Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Curse of the Cat People (1944)



Many of us are already getting ready for Halloween. It's fun to anticipate the autumn holiday by spending the month of October watching horror movies. And many Christmas movie fans like to spend the month of October watching the dozens of Halloween/Christmas cross-over films and TV programs too. In that spirit, I'd like to remind you about the 1944 movie The Curse of the Cat People, directed by Gunther V. Fritsch and Robert Wise. This delightful black-and-white classic includes both horror elements and significant Christmas scenes.

The Curse of the Cat People is a sequel to 1942's Cat People. The first film tells the tragic story of Oliver Reed (played by Kent Smith) who falls in love with and marries Irena (played by Simone Simon), a fashion illustrator who believes she's cursed based on a folktale from her Serbian hometown. Irena becomes consumed by fear that her passions will transform her into a monstrous beast--a deadly cat--a fear which ultimately dooms her marriage and her life.


In Curse, Oliver and Alice return. They are now married and have a young daughter named Amy.
 
The black-and-white film's story is told with gorgeous extreme lighting, showing off dramatic shadows. The story expresses the themes of Romanticism--remember studying late 18th century-early 19th century Romanticism from literature and art classes? This is a rejection of Realism. Nature (and animals) are wild, threatening, and dangerous. And, the film's story becomes even richer if you begin to recognize the dichotomies set up within the story. The tension between these dichotomies is what fuels the story's interest and moves it forward. (Think of the tension between the rational and the irrational, the civilized and the animalistic, reality and fantasy, the male and the female, et al).

I'm pulling some of these threads out because the follow-up movie The Curse of the Cat People continues to draw upon the same themes. While I don't think it's necessary to see the first movie to follow along with Curse, your experience of Curse will be much richer if you've seen the first movie. I recommend watching both movies as a double-feature--you'll love it.


Amy leaves a group of children in the middle of a game to chase after a butterfly. Oliver thinks there's something wrong with his daughter.


The Curse of the Cat People follows the characters from the first movie, at least seven years in the future. Oliver (Kent Smith again) and Alice (played by Jane Randolph in both movies) have married, and they have a six year-old daughter named Amy (played by Ann Carter). Amy doesn't get along with the other children in her school and she doesn't have any friends. Amy doesn't seem to know the difference between reality and fantasy, between lies and the truth. She's known as a dreamer, and she spends most of her time alone in her garden enjoying her time with nature. Her father thinks there's something wrong with Amy. She's most comfortable using her imagination rather than pursuing math and rational thought like he does--he's a boat designer/engineer.


The "normal" children know not to go near the haunted house in the neighborhood where they believe a witch lives. Amy is drawn to the house.

After walking past a spooky house in the neighborhood, Amy approaches it and she's given the gift of a ring from a stranger in the window. Her parents want her to return the lavish gift but when she goes back, Amy is invited into the home to meet the old woman Julia Farren who lives there. The old woman insists that Amy keep the ring, and she and the young girl strike a bond. Farren is a former actress from the stage and she immerses herself in fanciful stories--just like Amy. Here, Amy hears Washington Irving's story of The Headless Horseman for the first time. Later, Amy makes a wish on her ring, expressing her desire for a friend.


Julia Farren (played by Julia Dean) is a grown-up version of Amy--a woman who relishes stories and fantasy over reality.
Remember the exotic woman who spoke Serbian to Irena in the first movie Cat People? She's back--here she's known as Barbara. Frighteningly, Julia insists Barbara is her daughter's imposter. She's played by Elizabeth Russell.

Amy's wish for a friend comes true when a beautiful woman named Irena keeps her company in the garden. Oliver is happy that his daughter is kept occupied in the backyard not fully aware that she's actually playing with someone he can't see! (Don't bother trying to nail down whether Irena is from Amy's imagination or a ghost. That will only reduce the experience).


Irena and Amy are bathed in both light and shadows--get it?


The Reed family is happy together at Christmas. Amy has a wrapped gift under the tree for her "friend."


At Christmas, the family decorates the tree together and carolers arrive at the door. Amy hears her friend Irena also caroling in the garden and she joins her there. Amy offers a gift to her friend which Irena graciously accepts. Days later when they are taking the Christmas tree down, the family takes out the photo album and young Amy sees a photo of her father and his first wife Irena. She identifies the woman as her friend in the garden and her father insists she's lying. Spoiler: Irena's death came before Amy was even born. And, he punishes his daughter. Confused, Amy still doesn't understand the difference between reality and fantasy and why she's being punished, so she runs away.


Amy leaves home to run through the darkness, wind and snow. Will the storm overwhelm Amy?

Will Barbara's jealousy overwhelm Amy?

The young girl runs away into a storm on a dark night, through the woods behind her house. At one point she is covered in snow, laying along the ground. She ends up running to Julia Farren's home, seeking the comfort of the old woman who seems to understand her. Unfortunately, Julia's daughter Barbara is jealous of her mother's affection for Amy. The end is very satisfying so I won't spoil it. This is certainly a film best enjoyed when one experiences it for themselves. So I'll leave you to it.

Irena awaits in the backyard (played by Simone Simon).


If you aren't already familiar with this movie, I encourage it as a Halloween and Christmas cross-over. It's also one of those horror movies that isn't a slasher and contains no blood or gruesome scenes. (The photo of the hands above is the most horrifying image in the film--and is very restrained). If slashers are not your style or you're looking to experience something more thoughtful and different, this is the movie for you.

If you're looking for more suggestions of Halloween and Christmas cross-over movies and TV programs, follow by daily posts at @TistheSeasonTV on Twitter, and Tis the Season TV on Facebook. Merry October!


Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com



Saturday, October 12, 2019

Christmas TV History Podcast




This past summer I created the Christmas TV History podcast--a five-part audio series which attempts to give a "big picture"view of what Christmas on TV and in the movies looks like. There are five installments: an introduction, the history of Christmas animation, the history of Christmas TV movies, yuletide variety specials and episodes, and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol adaptations. Why these topics for the episodes here? These are the most discussed formats and topics that I’m asked about. I hope you find the audio series satisfying.

You can find the Christmas TV History podcast on Apple Podcast
Stitcher
Soundcloud
Podbean
or, you can listen to it on your computer or phone from my website HERE.


This audio series has come about because I've been working on finalizing the expanded and updated, 2nd edition of the encyclopedia Tis the Season TV coming out next year (anticipated release date: late 2020). I’ve been researching and writing about Christmas entertainment for nearly twenty years. It’s one thing to gather data for the encyclopedia and another thing to synthesize the information. I’ve never been in a better place to share more about what I’ve learned.

I’m a firm believer in examining popular culture—most importantly here, Christmas entertainment—so we can better understand ourselves through the stories we tell and connect with. Considering there are thousands of Christmas episodes, specials and TV movies, and so little scholarship on it to this point, I can say it is a body of work that is under-appreciated despite the big business the TV and film industry knows it to be. Looking back into the history of television, I can clearly see that yuletide programs have been a part of every format in TV, proving that Christmas TV History is TV history.




I’m also doing this audio series as a first step toward writing about Christmas TV History for a collection of essays that will eventually be published in print as well. The written essays will be much longer, have more depth, and refer to more examples. Starting the conversation in these fairly short, 30-minute audio episodes allows me to share some of this information now.

More installments are possible in the future—I can certainly discuss the history of sitcom/comedy Christmas episodes, theatrical-release Christmas movies, interesting adaptations of O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi,” all 20 Rankin/Bass animated Christmas and New Year’s programs, the history of filmed adaptations of E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker—the potential list goes on and on. If you like this series, feel free to drop me a line and suggest a potential topic for a future installment.


Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com



 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Christmas in July 2019: RECAP



Did you check out all the responses by our Christmas in July participants? In case you were late to the party this summer, here's your chance to catch up. Below is a complete list of links to each of our guests who participated this year. It goes by quickly, doesn't it?

