I was just writing in the previous post: this movie should be in any Christmas list of stuff to watch. I decided that it was better to dig a little deeper in this one than continue to list other titles. First of all because it was never available in the digital format before, and thanks to those good guys at TMC it is now, part of the Universal Vault Collection sold exclusively at the TMC shop.
There is a whole bunch of good news here, first the movie looks terrific and has been completely restored and remastered; second the disc features some nice extras and last but not least: it’s a proper pressed dvd and not a burned in house dvd-r like other vault collections on demand (MGM, Warner and Columbia).
Written by Preston Sturges, his last job as a screenwriter before to move on directing his own plays, it features the typical Sturges’ characters, the very ones that made his scripts so unique, alive and truly believable. Even here, the crook (as in The Lady Eve later) is not only evil and the good guy is unconsciously promoting his own agenda with a second thought.
Barbara Stanwyck is a thief, a New York street burglar who fools the salesman of a jewellery with her charm to steal a valuable bracelet. When she goes to pawn the jewel few blocks down the road she is arrested and brought to trial.
It’s Christmas’ eve and Prosecutor Fred MacMurray is about to leave to visit his mother and his aunt in hometown Indiana. After a successful hearing, he succeeds in letting Stanwyck arrested; but he’s suddenly moved by this sad thought: she’s gonna spend the holidays in jail. So he manages to bail her out.
Problem is Stanwyck has nowhere to go and the bailer brings her to MacMurray’s house and leaves her there. After a kind of reconciliation meeting, MacMurray offers Stanwyck a lift to go to visit her mother that lives in a place on the road to Indiana…
Directed by Mitchell Leisen, the movie falls short from true greatness, it’s not a masterpiece but a close one. Leisen has not the cinematic rhythm of Sturges’ later films, but he’s able to compensate with strong visuals, and a good looking composition of the takes, all of it due to his previous job as an art director for which he was nominated for an Oscar (Dynamite,1929).
MacMurray and Stanwyck are marvellous, a strong chemistry between the two, that will reunite later for Wilder’s masterpiece Double Indemnity and for Sirk’s wonderful melodrama There’s always tomorrow.
At the end of the road, she’ll understand that crime doesn’t actually pay and there aren't shortcuts for an easy living. He’ll learn that life is not made only by blacks and whites, there are even some nice, and funny at times, spots for grey.
While remembering in his memoirs the difficulties of penning the script, Sturges told how he was aware of the high risk to deliver a stinker; casualty that he brilliantly avoids with the depth and complexity of the characters and with the ending of the picture. A typical Hollywood end would have killed the whole story and while leaving room for hope, the factual one is no crowd pleaser.
This is a great entertainment for everybody, one that makes you think about what’s important in life and what’s not. A movie that mov(i)es you deeply, smartly touching the right strings in your heart. And even with bitterness leaves you hoping for a chance for these beloved characters; a chance that should be waiting for all of us, somewhere, somehow. Sturges surely got his, meeting Stanwyck during the shooting, a chance that later on would become one of the best comedies ever made The Lady Eve, with Barbara in the leading role.
I really do hope that new generations of film lovers will embrace this tender picture; it’s a good chance to start to discover Mitchell Leisen’s body of work, that it’s clearly overlooked. I strongly recommend Death takes a holiday as well, that is now available for the first time in the Universal Vault Series sold exclusively at Amazon.
film mass is ended you may go in peace