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Movie Reviews

A Selection of Movies to Watch by the Fireside

Fireplace and popcorn. (Jill Wellington, Pixabay image)

(OSV News) — Let’s face it, the period between New Years and spring can be a dull one, made worse in many places by challenging winter weather. For those confronted by such an atmosphere, staying inside and hovering by a fireplace can be a tempting possibility. But how to pass the time?

One good option is to watch a classic film, particularly one characterized by a cozy ambiance. Nostalgic evocations of a simpler era or intimate love stories may qualify as the kind of comforting fare that will help to make a dreary January afternoon go by in a more enjoyable way.

Following, in alphabetical order, are capsule reviews of a dozen movies that fit that description. Unless otherwise noted, the OSV News classification of each is A-I – general patronage while only one has been rated by the Motion Picture Association. All are available on DVD and/or Blu-ray and may be available for streaming as well.

“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” (1938)

Fine version of Mark Twain’s classic yarn of boyhood in which a frisky Missouri lad (Tommy Kelly) witnesses a graveyard murder, saves the man accused (Walter Brennan) by identifying Injun Joe (Victor Jory) as the culprit, then rescues girlfriend Becky (Ann Gillis) when they get trapped in a mammoth cave. Directed by Norman Taurog, the dandy action sequences are nicely paced by sentimental domestic scenes laced with humor involving his Aunt Polly (May Robson), cousin Sidney, a schoolteacher and a Sunday School official (Donald Meek). Some menacing moments.

“I Remember Mama” (1948)

Engaging, warm-hearted version of the John Van Druten play in which a daughter (Barbara Bel Geddes) recalls the nurturing influence of her mother (Irene Dunne) on her Norwegian-American brood in San Francisco circa 1910. Produced and directed by George Stevens, the interplay of family life is richly depicted through good times and bad, convincingly portrayed by a cast including Oskar Homolka as the family patriarch, Ellen Corby as the spinster aunt and Edgar Bergen as her mousy beau. Sincere, affecting and universal in theme and appeal.

“Life With Father” (1947)

Fine adaptation of the Howard Lindsay-Russel Crouse play about the domineering head (William Powell) of a New York City household at the turn of the century who sees no need of baptism to be a good Episcopalian, until his wife (Irene Dunne) makes him see the light. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the droll proceedings are based on the reminiscences of Clarence Day Jr., who recalls his father’s foibles as well as his own adolescent antics with nostalgic fondness and much good-natured irony. Domestic tensions and youthful hijinks. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.

“Little Lord Fauntleroy” (1936)

Old-fashioned but not creaky adaptation of the Frances Hodgson Burnett tale in which a 9-year-old lad (Freddie Bartholomew) leaves 1880’s Brooklyn to take his place as the heir of his titled English grandfather (C. Aubrey Smith) whom he transforms for the better, including his reconciliation with the boy’s widowed mother (Delores Costello Barrymore). Directed by John Cromwell, the gradual softening of the old curmudgeon by his goodhearted grandson is delightfully sentimental, with some patriotic humor involving his American pals (Guy Kibbee and Mickey Rooney).

“The Little Princess” (1939)

Delightfully sentimental children’s story of a poor little rich girl (Shirley Temple) put to work as a servant in a ritzy boarding school when her father (Ian Hunter) is reported dead during the Boer War but she persists in searching for him among the convoys of wounded. Directed by Walter Lang, the story is not only a good heart-tugger but gives Shirley a chance to sing, dance and dream of being a queen. Charming family movie. The Motion Picture Association rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.

“Little Women” (1933)

Lovingly sentimental but firmly crafted adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s story of four New England girls cared for by their mother while their father is soldiering in the Civil War. Director George Cukor depicts the joys and woes of the loving March family household with warmth and sincerity, but most memorable is the ensemble performance of a remarkable cast headed by Katharine Hepburn as serious-minded Jo, Joan Bennett as vain Amy, Frances Dee as prosaic Meg, Jean Parker as waifish Beth and Spring Byington as the girls’ beloved Marmee. Prime family fare.

“Love Finds Andy Hardy” (1938)

Winding up with two dates (Ann Rutherford and Lana Turner) for the high school Christmas ball, Andy (Mickey Rooney) is saved from disaster by a new girl in town (Judy Garland). One of the better efforts in the Hardy series, director George B. Seitz’s family comedy gets help from songs by Garland, especially her Clark Gable ballad.

“Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944)

Nostalgic musical placed in St. Louis on the eve of the 1903 World’s Fair celebrates the old-fashioned virtues of close-knit family life as domestic complications beset parents (Leon Ames and Mary Astor), grandpa (Henry Davenport), teenage daughter (Judy Garland) and the boy next door (Tom Drake). Director Vincente Minnelli lightens the sentiment with good-natured humor. Judy’s numbers include “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and tiny Margaret O’Brien steals the show with her Halloween pranks. Appealing family fare.

“Our Town” (1940)

Fine adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s play about two families in a small New Hampshire town circa World War I, centering on the romance between the daughter (Martha Scott) of one family and the son (William Holden) of the other. Directed by Sam Wood, the result is prime Americana, with the narrator (Frank Craven) pointing out the virtues of the community and the values of its individual members. The whole family can enjoy this look back at a simpler age and more wholesome way of life.

“Roman Holiday” (1953)

Charming romantic comedy in which a young princess (Audrey Hepburn) on an official visit to Rome slips away from her stuffy entourage to see the sights in the company of two American reporters (Gregory Peck and Eddie Albert), one of whom inevitably falls for her. Directed by William Wyler, the plot begins as lighthearted fluff, proceeds with warm camaraderie along the avenues and byways of the Eternal City, then turns serious as romance blossoms until the bittersweet ending. Romantic situations. (A-II)

“The Shop Around the Corner” (1940)

Delightful romantic comedy set in a Budapest department store where two clerks (James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) nurture a mutual dislike while each exchanges love letters with a lonelyheart’s pen pal until ultimately discovering they have been corresponding with each other. Director Ernst Lubitsch treats the workaday friction between the clerks with some wry humor while building sympathy for both, then brings them together in an emotionally satisfying conclusion that has charmed viewers ever since. Romantic complications. (A-II)

“You Can’t Take It With You” (1938)

Solid adaptation of the George Kaufman-Moss Hart screwball comedy about an impoverished family of eccentrics whose daughter (Jean Arthur) falls for a rich man’s son (James Stewart). Directed by Frank Capra, the zany guests of the wacky household come and go as the family’s head (Lionel Barrymore) tries to convince the rich man (Edward Arnold) that happiness has nothing to do with money. That sentiment may seem less convincing today than in the Depression but the cheerfully uninhibited antics of this house of sage fools are still very funny indeed.


John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.

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