If you're curious, there wasn't much consensus on answers this year. Favorite Saturday Night Live sketches ranged throughout the series' forty years. The most popular soundtrack was Vince Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas, however many other responses were also provided. And, I heard you all with your suggestions for future discussions for the website. Thanks for contributing your ideas and I'll see what I can do :)

Thanks to everyone who participated in Christmas in July and to all who left comments. If you would still like to leave comments, please feel free to do so--the discussion doesn't have to end just because the blogathon is over. Merry Christmas in July!




Original Introduction--answers by Joanna Wilson
Tom Beiter
Hugh H. Davis
Cathie Kahle from Christmas Movies and Music
Drew Flowers from Christmas Movies and Music
Skyler Harvey




Sleepy Kitty Paws
Sean Sotka (e_xander) at My Merry Christmas.com
Dana
Kevin Bowman
Randall Buie
 



 Dominic Caruso from 1701 Press
 Adam Parker from Merry Britsmas
 Rick Stoneburner
 Lisa Iannucci from the Virgin Traveler
 Linda M. Young from Flying Dreams




Travis Van Hauen
Jim Inman from Christmas Movies and Music
Donna Bock
Martin Johns from Stubby's House of Christmas
Ed South from What's Your Favorite Movie podcast




Ronda Roxbury
Jonathan Sowers
Laura Rachel from What to Watch
Jeff Fox, from Name That Christmas Special
Patrick Labelle




Chantelle from All Things Christmas.com
John D.
Sally Silverscreen from 18 Cinema Lane
Anson Sage Jr.
Jim Fanning at Tulgey Wood 







Rick
Tony Scotto
Aaron Henton (Der Bingle)  www.merryandbright.blogspot.com
J.A. Morris and RigbyMel from Holiday Film Reviews
D.X. Ferris, from "Suburban Metal Dad: Christmas Sevenfold"



If you're interested in our mini-questionnaires from years past, here are the links:

Christmas in July 2018

Christmas in July 2017

Christmas in July 2016

Christmas in July 2015

Christmas in July 2014


Joanna Wilson is a TV researcher and book author specializing in Christmas entertainment. More about the TV programs mentioned on this website can be found in her book "Tis the Season TV: the Encyclopedia of Christmas-themed Episodes, Specials, and Made-for-TV Movies." Her latest book "Triple Dog Dare: Watching--& Surviving--the 24-Hour Marathon of A Christmas Story" was released in 2016. Her books can be found at the publisher's website: 1701 press.com

*Support this website and its research by purchasing the books at 1701 press.com



Christmas in July 2019: D.X. Ferris






Christmas in July 2019: D.X. Ferris@dxferris, "Suburban Metal Dad: Christmas Sevenfold"


1. What is your favorite Saturday Night Live Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year's sketch?

“Hallmark’s A Gumby Christmas: Merry Christmas, Dammit!”
This sketch is studded with stars, real and impersonated. And it’s THICK with quotable lines. My favorite is Joe Piscopo’s Frank Sinatra Xmas medley. It’s a tribute to cartoon greats. Piscopo’s Frank was a national treasure, and his salty take on “Silent Night” makes me laugh every time: “Round that virgin chick / She had a kid / He grew up to be famous / You all know what he did!”




2. Do you most look forward to watching holiday episodes from series? Specials? Movies? Animation? or, all of it?

I like all the Christmas everything. Cookies. Movies. Whadda ya got? But now that my kids are both teenagers, it’s hard to get them to sit down with the rest of the family for any length of time. So in recent years, the family DXmas viewing has shifted from All Christmas All Day to Christmas episodes, because they’re short, and they’re an easy way for everybody to get together and have a bite-sized holiday experience. Once everybody’s in bed, I have a canon of movies I enjoy, like In Bruges and Scrooged.


3. What's your favorite soundtrack from a holiday program? (it doesn't have to have been officially released as an album--just what program features your favorite collection of music?)



