Directed by Paul Feig Starring: Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh and Emma Thompson
The holidays are upon us and along with that – holiday films. From “A Christmas Carol” to “Die Hard” and even to “Eyes Wide Shut”, the genre covers a wide spectrum of styles and there is always something, some motif, setting, style or narrative that makes it what it is and marketable this time of year. Paul Feig’s latest “Last Christmas” falls within the conventional side of this spectrum and appropriately so.
Emilia Clarke plays Kate, an aspiring and struggling singer living in London who also works as an elf in a Christmas store owned by Santa (Michelle Yeoh). Kate or Katerina (her Yugoslavian namesake) is a bit of a train wreck, borderline homeless, careless, irresponsible and jaded. Along comes Tom (Henry Golding), a stranger who happens to show up when she is at her worst but seems to melt her icy cynicism little by little. Slowly, she starts to turn things around, even with a hovering mother (played by Emma Thompson) obsessively doting on her.
To say any more would be revealing too much but Last Christmas reminds us of Bill Murray’s character turn/development in Groundhog Day, another holiday classic. Last Christmas follows the holiday template almost to a T in its predictability. However, Emilia Clarke’s performance is so charming that the movie succeeds in its intention. I’d forgotten she’d been Daenarys of Game of Thrones’ fame. Her comic turn as Kate is so natural and effortless that it’s enough to carry the film throughout the clichés, forced subplots, and feel-good story. We end up rooting for her through thick and thin. Clarke’s performance proves she’s not one-dimensional – a sign she will overcome being typecast, and hopefully more opportunities for complex roles in the future.
Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding and Emma Thompson are all merely there as supporting characters but there are some nice touches here and there. Last Christmas is cognizant of the times and reflects some of the political climate of today’s Europe and the western world. This is the world of Brexit and racism. Thompson (co-writer) and the filmmakers can be commended for at least trying to present a more realistic and diverse London.
The soundtrack is rich – filled with Wham! and George Michael classics. Michael’s song is the inspiration for the story and also a tribute to the late singer. Last Christmas is a cookie cutter of a film and not quite the classic it’s striving to be but it does have its heart in the right place. For some that might be enough.
So did you get to see LAST CHRISTMAS? Let us know what you think!
Merry Christmas everyone! It’s Ruth here and it’s Christmas Day here in the Twin Cities where our blog team and I live. It’s actually an unusually brown Christmas with just a few leftover snow on the ground, nary a flurry in sight!
Well, I thought this year I’d invite my blogging team to tell us their favorite Christmas movies, or the go-to movie(s) they’d watch often during the holiday season. So read on below and see if you share some favorite Christmas movies!
Choosing one “go-to” Christmas movie is tough; it’s one of my favorite times of the year, and I have several movies I have to watch for nostalgia’s sake. If I absolutely have to pick one, though, I’ll go with Home Alone. Sure, the plot doesn’t necessarily hold up today (with current home security systems, smart phones, and today’s airport check-in procedures, I don’t think the story would progress past the first 15 minutes now), but it’s still a classic.
The cast is fantastic, with Macaulay Culkin securing his place as the child actor of the early 90’s (and my first celebrity crush) as Kevin McCallister, Catherine O’Hara and John Heard successfully striking a balance of infuriatingly clueless and genuinely loving as his parents, Kate and Peter, and, of course, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern hamming it up as the hilarious “Wet Bandits,” Harry and Marv.
The movie is full of memorable scenes and dialogue that are still parodied and referenced even after nearly 30 years, and it’s rich with Chrismas imagery, but the soundtrack is what makes it most enduring to me. In addition to classics like Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and The Drifters’ White Christmas (songs that, to this day, I can’t hear without associating them with specific scenes from this film), the score includes music from iconic composer John Williams, and if you don’t get a little choked up hearing Somewhere in my Memory, his big theme for the film, you might be a bit of a Grinch.
I tend to watch Home Alone and Die Hard often during the Christmas season. Throughout my teens Home Alone was a staple during the holidays with my parents and siblings. It’s the first film we watched together around Christmas many years ago. For those old enough to remember, studios tend to leave successful films in theaters for a long time and Home Alone was a massive hit back in the holiday season of 1990. So, it didn’t come out on video until the next holiday season and that’s when I first saw the film with my family.
