Friday, December 24, 2010


It’s Christmas 1951 in the coal mining town of Caufield (named for the rich Scrooge-like owner of the mine). On Christmas Eve morning, a methane explosion occurs in one of the mines. No one is hurt, but an expert says the mine needs to be shut down for 48 hours to be properly rockdusted; Caufield won’t do it, insisting the mine is safe. The men don't want to go back in that night, but Mitchell Ryan (pictured), a respected miner, gets the men to work, though he also decides it’s time to get somed union men in to organize the workers. Sure enough, that night, there's another explosion and a cave-in, trapping Ryan and his men. Will a Christmas miracle save them? (Hint: check the title)

Surprisingly for a Chrismas TV-movie, the holiday aspect is secondary to the rather mild social commentary story of the miners and their families. Ryan is a good man who is caught in the changing times, both as a worker and as a father. Kurt Russell is the boyfriend of Ryan's older daughter (Karen Lamm); he's a pro-union intellectual who wants to get out of the mines and get an education. Lamm wants him to get her pregnant and take her to the big city, but he wants to wait til they’re married and he can provide for her. There’s also a crippled little brother (who, for a Christmas movie, is surprisingly underused) and a neighbor couple--she's pregnant and he's a budding alcoholic. The story is narrated by 13-year-old Melissa Sue Gilbert, the middle child, and she (the actress and the character) is the biggest problem with the movie. We're supposed to find her feisty and admirable, but she just seems abrasive and a little bratty; at one point, feeling like she’s been cheated at the company store, she throws a rock through the store window and it feels like a dumb, unmotivated plot point with no real payoff. Ryan and Russell are both fine, as is Barbara Babcock as the mother. Lamm, who later married Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, retired from acting, and died at 49, overdoes the whiny frustration. Also in the cast are Andrew Prine (as the drunkard) and John Carradine (as Gilbert's grandpa). Though it winds up being filled with clichéd characters and situations, as a holiday movie, it's a little different from the current crop of dumb romances and doltish fantasies. (This was first broadcast as Christmas Miracle in Caufield, USA, but it was released on tape and is being shown on cable under its current title) [FMC]

No comments: