‘Tis The Season for Warm Fuzzies! …and a couple of Capra Classics.

Tis the season for family, friends, and lots of warm fuzzies. But like almost everyone else I know, I haven’t been feeling very warm or fuzzy lately. So, when the warm glow of the season starts to sputter and dim, I do what any self respecting sentimental cinephile does. I turn to classic Hollywood.

When it comes to classic Hollywood, no one did warm and fuzzy quite like Frank Capra.

Ask anyone for a list of their favorite holiday movies and somewhere on the list you’ll probably find Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

In case you’ve been living under a rock for most of your life, It’s a Wonderful Life is the 1946 Frank Capra classic, starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Lionel Barrymore, and a cast of Hollywood mainstays. It’s explained by IMDB as “An angel (Clarence, played by Henry Travers) helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman, George Bailey (Stewart), by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.

While watching ‘Wonderful Life’ for the umteen-hundredth time the other night, I couldn’t help a despairing feeling that bank CEOs apparently haven’t changed since 1946. Lionel Barrymore’s Mr Potter could very well be the CEO of Citi Group or Goldman Sachs.

‘Wonderful Life’ is an excellent movie with a superb cast but I always feel a little sad for George Bailey. He dreams of someday seeing the world but spends his entire life being the responsible citizen, putting the needs and wants of others ahead of himself. Indeed, if uncle Billy hadn’t been so careless George might not have considered such desperate measures. The extreme nature of George’s crisis is probably what makes the ending so effective. It’s why we root for George Bailey. He’s our ‘everyman’ who fights the system and wins.

george-bailey


Trivia: Thomas Mitchell (Wonderful Life’s Uncle Billy) plays Judge Henry Blake in Pocketful of Miracles


On the other end of the spectrum is Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles (1961) which, in my humble opinion, because of it’s bright view of the world and almost absurd optimism, is a better representation of the spirit of the season.

In Miracles, gangster Dave the Dude (Glenn Ford) and his girlfriend Queenie (Hope Lange) try to turn pan handler Apple Annie (Bette Davis) into a society dame when they learn that Annie’s daughter (Ann-Margret) is coming to visit from Spain with her fiance, a royal. The storyline is convoluted and far-fetched but it hits all the right bells and whistles.

What appeals to me about Pocketful of Miracles is it’s charm. Unlike the seriousness of It’s a Wonderful Life, Pocketful of Miracles is utter nonsense. It’s how we wish the real world worked. It’s a sickeningly sweet saccharine saga full of hope and improbable expectations and I love every single minute of it!

large_pocketful_of_miracles_02_blu-ray_So, whether you’re a George Bailey or an Apple Annie, I want to wish everyone a Happy and Joyous Holiday!

May 2015 bring Peace, Love, Happiness, and Good Health to all.

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“Just One Book” Bette Davis – Storm Center

“Sure she talks sweet as honey. All the time you can bet she was working away back there. She has twenty five years to fill those shelves with poison. She and those books of hers. All they want is one thing: smash and destroy. Smash everything we’ve ever built up in this country.” –  George Slater (Joe Mantell) via IMDB

I thought I had seen every Bette Davis film ever made until last week, when I happened to catch ‘Storm Center’ on GetTVone of several new movie channels popping up on broadcast television.

Storm Center (1956) stars Bette Davis as a small town librarian branded as a communist because she refuses to remove a controversial book from the library’s shelves.

 

The film was released two years after the *McCarthy hearings, at the height of the cold war. It plays up the McCarthyism theme. Complaints are made to the city council about a library book called ‘The Communist Dream’. Mrs Hull (Davis) is asked by the council to remove the book from circulation because they feel it promotes communism and could corrupt young minds. Hull agrees at first, then changes her mind. The council fires her and here is where things spin out of control.

A young lawyer (Brian Keith) takes the opportunity to use “The Red Scare” as a platform for his political future. Rumors spread. Lies are told. Mrs Hull is branded a communist. Even her favorite little book worm, Freddie Slater (Kevin Coughlin) makes up far-fetched tales about his mentor. Everyone is willing to believe the outlandish stories in spite of their personal experiences with the librarian. The extremism reminded me of today’s political climate. In particular, our Tea Party movement.

*For those of you too young to remember, Joe McCarthy was a Republican senator from Wisconsin who led the witch hunt against American citizens, including famous actors, writers, and fellow politicians, whom he thought might be associated with the communist party. It was the height of the cold war. America was hyper paranoid about Russia. Many people lost their jobs, homes, and families in disgrace because McCarthy branded them “Un-American”.

Sound familiar?

It’s striking how little has changed in fifty-eight years. Oh sure, we like to convince ourselves that we are more evolved than our elders but when it comes right down to it, we are just as susceptible as they were to fear and propaganda. It’s how George W Bush got away with invading Iraq. Everyone of us who argued against it was branded “UnAmerican”. My own father questioned my allegiance. I think he even called me a commie. 🙂

We humans do love to rally around a common enemy. — even if the enemy is made up.

Storm Center is a little melodramatic. The ending is kinda corny, but overall, the film is enjoyable. Kevin Coughlin’s Freddie reminds me of me as a little bookworm. Like Freddie, my neighborhood librarian was my best friend. She helped me navigate through the library’s stacks and even allowed me extra books when she thought I could handle it.

You’ll have to hunt for Storm Center. It’s not available through Netflix. If you see it scheduled on a local TV station, set your DVR. It’s worth your attention.

BONUS: Trivia

  • Storm Center was the first movie to criticize the McCarthy era directly.
  • The Legion of Decency did not like the movie because of what it considered the film’s “pro-Communist” leanings. Instead of condemning the picture, though, it used a “separate classification” for it. That had previously been used on Blockade (1938) (a Spanish Civil War film that the League also thought was anti-Catholic and pro-Communist) and Martin Luther (1953) (because the film portrayed the life of the man who split Christianity, and also because the League thought it was full of inaccurate presentations of Church teachings).

Trivia via IMDB