I couldn’t remember exactly when I saw Die Hard but it wasn’t during Christmas season but somehow I’ve watched at least once a year before Christmas. I think the film wasn’t considered by some as a Christmas film probably a decade after its release in theaters. For a while people just think it’s a great action film but throughout the years, it somehow became known more as a Christmas film. Of course they are some who would argue that’s it’s not a Christmas film. To me it’s a great action film that happens to take place during Christmas time, I don’t really care if it’s an official Christmas film or not.
Another film I tend to watch during the holidays is The Long Kiss Goodnight. A big budget action/adventure with a female lead that I thought was way ahead of its time. Unfortunately, it was a box office dud but I think it has sort of a cult following.
My first favorite Christmas movie is Home Alone (1990), directed by Chris Columbus and starring Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister. Kevin is a bratty but smart 8-year-old boy who’s mistakenly left behind by his his family when they fly away to Paris for Christmas vacation. Kevin at first absolutely loves being home alone, especially away from his bullying big brother Buzz (Devin Ratray) but soon he has to defend his family home from two unsuspecting burglars, Harry and Marv (played respectively by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). Since Kevin convinces himself that he is not afraid to be home alone, he decides to defend his family home from the burglars and rigs the house with booby traps to take on the bandits. This is where all the fun ensues, and when Harry and Marv break in, Kevin spring the traps and they suffer various minor injuries. Kevin also learns a lesson when he befriends Old Man Marley (Roberts Blossom), his neighbor who Kevin previously misjudged as being a serial killer who murdered his family. What Kevin learns is that forgiveness is a very important character trait, no matter how late it comes. I think it brings a nice message of love and forgiveness that anyone watching can relate to. The film was also nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Original Score (written by John Williams) and Best Original Song for “Somewhere in My Memory” (again by John Williams). I try to watch this movie at least once during the holidays.
My second favorite Christmas movie is Home Alone 2: Lost in New York(1992), directed by Chris Columbus and with Macaulay Culkin reprising his role as Kevin McCallister. This time, Kevin is little order, a little smarter but also a whole lot more likely to get lost by his family.
This time, Kevin and his family decide to take a trip to Florida, but because of a power outage, their alarm clocks don’t wake them up in the morning which makes them late for their flight. In all of the rush and confusion, Kevin ends up taking the wrong plane and instead of Florida, he ends up in New York City. Once there, instead of freaking out, Kevin decides to make the most of it and to tour the city. Meanwhile, the “Wet Bandits”, Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern reprising their roles), have traveled to New York City after escaping during a prison riot and have a new name for themselves: the “Sticky Bandits”. Kevin goes to Central Park and meets a homeless woman (Brenda Fricker) feeding the pigeons, but gets scared because she doesn’t talk and has birds all over her. He then goes to the Plaza Hotel, where he uses his dad Peter’s credit card to check in. One of the most poignant but heartwarming parts of the movie comes when on Christmas Eve, Kevin visits a toy store where he meets its philanthropic owner, Mr. E.F. Duncan (Eddie Bracken). Kevin learns that the proceeds from the store’s Christmas sales will be donated to a children’s hospital, and provides a donation.
As a token of appreciation, Mr. Duncan offers Kevin a pair of ceramic turtledoves as a gift, instructing him to give one to another person as a sign of eternal friendship. Kevin goes back to Central Park to apologize to the Pigeon Lady, and give her his other half of the pair of ceramic turtledoves. Of course, he “coincidentally” bumps into the Wet Bandits, who remember him, and then another round of booby traps are set in an abandoned house that use to belong to Kevin’s uncle. The best part of the movie comes at the end when Kevin reunites with his mother at the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree after he wishes for no presents for Christmas but rather a fast reunion with his family. I love watching this movie back to back with the first Home Alone.
There is nothing better than sitting down with a cup of warm, homemade eggnog and a favorite Christmas movie. My two favorites, perhaps predictably, are polar opposites. I’m nothing if not inconsistent. 😉
A viewing of Die Hard (everyone’s favorite is it or isn’t it this year: spoilers, it is) followed by a viewing of Love Actually always get me into the Christmas spirit.
Wishing all of our readers a Happy Holiday season, filled with a family that looks out for you and a love story that is worth telling year after year. Yippee Kai Yay!
