Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas 2017: December 13

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

New York City is the most Christmas-y city in America. Though many other places claim the title, Manhattan and Christmas are irrevocably linked in my mind. The city has got the Rockettes, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and the big Christmas tree. Filmmakers seem to generally agree with this assessment, as several classic Christmas movies take place around the Big Apple. “A Miracle on 34th Street” is the big one but there's one other black-and-white holiday flick named after an NYC street. “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” was nearly directed by Frank Capra, who decided to make “It's a Wonderful Life!” instead, and was a hard-to-find film for many years. Now, it regularly gets airings on Turner Classic Movies around December, which is how I watched it.

As the opening tour guide scene informs us, 5th Avenue is home to some of the richest families in New York City. Along that street sits the mansion of Michael J. O'Connor, the second richest man in America. O'Connor spends the winters in the south, leaving his mansion unoccupied. During the off-season, homeless person Aloysius T. McKeever takes up residence in the house. Soon, a recently evicted veteran named Jim joins McKeever in the house. An eighteen year old girl named Trudy soon appears at the house too. Trudy claims to be homeless but is actually Mr. O'Connor's daughter. As Christmas approaches, the millionaire decides to investigate the people squatting in his mansion.

Only about half of “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” takes place at Christmas. Winter rolls in about an hour in. The film concludes on New Year's Day. Snow and Christmas trees might only occupy a portion of the story but the movie concerns itself with themes befitting the season. Charity and giving, in contrast with greed and stinginess, is what motivates the script. Jim and Aloysius soon invite more homeless people into the mansion, opening their home and heart up to anyone in need. Mr. O'Connor is, at first, aghast that people are squatting on his property. The millionaire's greed is what's responsible for Jim's homeless status in the first place, as he ordered the apartment he lived in to be evicted. Naturally, the rich man learns about kindness and the power of giving before the story is over.

Of course, themes about giving and sharing wouldn't mean as much if we didn't care about the characters. Luckily, the cast is fairly likable. Victor Moore appears first as Aloysius, entering the film whistling. Moore brings a jolly and light-hearted attitude to the role. This makes a later scene, where he dresses as Santa Claus, especially fitting. Don DeFore stars as Jim, establishing a rebellious personality early on when he refuses to be evicted from his building. DeFore has a decent way with a comedic line, being a suitably likable leading man. As Trudy, Gale Storm is lovely and entertaining. Like a lot of female characters in these forties rom-coms, she's equal parts sass and vulnerability. Watching the character interact, creating their own little world in this unoccupied mansion, is a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, the film's primary subplot did nothing for me. I'm not sure making Judy the daughter of the millionaire was the most organic decision. It helps brings the story together but I honestly think I would've preferred this to be a story about strangers meeting and helping each other. Having the millionaire disguise himself as a homeless person, living inside the mansion with the others, really just emphasizes what a jerk he is. When the potential materiel from this subplot is burned out, the story brings Judy's mother – O'Connor's ex-wife – into the house as well. None of these inclusions are especially compelling and they feel slightly forced-in, as if they were included to beef the story up.

“It Happened on Fifth Avenue” is sometimes classified as a musical. There's only about three songs in the film. Only one of them, a sweet song performed around the Christmas tree, feels like a proper musical number. Otherwise, the film's genre belongs more to the romance and comedy. I wanted to like “It Happened on Fifth Avenue” a little more than I actually did. The cast is fun and the main plot is strong. Sadly, a pretty lame subplot really drags the proceedings down. The film captures the Christmas atmosphere well but isn't quite the classic I was led to expect. [6/10]

Christmas Comes to Pac-Land (1982)

Back in the nineties, Cartoon Network used to play all sorts of weird holiday programs around December. This is how I first saw “Christmas Comes to Pac-Land.” As a kid, I didn't think it was strange that there was a Pac-Man Christmas special. I just accepted its existence at face value. Only as an adult does it dawn on me how weird this thing is. Pac-Man is a video game about a circular yellow shape eating smaller circular yellow shapes while being chased by ghosts through a maze. Somehow, this was popular enough to support a pop song, loads of merchandise, and a Saturday morning cartoon. And, somehow, a Hanna-Barbera executive thought it was worth producing a special episode of that cartoon that introduced Pac-Man to Christmas. The mind boggles.

This cartoon presupposes that Pac-Man lives in an entire village of Pac-People, along with his wife and infant child. It seems pretty peaceful, except for the band of asshole ghosts – the special insists on calling them “ghost monsters – that occasionally attempt to cause mischief. Anyway, while the Pac-Family is out attempting to enjoy the snowy weather, Santa Claus is flying overhead. The fat man crashes his sleigh. The Pacs help Santa and his reindeer get back on their feet. The ghosts, meanwhile, grab the missing bag of toys. Will Pac-Man retrieve the toys before Santa leaves on his Christmas trip around the world?

I know you have questions. I have them too. Is Pac-Land located on Earth or in another dimension? How did Santa Claus come to fly above this alternate world, especially since he seems to have no familiarity with it? What are the ghost monsters ghost of? Are they the spirits of dead Pac-Men, return from the grave to seek vengeance on the living? If so, why do they steal Santa's toy? If you're expecting answers to any of these questions in “Christmas Come to Pac-Land...” Okay, I don't think anyone was expecting answers from something called “Christmas Comes to Pac-Land.”

Yes, it's completely inane. The comedy is shrill and childish. The animation is cheap. The voice-acting is broad. The characters, especially the ghosts and Baby Pac, are highly annoying. The way the conflict is resolved – with Santa's reindeer being fed Power Pellets so they can deliver gifts in time – is baffling. The special doesn't even follow the rules of its own fucked-up universe. When Pac-Man chomps on a ghost, they are reduced to a pair of eyeballs. Like in the video game! But when the ghosts attack Pac-Man, he's simply beaten into a stupor, instead of shriveling up into nothingness. Also, there's not a single maze in sight. Mostly, “Christmas Comes to Pac-Land” is worth watching just to confirm that it exist. And you say there was a whole accompanying cartoon show? Good God. I wonder if the Wacky Wall Walkers Christmas special is this fucking weird... [5/10]

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