Sunday, December 8, 2019

How Murray Saved Christmas (TV)

Directed by
Peter Avanzino
Written by Mike Reiss
Starring: Dennis Haysbert, Jerry Stiller, Sean Hayes, Jason Alexander, Kevin Michael Richardson
IMDB Entry
How Murray Saved ChristmasThe Christmas season is inundated with specials. Which are good from the point of view of the network that commissioned them.  You can trot them out every year and get an audience big enough to make them worthwhile. It’s unusual for a special to have only one or two broadcasts, and especially strange when the show is as good as How Murray Saved Christmas.*

The story – set entirely in verse and narrated by Dennis Haysbert – is set in the town of Stinky Cigars, where all the symbols of holidays live. Characters like the Easter Bunny, Cupid, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln go about their lives, with the name of the town keeping outsiders away.  And, of course, Santa Claus (voice of Kevin Michael Richardson). Murry Weiner (Jerry Stiller) is the cranky old man who runs the town diner, but when Santa suffers a concussion due an invention of Edison Elf (Sean Hayes), Murray become the only one who can deliver the presents.
It’s a witty version of the story, aimed at adults. Mike Reiss was a writer for The Simpsons and wanted to have the same sort of irreverent attitude. He certainly succeeded and the verses are terrific.

The show was run on NBC in 2014 and got poor ratings, with a lot of people complaining that it wasn’t for kids.** They ran it again the next year, but cut it from an hour to a half hour. Now it is possible to fit a long story into a half hour slot,*** but you can’t do it by indiscriminately slashing it in half. In any case, I haven’t seen it on the air since, though it can be found online.

But the show managed to mix a great deal of humor with the Christmas spirit, and even has some clever songs.****  If you’re looking for a grownup Christmas cartoon, this is well worth watching.
*Saving Christmas is probably the top plot of any Christmas special, if you don’t count remakes of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life.
**Too many people don’t understand that animated films are not necessarily children’s fare – to their loss, alas.
***There’s an excellent radio version of The Maltese Falcon using the main cast from the Bogart movie that is a marvel of condensation.
****Especially the song of the exploited elves.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Nothing Sacred

Nothing Sacred

Directed by
William Wellman
Written by Ben Hecht from a story by James Street
Starring Carole Lombard, Fredric March, Walter Connolly, Charles Winninger
IMDB Entry

The screwball comedy was a glorious subgenre of the 1930s, a series of romantic comedies based up an off-beat situation that get their laughs by wild plotting and characters. One of the more overlooked films in the genre is Nothing Sacred.

Wally Cook (Fredric March) is a reporter for The Morning Star in New York, on the outs with his editor, Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly) after his big scoop turned out to be a hoax he fell for. In order to repair the paper’s reputation, he spots an article about Hazel Stone (Carole Lombard), who is dying of radium poisoning and goes up to her home in Warsaw, Vermont, to cash in on the sob story. But just as he arrives, Hazel learns from her doctor Enoch Downer (Charles Winninger) that the tests were wrong, and she’s perfectly healthy. As she leaves, Wally spots her an offers her a trip to New York.  Hazel, who always wanted to visit the city, goes along. She is wined and dined and celebrated for her bravery as Wally begins to fall in love with her.

The movie – written by former newspaperman Ben Hecht, who I’ve discussed before – is designed to be a cynical look at the newspaper game. Hazel becomes caught up in all the honors, until she is riding a tiger she can’t easily get off.

Lombard is, as always, wonderful, and March puts in another fine performance. He’s not usually noted for his comedy chops, but manages to pull it off.

Modern audiences can spot Margaret Hamilton from The Wizard of Oz as one of the residents of Warsaw.

The movie did poorly at the box office. I think a main flaw is that it takes too long for the hoax to be revealed to the world. There was a lot of comedy to be milked out of the situation of trying to deal with the issue, but it’s pretty much missed and ends with a results that’s a bit too glib.*  Still, it’s worth seeing for Lombard’s performance
*To modern eyes, there are also a few things that don’t sit well.