For me, my go-to Christmas movies have remain the same over the years and it’s one I can watch any time of the year. I’m a self-professed Anglophile and a huge fan of Richard Curtis’ work (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill and Love Actually). In fact, one of my all time favorite Christmas-themed episode in a TV series is The Vicar of Dibley’s Christmas Special that I’ve highlighted in this post.
So it’s no surprise that Love, Actually is one I can watch time and again, especially during the holiday season. I love that Curtis’ able to balance pathos, irony and absurd humor so perfectly in this scene set in a shopping centre during the hustle and bustle of the Christmas holiday. Absolute classic.
Now, You’ve Got Mail isn’t exactly a Christmas movie per se, but it has several significant Christmas scenes that I’d like think of it as such. Whenever I’m feeling nostalgic and a tad sentimental during the holidays, I’m usually in the mood to watch this Nora Ephron classic. This scene in particular often gets me teared up… I love the setting itself of a winter day in NYC with the sparkling and festive Christmas tree, but it also captures the sentiment of feeling lonely and missing the one you love so perfectly. It’s a beautifully-emotional scene that shall always remains timeless.
So friends, now that we’ve shared ours…
… tell us your favorite or go-to Christmas movie(s)!
Well happy mid December everyone! This year, time has truly ran away from me… and if you’re keeping track, my life’s pace has been at lightning speed since I decided to make a movie last January! But hey, I do miss blogging and I remember how fun it was participating in my pal Nostra’s relay race posts in the past. Plus, when a good friend tagged you to do a relay race (thanks Keith!), you make time 😉 It’s a fun topic that’s perfect for this time of year, too!
So how does this work? Here’s a rundown from Nostra himself:
The rules are, just like the past relay races, very simple: The list has 10 Christmas movies (in random order) and when the baton is handed over to a new blogger, he or she has to remove one title of the list (with an explanation why) and add one new title. Once that is done a new blogger is contacted who will take the baton and run with it, doing the same (you can reinstate a title which has been previously removed). As Christmas is in three weeks I want to ask you to publish your entry as quickly as possible to make sure the list changes as much as possible before the 25th of December. Add the logo of this relay race to your post and also add links to those who came before you making it easy for everyone to find all the entries.
So here is the list of the 10 Best Christmas Movies as it stands now:
There are a number of Christmas films that I actually watch annually and Home Alone has been one of my favorites for years. This film, written by John Hughes, has all the elements to amuse and get you in the mood Christmas. And Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are of course hilarious when the “Wet bandits” Harry and Marv.
The film is almost fifteen years old, but the timeless story of a grown man who grew up among the elves and heads to New York, looking for his father, still is very funny and entertaining. Will Ferrell is the perfect “man child” and the short animated parts are a pleasure to watch. A real Christmas classic.
A MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL
Although Charles Dickens story has been translated to film many times, this version is still my personal favorite. A film with a lot of atmosphere and the warmth of the Muppets.
Every year people argue whether or not Die Hard can be labeled a Christmas film. Yet it is very simple: Although there is a lot of action, the story takes place around Christmas. And Bruce Willis might play his best role ever.
Although you might not associate this horror comedy with Christmas immediately, this film is set during this period and the gremlins even sing Christmas songs. A title that can not be missed.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
It’s a Wonderful Life is a movie which is watched by lots of people every year. Rightly so, because it is a beautiful film that fits the Christmas period.
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET
Another title that I have to think about immediately during this period. Although the opinions are divided which two of the two versions is the best.
The clumsy son of Santa, Arthur, has to make sure that a forgotten package is delivered on time, doing this together with his grandfather. A very nice film from Aardman studios (also responsible for the Wallace & Gromit films).
EYES WIDE SHUT
I’m using the same argument here that many Die Hard fans cling to. The story is set during the festive season and, in actual fact, most if not all scenes are introduced by depicting a Christmas tree. It’s fair to say, that it’s dark psychological mystery isn’t exactly in tune with the Christmas cheer but if Die Hard can be tenuously linked to this joyful season then so can Kubrick’s masterpiece.
A CHRISTMAS STORY (Keith’s addition)
Few films have defined my Christmas movie watching like Bob Clark’s delightful “A Christmas Story”. Sure, I gets overplayed during the season, but it is such a fabulous concoction filled with humor and heart. So many memorable scenes, so many memorable lines, so many memorable characters. This one simply has to be here.
Deciding what to remove was a painful task. I initially considered removing Eyes Wide Shut as the blogger who chose it himself said it ‘isn’t exactly in tune with the Christmas cheer’ but I guess it can still be considered an alternative Christmas film.
So the one I’m tossing out from this list is GREMLINS. I’ve only seen bits and pieces of one of the movies but man, I can’t stand those creatures!! I think seeing them sing Christmas songs will give me nightmares. Funnily enough, my short film’s lead actor’s theatre company is called Gremlin Theatre and for the life of me I have no idea why he chose that [shrug] Sorry Nostra but if I had to choose one, Gremlins‘ definitely gotta go!
So what’s my pick to replace it?
I saw it on a Christmas weekend a few years ago as it was on Netflix. It’s a 2005 French film about the truce that took place on December 24, 1914 during World War I. Now this is a film that reflect the true Christmas spirit. Such a wonderful film that shows an uplifting lesson in humanity, though the truce is such a brief one and the troops from three countries had to pay the price for their disobedience. I’m a big fan of Daniel Brühl who’s great in the film, and I also love the performance of Guillaume Canet, Benno Fürmann and Diane Kruger. I’m glad I finally saw it and it’s become one of my favorite Christmas-themed films!
Ok I’m passing the yuletide baton to… Brittani (yes a fellow Minnesota blogger 😉 ) over at Rambling Film Blog.
It’s Christmas eve and my hubby and I just came back from spending one night in Duluth, which is a couple hours north of Twin Cities. We specifically went there to see Bentleyville right at Canal Park, the largest FREE Christmas lights display in the USA (perhaps even the world) where you could tour over 4 million lights in a 20-acre park along Lake Superior. As if that wasn’t awesome enough, they also gave away free cookies and hot chocolate. Bless Mr. Bentley and the town of Duluth for such an annual holiday treat!
Well, I thought I’d celebrate Christmas with a few of my favorite things. And y’all know I love movies so here are five of my favorite Christmas scenes over the years.
You gotta start w/ the classics… and It’s A Wonderful Life is definitely my favorite Christmas-themed film that can be appreciated any day of the year. It’s such a joyous and rousing finale, complete with the Christmas/New Year’s staple songs Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Auld Lang Syne. Is it any wonder people love returning to Bedford Falls at the end of every year?
Of course when it comes to the most romantic scene of Love, Actually, one would likely think of Andrew Lincoln’s ‘To me you are perfect’ declaration to Keira Knightley… but as far as the most memorable Christmas scene… it’d have to be this one. Not only did Olivia Olson have a glorious voice singing Mariah Carey’s Christmas hit, it’s also a sweet, romantic yet cheeky scene that makes this British ensemble holiday flick a joy to watch year after year.
A message of hope and peace doesn’t get more poignant than this one set during wartime. I’d say this is a film that should be a Christmas staple given the historical significance. Joyeux Noël is an underrated 2005 film about the World War I Christmas truce of December 1914, depicted through the eyes of French, British and German soldiers. Starting with the Scots with their bagpipes, all the way to the moment a German soldier singing Adeste Fideles holding a small Christmas tree, it’s hard not to tear up watching this amazing scene.
Christmas is also a pretty romantic time of the year. There’s something about the snow and twinkling lights that make you all warm and fuzzy. This scene from an unabashedly sweet rom-com While You Were Sleeping utilizes a Wintry Christmas scenery beautifully as the two leads first realize they have feelings for each other. Who doesn’t love Sandra Bullock, and though I don’t normally picture Bill Pullman as a go-to romantic lead, he’s got such an aw-shucks charm here that made me root for these two to be together.
Many of you already knew that I lost my mother when I was sixteen (on my 16th birthday to be exact). It’s been over two decades now but one never gets over such loss and it’s especially tough during the Christmas season. That’s why this scene in You’ve Got Mail gets me every time. Meg Ryan’s Kathleen is reminiscing on her late mother as she decorates her Christmas tree in her shop… wishing her mother were still alive to counsel her. “I’m missing her so much I almost couldn’t breathe…” It always hits me hard as growing up in Jakarta, my late mom and I always decorated our Christmas tree together every December… and I’ll cherish those wonderful memories forever.
Here’s wishing you all
a BLESSED & JOYFUL CHRISTMAS…
wherever you are.
Now that I’ve shared mine, what’s your favorite Christmas movie scene(s)? …
I haven’t been a huge fan of recent comedy films. There are a few I’ve enjoyed, but mostly they blur together in a mess of pop culture references, gross-out humor, and lazy sexual innuendo. This is exactly what I expected of Office Christmas Party, and that’s exactly what the movie delivered. However, there were a couple performances that made the film at least mildly entertaining.
Office Christmas Party follows a group of employees at a data storage company-specifically Josh (Jason Bateman), Tracey (Olivia Munn), and Clay (T.J. Miller), whose father started the company- in their effort to woo a potential client (Courtney B. Vance) to prevent their branch from being shut down. Their method: throw the most amazing office Christmas party, despite the strict instructions not to do so given by the company’s CEO- Clay’s sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston). As anyone who has seen the trailers would expect, the extravagant affair quickly devolves into a near-bacchanalian revel.
One of my biggest issues with this movie was one that I’ve had with several comedies that have come out over the past few years: it dates itself. It makes pop culture references that might be funny when the movie comes out (and even that is debatable), but will be irrelevant within a year. At the beginning, a character shows Josh his family Christmas card, where he, his wife, and kids are dressed up as One Direction (aren’t they technically broken up now? Was the scene filmed before that happened?). During a meeting, a disgruntled employee complains about the internet’s obsession with Grumpy Cat (which I’m pretty sure stopped being a relevant meme at least two years ago). During a prayer, Clay asks God to let Prince and David Bowie know how important they were to everyone, referencing specific celebrity deaths that happened THIS YEAR. It’s a nice sentiment, and the shout-out earned a few chuckles from the audience, but even a year from now, this reference will have no context. Having so many jokes that rely so heavily on current pop culture means the humor will fall flat after a very short amount of time.
My second biggest issue with this movie was Jason Bateman’s character. Not Jason himself-he’s a talented actor who performed well with what he was given-but his bland, middle-aged white guy with the same non-personality as countless other recent comedy; the straight man to the cast of wacky characters. Despite technically being the main character, he could have easily been removed from the film and we wouldn’t lose anything. This movie could have been a lot better if it focused more on Clay trying to run the branch and prove to his sister that he’s capable of being more than just a goofball. T.J. Miller seems capable of handling a bigger role; he was easily the highlight of the movie, and as hilarious as he is, he has a couple genuinely touching moments that show he’s able to do some serious acting. Kate McKinnon was another highlight as Mary, the socially awkward stick-in-the-mud H.R. representative; true, it feels like a character from an SNL skit, but her performance was still fantastic.
I wouldn’t recommend seeing this in theaters, just because it is so forgettable. If you’re a fan of the cast, it might be worth checking it out on Netflix or whatever other streaming service it ends up on, but there’s no reason to catch it on the big screen.
Have you seen ‘Office Christmas Party’? Well, what did you think?
It’s December 25 and I thought I’d take the time to wish you all a wonderful Christmas… wherever you are. It’s not quite a White Christmas here in Minnesota. The snow that’s supposed to hit us today seems to have shift to Friday, which is a bummer as for once I don’t mind having a snowy Christmas day as I don’t have to travel anywhere. It’s been a while since we actually have a truly mellow Christmas where we get to relax at home, eat home-cooked meal and watch movies in the comfort of our own home.
After church on Christmas eve, we wanted to see a Christmas-themed movie. At first we’re going to see Bill Murray’s Scrooged, but ended up rewatching Tim Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns, as this TOR.com blog cleverly dubbed …‘Twas the Dark Knight Before Christmas...
Hey, even Alfred’s getting into the Christmas spirit putting up the Christmas tree in the Wayne Mansion whilst Bruce snuggles up by the fire. It’s the calm before the storm, as it were. The real action begins as soon as miss Selina Kyle enters the picture…
(although a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it…)
I had seen it ages ago but I couldn’t remember much of the details other than Michelle Pfeiffer‘s stunning and iconic portrayal as Catwoman. She still is one of the best things about this film, and I don’t think anyone’s topped her performance yet in that role [sorry Anne Hathaway, you’re good but not THAT good].
The Christmas setting in Gotham City is gorgeous to look at and definitely got me a bit nostalgic of spending time in New York City last year.
The festive Christmas lighting ceremony in Gotham Plaza is basically modeled after the giant tree in Rockeffeler Center, and there’s even that lavish holiday masked ball where Bruce Wayne gets to slow dance with Selina Kyle and discovering who their real identities are.
