Friday, December 07, 2007

Your Friday Christmas Movie

I figure it's about time to put up another film, since Christmas is bearing down on us like a logging truck.

This one is only a Christmas movie by way of setting; the actual plot is only peripherally related. Then again, some of the films we most associate with the holidays are like that. "It's a Wonderful Life" is an obvious one; it's so firmly established in the American Christmas canon that we can't imagine it with a summertime setting. Every year, we see a romantic comedy or two that are set at Christmas just because that's a lucrative time for the release. I'm partial to 'While You Were Sleeping" as an example of that genre.

The theme that ties these together is a sense of hearth and home, an emphasis on families and togetherness. Real families, of course, get on each other's nerves during the holidays, but that, too, is taken for part of the fun. In Christmas movies, family is paramount. The holiday-family-schmaltz dynamic also makes for an ideal way to make a sentimental movie not come across hokey, especially with one like today's film du jour. There's also kind of a built-in deadline that establishes the film's timing, as the characters want everything to be perfect for Christmas.

Although "Son of the Navy" sounds like the sort of thing you call a man when you want to provoke him into a tavern brawl, it's actually a benign, even pollyanna film. The plot is a familiar one: a little orphan boy tries to wangle himself a family for Christmas, even if he has to create it himself. It's also got the familiar comic elements of mistaken identity, a bickering couple that you know will end up in love, and a cute dog. I don't know why this little boy didn't keep acting as an adult; his last credit seems to be a Dragnet episode when he was about 20. IMDb doesn't have any other biographical information and I can't find any Social Security death record for him, so he's probably alive out there somewhere at the venerable age of 80. (Martin Spellman, if you ever find yourself here on a Google search or something, drop a comment and tell us about yourself, would you?) Besides him, James Dunn and Jean Parker (who immediately afterward was the charming leading lady in the last film I posted) turn in a delightful performance as the sort of people who shouldn't be allowed in the same room together. It's a cute, light B movie, all in all; not pretentious, just sweet.

This film has one more poignant note that the makers couldn't have predicted. It was released in 1940, as the Depression was winding down and it looked as though everything would be all right at last. By the following Christmas, the whole world would have changed, and the Navy would be reeling from the attack at Pearl Harbor. (That was 66 years ago today, in fact.) But for that short time, we get to see a military man and his makeshift family with no bigger problems on their plate than their personal lives. Which is how it should be.

So pull up a chair, pour yourself a warm cup of something, put on your toasty socks, and enjoy:

(Leave a comment if you see this, and tell me what you thought.)

Update: I removed the Tourette's Syndrome Barbie because the sound was interfering. If anyone wants to see it, it's not hard to put back. I think it's pretty much run its course, though, as far as novelty.

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