Monday, November 29, 2010

The season 'tis, my lovely lambs

That's right! It's time for Cheesy Christmas Movies!

Every so often, as the fit takes me, I'll post a movie that makes Christmas feel by turns tawdry, silly, maudlin or just plumb sentimental. There'll even be a couple of awesome flicks tossed in. Most of them come from the Internet Archive's stash of public domain film. (Some of them, the public probably should have turned down.)

The first offering comes under "sentimental." I posted it once before, but I'll re-up the commentary for the benefit of new readers:

Beyond Tomorrow is the sort of movie you simply don't see anymore. Three elderly bachelors who both live and do business together set up a little test to see what kind of people are walking outside their window. They each toss a wallet with ten dollars and a business card inside, and wait to see who returns the money. Naturally, it's a man and a woman, both single and lonely, and both at loose ends for the holiday. The bachelors invite them to Christmas dinner, and the result is what you'd expect, either in 1940 or today.

It all takes a different turn when (a) the three men are killed in a plane crash and (b) the young man finds himself being led astray by a woman of easy virtue. From here on out, it's chock-full of the sort of thing that Hollywood would roll its collective eyes at today, even for a hokey Christmas flick.

For starters, the theology is a bit clear-cut for a modern film, even though for people who take their religion seriously it's kind of facile. The afterlife is presented without self-consciousness or wisecracks. Good is good, and evil is evil, and there is forgiveness for the repentant. It's a morality tale, pure and simple. If you don't like moral absolutes, you won't get this one.

Besides that, the acting is really good for such a low-budgeter, and there's a nifty little background/subplot thing with two Russian servants, refugees with Romanov connections. Maria Ouspenskaya is the sort of treasure that belonged in a museum; to see her in this B-flick is like seeing Olivier in a soap commercial. So get the hankies out and skip the cliche repellant:

Update three years later: I always knew Jean Parker was wonderful, and this film just reaffirms it. I'm also very struck by the treatment of George's afterlife. Allan is met by his family and taken to heaven, and Michael remains Topper-like to help his friends. But George... George takes a route seldom seen in movies.

It's clear that he has some dark sin in his past, though we're never told what it is. When he steps off into his dark, ominous destination, it's very foreboding. But foreboding of what, exactly? Is that Hell he's going to? Is it Purgatory? That he goes without a fight suggests the latter, but there's no actual identification made of it and the rest of the film implies kind of a generic pseudo-Protestant heaven-and-hell-and-nothing-else. Still, he emerges after repenting and is admitted to Heaven. Very intriguing. (On re-watching the ending, no. It's very Catholic in its treatment of the afterlife. Not only does George describe Purgatory to a T, but Michael is also interceded for by his mother, which is a completely Catholic take on the Communion of Saints. I looked up both the writers, and they appear to have been solidly Catholic. It makes sense.)

So what did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

No comments: