Wednesday, January 08, 2014


At Christmastime, we see a rather scraggly Santa Claus belly up to a bar, order a fogcutter, and head off to his shift at Macy's where, when his state of drunkenness becomes plain as he yells at the kiddies and their parents, he is fired. At his apartment building, the man (Monty Woolley) is helped up the stairs by a new neighbor, a composer (Cornel Wilde), who recognizes him as a once-famous actor who has hit the skids and who is now largely in the care of his crippled daughter (Ida Lupino) who is afraid to marry and have children, thinking her lame foot problem would be inherited. As it happens, Wilde's aunt (Sara Allgood) used to act with Woolley and has had a crush on him for years. Between the attentions of Lupino, Wilde and Allgood, Woolley begins to reform, gets a job on a radio soap opera, and even manages to get offered the part of King Lear in a Broadway revival which is being backed by Allgood. But soon, complications arise; Lupino finds out that her foot condition was caused inadvertently by a drunken Woolley and she decides to marry Wilde and move with him to California, not wanting to tell Woolley until after his premiere. The night before the opening, however, Woolley discovers Lupino's plans and succumbs to spirits again. Will everything work out for all concerned?

Though this movie doesn't try for social commentary on substance abuse, neither does it sugar-coat the problems of a recovering alcoholic, and it bounces back and forth between comedy and melodrama. Occasionally it veers off into fairly sappy territory, especially in a late scene between Lupino and Wilde, but for the most part it keeps its balance, mostly thanks to a solid performance by Woolley who isn't afraid to make his character quite unlikable sometimes. Allgood is also quite fine, doing an understated turn in an unusual role. The opening scene with Woolley as the drunk Santa was like the opening of the later MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET from the viewpoint of the drunk, and the way that sequence straddles the comedy/drama line is perfect. The title refers to the traditional starting time of Broadway plays. [DVD]

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