Robert Stein 1924-2014

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Homicide for the Holidays

“Die Hard” is one of the all-time great Christmas movies. Who knew?

Yet, according to such diverse opinion makers as the Christian Science Monitor and Forbes Magazine, the 1988 Bruce Willis shoot-out makes the list because the mayhem takes place during an office Yuletide party at an LA high-rise.

Despite the tinsel and trees, the old-fashioned may see the Christmas spirit lacking in mass murder, but that might just be a result of the generation gap that makes me impervious to the charm of vampire movies (no taste for a blood-sucking Lincoln).

With all the digital choices available in the coming week as well as on good old reliable TCM, you can still find an unperverted version of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.” One of the best is the 1938 MGM take, which ranks high in memory, with an asterisk to protest liberties taken with the plot, including Bob Cratchit heaving a snowball at Scrooge and being fired before the holiday (always a touch of Andy Hardy in the Louis B. Mayer era).

Arguably the best is a 1951 darkly beautiful British tour de force with Alastair Sim, a grand actor who was born to play Scrooge, or for my Yuletide guilty pleasure, the 1970 musical with Albert Finney.

With an undistinguished score (we're not talking Stephen Sondheim here), the singing and dancing somehow seem just right for a tale to lift our hearts and make believing children of us all. Peopled with great actors--Edith Evans, Kenneth More and Alec Guinness as the campiest Jacob Marley ever--it's a thing of visual beauty, culminating in a joyous scene of dancing, bell-ringing celebrants against a snowy background that is pure Breughel.

Then again, if your tastes run more toward Bruce Willis and exploding buildings, “Die Hard” can keep you entranced if not inspired. Christmas is no time to be snobby or exclusive.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Alistair Sim! One of my all-time favorites. Have you seen him in "Green for Danger"? Or as the comic book author in "Hue and Cry"? He was one of the best, ever.
Your columns are a bright spot in my day. Thank you!