The Community season 3 Christmas episode is a musical extravaganza. It’s all brilliant. Some of the songs depend on you knowing who the characters are. But a few stand alone as devastating satire, like “Teach Me How to Understand Christmas,” which sends up tunes about infantilized sexuality, like “Santa Baby.”





4. What one program are you patiently (or impatiently) waiting for me to review on this blog?



I’ll stop evangelizing for Community a minute. Instead, I can’t wait to hear what you think about my new discoveries for the year: The new Documentary Now episode “Original Cast Album: Co-op” has a couple swell Christmas tunes. And episode 4 from season 1 of Hardy Bucks, a show that’s on also on Netflix now. It’s like an Irish version of Trailer Park Boys. Speaking of Trailer Park Boys, I forget: Have you seen the Trailer Park Boys Xmas Special: Dope and Liquor Edition Yet?


5. What change in Christmas entertainment have you noticed over the years? Do you like the trend?

Christmas programming has proliferated in an amazing way. Look at what Hallmark is doing. I like the trend: if you want to create magic art, you need a lot of output to get to the great material. So the more Christmas shows there are, the more great stuff we’ll get.


D.X. Ferris is a lifelong Christmas fan. In his social circles, he is the guy who makes holiday music mixes. He formally entered the Xmas media game last year, when he released the book “Suburban Metal Dad: Christmas Sevenfold.” The paperback collects seven years of Christmas and holiday strips from his ongoing comic strip, Metal Dad.
D.X. Ferris, @dxferris, "Suburban Metal Dad: Christmas Sevenfold"

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Christmas in July 2019: Holiday Film Reviews



Christmas in July 2019: Holiday Film Reviews / J.A. Morris & RigbyMel http://holidayfilmreviews.blogspot.com/

1. What is your favorite Saturday Night Live Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year's sketch?

J.A. Morris says: I’m going with “The Killer Trees”, a great sketch that features mutant Christmas trees that go on a killing spree, from SNL’s Season 2 Christmas show.

RigbyMel says: Of late, I’ve been partial to the “Two A-holes in a Live Nativity Scene” sketch from Season 32 starring Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis. “Whaddaya want for Christmas, babe?” “A beach … and a donkey.”


2. Do you most look forward to watching holiday episodes from series? Specials? Movies? Animation? or, all of it?

J.A. Morris says: Specials, especially the “Big Three” classic specials: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas and How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

RigbyMel says: Everything really. We have special favorites that MUST be watched during the holiday season every year, but I enjoy checking out new and “new to me” holiday programming as well.



3. What's your favorite soundtrack from a holiday program? (it doesn't have to have been officially released as an album--just what program features your favorite collection of music?)

J.A. Morris says: I’m going with Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas. It doesn’t really feel like the holiday season until I hear this classic Christmas music.

RigbyMel says: I also love the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, but will plunk for a more recent soundtrack as well since I seem to quote songs from 2008’s A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! year round! (Especially bits from “Please Be Patient” and “Little Dealer Boy”!) Also Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas because, of course!


4. What one program are you patiently (or impatiently) waiting for me to review on this blog?

J.A. Morris says: We’re big fans of superheroes, I’d be interested to read your reviews of Christmas episodes of Wonder Woman, Batman:The Animated Series, Ultimate Spider-Man or movies like Iron Man 3 and Batman Returns (which take place during the holiday season).

RigbyMel says: I second J.A. Morris on this! :-)


5. What change in Christmas entertainment have you noticed over the years? Do you like the trend?

J.A. Morris says:
I’ve noticed that cable networks have acknowledged that people are still interested in watching Christmas movies and specials after Christmas Day. For a long time, this was not the case and it’s nice to flip channels on December 27 and stumble on Clark Griswold or a Rankin-Bass special.

RigbyMel says:
I agree with J.A. It’s also nice that recently, more attention has been paid to other holidays and traditions like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. For example, watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: “My Mom, Greg’s Mom and Josh’s Sweet Dance Moves!” (2015) and Everybody Hates Chris: “Everybody Hates Kwanzaa” (2007) or Jon Stewart’s Hanukkah song in A Colbert Christmas (2008).




Friday, August 2, 2019

Christmas in July 2019: Aaron Henton


 

Christmas in July 2019: Aaron Henton (Der Bingle)  www.merryandbright.blogspot.com

1. What is your favorite Saturday Night Live Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year's sketch?

It's without a doubt the song from when Candice Bergen hosted in season one.  Candice, Jane, Gilda, Laraine backing up Garrett Morris, then John Belushi, Chevy Chase, and Dan Ackroyd joining in.  It was a really simple little song performance, but so wonderful and in the spirit of the season.


2. Do you most look forward to watching holiday episodes from series? Specials? Movies? Animation? or, all of it? 

One of my favorite traditions is watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (and it's on my bucket list to go in person some day). This tops my list because it's a new live broadcast every year.  We also watch the Christmas from Rockefeller Center program for the lighting of the tree. As far as the classics, a year never goes by without A Charlie Brown Christmas. I seem to find some new nuance in it every time I watch.



3. What's your favorite soundtrack from a holiday program? (it doesn't have to have been officially released as an album--just what program features your favorite collection of music?) 

The Star Wars Holiday Special?  No, nope, not that. A Christmas Story includes a great selection of music, but I'll narrow it down to White Christmas.  Interestingly, the soundtrack album does not include Rosemary Clooney because of record label nonsense.  The album has Trudy Stevens performing Rosemary's parts.


4. What one program are you patiently (or impatiently) waiting for me to review on this blog? 

How about Santa Claus' Workshop that ran on KAKE-TV from Wichita KS every year as I was growing up in the early '70s?  Hard to find anything you haven't reviewed yet! :-)


5. What change in Christmas entertainment have you noticed over the years? Do you like the trend? 

The Hallmark Christmas movies is certainly most notable. I shied away from them the first few years, but have become more accepting of them the last couple, and do enjoy a few of them.  I've noticed some attempted returns to the Christmas variety show format, with mixed results. Overall there seems to be more Christmas programming now then in the decade or two prior, which is a very good thing!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Christmas in July 2019: Tony Scotto




Christmas in July 2019: Tony Scotto

1. What is your favorite Saturday Night Live Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year's sketch?

Eddie Murphy doing Mr Robinson's Neighborhood
He talks about how his landlord gave him a eviction notice for Christmas. Then he goes into the closet and pulls out a ball and bucket that Santas use to collect for the Salvation Army. Then he taught us about x-mas and other words that begin with x. X-con and x-scape! Lol


2. Do you most look forward to watching holiday episodes from series? Specials? Movies? Animation? or, all of it?

The Spirit of Christmas. It's a marionette double feature. First is The Night Before Christmas and the second is The Greatest Story Ever Told.  They are local (Philadelphia region) but I now I think people have seen it nation wide. Made by the the Bell Telephone Company in the early 60s. Real classic. My elementary school had it on film and the classes would take turns going to the library to watch it.



3. What's your favorite soundtrack from a holiday program? (it doesn't have to have been officially released as an album--just what program features your favorite collection of music?)

I wish they made the soundtrack to A Christmas Story. All those great Christmas songs from the 40s just make the season feel right and make me feel like I'm a kid again.


4. What one program are you patiently (or impatiently) waiting for me to review on this blog?

The Paul Winchell Christmas Special
This guy is a legend. He did this show, did one of the voices for the Banana Splits, did the voice for Tigger, played the director in the episode of the Brady Bunch when they got to star in a soap commercial if you can remember that, and even patented the artificial heart!
https://youtu.be/recGPhrqUPE


5. What change in Christmas entertainment have you noticed over the years? Do you like the trend?

There is very little effort into making one great Christmas special but rather they make 20 mediocre ones to fill time. Also the good movies and specials are played to death. Would like to see a slowed pace to it all.