Keaton and Pfeiffer had quite a scorching chemistry, more so than Christian Bale did with any of his female co-stars. It’s a complicated and ultimately doomed relationship that’s beguiling and surprisingly emotional.
“Does this mean we have to start fighting?”
Tons of great performances too, Danny Devito is effectively creepy yet funny as Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, and Christopher Walken is always fun to watch as the slimy businessman Max Shreck. Danny Elfman‘s score is absolutely terrific, too, I should feature it in the next Music Break 😉
Though I’ve come to love Nolan’s Batman’s trilogy that’s more solemn and realistic, I have to admit I enjoyed Burton’s decidedly more circus-y and theatrical approach. Glad I rewatched this tonight, Batman Returns is definitely a fun albeit bizarre alternative Christmas flick if you’re not in the mood to watch It’s A Wonderful Life for the zillionth time. Though the story may be dark and even tragic, I wouldn’t call it an anti-Christmas movie. In fact, the finale ends on a hopeful note, with a subtle hint that the Christmas spirit isn’t entirely lost on them …
Good will toward men… and women.
So folks, once again I wish you a MERRY & BLESSED CHRISTMAS. What’ll you be watching this Christmas break?
Taking a brief respite from the strategy of “What?”s and “When?”s in regards to baking family Christmas gifts. I’ve fallen back upon a request from our Hostess regarding favorite holiday-hemed films. While A Christmas Story and It’s A Wonderful Life hold their proper place high in the firmament. And have been critiqued to death. I’ve opted for a later film directed by Delbert Mann.
Whose sublime detail in its many sets firmly ensconce this work in the still glamorous world of 1960s Old Family wealth. And the continuous, often humorous sub rosa and covert scams and grifts employed to maintain it. All under the subtle of of the unassuming family butler.
Imagine if you will a cabal of Old School and generational full liveried staff and servants attached to Old Family Money all along the East Coast. Loyal to a fault and quite content their positions, lifestyles and standing. Yet, also often willing to bend the rules of social propriety (The Law) to maintain that standing. And the rather relaxed and elegant lifestyles of their respective “families”.
Put that concept in the more than competent hands of director, Mann. Allow him access to a stellar cast of then up and coming character actor and television talent. Back that up with an exceptionally harpsichord and brass heavy orchestra under the touch of an equally up and coming Johnny (John) Wiliams’ Ladle on opulent oaken and maple home estate and high end department store sets. To reinforce the carefree confidence of more the than financial stability of a half century ago.
Then put it all in the hands of Claude Fitzwilliam. (Dick Van Dyke. Rarely better!) A generational manservant and honors graduate of Williams College and completely devoted to the welfare and care of Miss Victoria Woodworth (A very spry and sharp, Edith Evans). Who enjoys the life of elegant luxury. While indulging in esoteric hobbies. Like a dictionary of phonetically misspelled words. Or dabbling in her and her family’s rather racy memoirs. Completely oblivious to (Or is she?) the goings on of her staff of footman, Albert (John McGiver). A bevy of maids and attendants. Chauffeur, Oliver (A very young Sam Waterson) and Fitzwilly. As Oliver guides a rather posh Rolls Royce Silver Cloud into Manhattan. On a walking and rather slick plundering tour of Bergdorf’s, Neiman’s and other high end establishments.
Checking off items on Fitzwilly’s shopping list: Silver cutlery, forks, spoons, sugar tongs on one level of Altman’s. Antique mirrors and leaded crystal one floor up. Television consoles on the ground floor. Vintage wine at another location. With Fitzwilly affecting a different voice, accent, infliction and body language for each purchase. Billing each to a fictitious family. Then calling the Shipping Department for a cohort (Noam Pitlick) to send on their way to St. Dismas Charitable Fund and its many thrift shops.
While Miss Vickie is otherwise occupied and in need of an assistant. In the shape of initially bookish, smart and bespectacled, Juliet Nowell (Barbara Feldon in her first and best film role!). Graduate of Business and Literature from Smith college. Expanding her repertoire with Post graduate work at Columbia and wanting to branch out on her own.
