mustache) gives him a job washing cabs and promises him that, after his 6-month parole period is over and he can hold a driver's license again, he'll be back in as a driver. However, Murphy finds it hard to escape his past and decides that he shouldn't marry Lansbury and plans to leave town after parole. Meanwhile, O'Brien becomes disillusioned when she finds out that everything adults say isn't necessarily true and she starts moping around, losing her whimsical charm. At Christmas, Anderson is low on money, Thaxter is pregnant, and Murphy is tempted to join up with his crime buddies for one last heist. When Thaxter collapses, gives premature birth, and seems on the verge of death, O'Brien decides that finding a Christmas miracle will somehow help so she goes hunting for a cow at midnight on Christmas Eve to see if it will kneel like the legends say. Guess what? It does, and somehow all the other situations come to uplifting resolutions in the last 5 minutes of the movie. The folks on IMDb who love this movie are mostly Margaret O'Brien fans, and certainly O'Brien is pretty good here, doing the best she can with some artlessly sappy situations and dialogue. Murphy also does a good job, very believable as a nice guy who's trying hard to stay out of trouble and live up to the expectations of others. Rhys Williams does a decent job as a blind news seller who figures in a major subplot. Still, overall, it does lay the sentiment on a little heavily, and the Miracle of the Cow just comes off as silly. [TCM]

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