I was looking for a different Christmas film to watch, and this gentle MGM family movie directed by Roy Rowland, set in a small Norwegian-American community in Wisconsin and released just after the end of the Second World War, fits the bill perfectly. It was recently released in Warner Archive and is also sometimes shown on TCM. (I suppose it isn’t a Christmas film strictly speaking, but a lot of the story takes place around the season.) I’m not going to write a long review but just thought I’d post a couple of pictures, a link to the amusing trailer for the film, and a few brief thoughts – and wish everyone who visits my blog a happy and peaceful break.
Margaret O’Brien stars as a little girl living on a farm, Selma, with Edward G Robinson (playing a role worlds away from his gangster image) and Agnes Moorehead as her parents. Scripted by Dalton Trumbo from a novel by George Victor Martin, the film has a wistful quality to it and, although it is a loving portrait of small town life, it also shows the frustrations of such an existence. The story centres on Selma and the small events of her life – her games and arguments with her cousin, Arnold (Jackie “Butch” Jenkins), a late-night glimpse of a circus passing through the town and her excitement when her father tells her that the newborn calf is hers to bring up. It’s a warm family background and the relationship between Robinson, Moorehead and O’Brien is convincing and loving – the parents don’t have enough money and have to work hard, but support each other through it all.
But there are also enough suggestions of the adult world to stop it all becoming too sweet, in particular the recurring brief hints of a tragedy involving a mentally ill neighbour girl, Ingeborg (Dorothy Morris) – we are never told exactly what happens to her and have to fill in the gaps ourselves. There are also plenty of mentions of the war. I think the whole cast is very good, including Frances Gifford as the new school teacher and James Craig as the local newspaper editor who falls in love with her. This is really a film you have to be in the right mood for, as most of it is slow-moving and not very eventful, except for occasional dramatic set pieces like a farm fire – but I enjoyed its dreamy quality and gentle atmosphere.
The film has an enjoyable trailer, with a mischievous appearance by Spencer Tracy (who isn’t in the film itself) explaining that he doesn’t want to appear in a movie with O’Brien because he thinks she would steal too many scenes!