Fitzwilly and Ms. Nowell do not hit it off right away. As her evening arrival and interview had been arranged by Ms. Vickie and against his wishes. Creating an possible unwanted intrusion into the butler, staff and other familiar monied families’ staff operating under Fitzwilly’s umbrella. A solution is sought. And found in the holiday remodeling of a Palm Beach manse. Whose $15,000 budget (What roughly a half million would be today! Remember, this is 1967.) is placed into the hands of Byron Casey (Stephen Strimpell). Who wishes to spend as little as possible. And pocket the rest. A quick meeting with Fitzwilly and staff reveals all sorts of possibilities in keeping hold of Casey’s proposed half of the total budget. While procuring a Steinway Grand Piano, Crystal, Silver, Entertainment systems and other accoutrements of the idle rich.
Plans are discussed and set. Along with contingencies to keep Miss Vickie occupied along with Ms. Nowell. Who, besides being terribly efficient. Is also blessed or cursed with the curiosity of a cat. And finds Fitwilly’s and staff’s basement “work shop”. Full of paper stocks, printing presses, inks, pens, labeling machines, letterheads, mimeograph machines. All of the recently used tools of the illegal arts had been used to begin shipping items from north to south.
A confrontation is to be had as Ms. Nowell kind of misreads what she’s seen. And kind of doesn’t. After quickly executed biblical bar grifts (Sampsom and Delilah) are executed across upper and mid town establishments to cover unexpected shipping costs. Made worse by Ms. Nowell accidentally mailing out Casey’s $7,500 “retainer” check to a charity Fitzwilly has no control over. And can not intercept or stop its payment.
Others would see this as a irredeemable catastrophe, but not Fitzwilly. Who enjoys a challenge and come up with “one last caper” to cover the loss. And perhaps, turn a profit. With Altman’s being an optimum target. Along with a few other reputable firms.
All these plans, schemes, times and places of execution are known by far too repentant Albert (John McGiver). Who is snatched up in the middle of the Christmas Eve rush. And is more than willing to bare his soul as Miss Vickie politely crashes the interrogation between Albert, store manager, Oberlatz (Norman Fell) and Assistant District Attorney Eliot Adams (Dennis Cooney). Who want to nail Albert and company’s hide to the closest wall. As Miss Vickie; who knows Eliot and his family. Begins very polite, yet scandalous negotiations which focus on poster boy, Adam’s less than stellar past in boarding, prep schools and colleges. Watching and listening to the grand old dame effortlessly knocks back proposed felony charges to misdemeanors is a singularly memorable thing of insinuating and groveling beauty.
Clearing the decks for a Happy Ending. Whose details I’ll avoid while avoiding Spoiler Territory.
Now. What Makes This Film A Notable Favorite?
One of the last, most meticulously detailed and executed examples of being rich in the 1960s. And how the rich behave, though little of that has changed over the decades. Used to a certain level of comfort and discretion few may attain. And never apologizing for it.
Part of the film’s humor is in seeing how dropping the right name. Or having the right looking work orders. The right clothes. Behaving in certain cultured, mannered effete ways. Opens doors that most thorough background could never accomplish. Especially when Fitzwilly and his crew in brand name logo coveralls allows them to wrap up and walk out with a full blown African Safari floor display from a top line department store for Miss Vickie’s “Platypuses”. Her version of a rich kids’ Boy Scouts.
This film also possesses one of the best and most helpful soundtracks I’ve enjoyed in a while. Gently enhancing the austerity of Miss Vickie’s posh estate one moment. Then lightheartedly advancing suspense the next. Kudos to young Mr. Williams for so cleverly making an early mark before being “the go to guy” with the creation of later blockbusters.
Cinematography by Joseph F. Biroc is lush and opulent. Everything one could ask for. Indoors and out. Sets have already gotten their due. Costume design and execution by Donfeld are flawless. From Mr. Van Dyke. To Ms. Evans and Ms. Feldon’s early penchant for knit scarves and turtlenecks on down.
This is a film for Mr. Van Dyke to carry, if not take the lead on. Setting well inside the template started with Bye Bye, Birdie and Mary Poppins. Having fun with playing different characters, no matter how briefly. While Ms. Evans delicately manages to steal every scene she is in.
The chemistry between Mr. Van Dyke’s Fitzwilly and Ms. Feldon’s Juliet is fun to watch from the start. Equals in more way than one. Matching talents and wiles in a film that features the buyers’ insanity of the last minute Christmas season. Though is not centrally themed around it.
Note: This film has finally been getting some proper air time on Turner Classic Movies and is available to be viewed Full Length on YouTube.