Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Ah, the madeleine that is Rodney Bewes…

In a classic Christmas episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? Bob Ferris found himself being diverted from his usual Christmas Day activities. “But The Great Escape is on. Isn’t it? It usually is,” he whined. Now, this was, …

Thu, Dec 24, 2009, 14:33

   

In a classic Christmas episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? Bob Ferris found himself being diverted from his usual Christmas Day activities. “But The Great Escape is on. Isn’t it? It usually is,” he whined. Now, this was, at the time, regarded as a very funny joke indeed. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, we were, in the 1970s, incredibly simple people who still regarded fire as a gift from the gods and who would laugh crazily at, say, a novelty potato mounted on a coloured stick (or at Jimmy Cricket). Secondly, the notion of television referring to itself was still quite unusual — post-modernism was then the preserve of two obscure Frenchmen — and the idea that the medium might eat its own feces seemed genuinely unsettling. But, more than anything else, the joke was funny because (excuse the ancient clich√©) it was true. Back then, the concept of the Big Christmas Film still had some currency. It seems hard to credit, but the first screening of, say, The Towering Inferno on telly was an event of some significance. Following the advance of video, the arrival of console games and, now, the opportunity — legally or not — to download films, the annual “first” screening of Harry Potter and the Endless Franchise seems about as enticing as a game of poke-the-leper.

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Come inside, Bob. 633 Squadron is on.

You know this. The first articles moaning about this phenomenon were written more than 20 years ago. Yet it is amusing the way we newspapermen continue to write previews of the Christmas movies on mainstream television. Obviously, like everybody else, we’ll spend Christmas day playing Grand Theft Auto or watching You Tube lolcat videos, but we have to maintain the pretense that a midday Stephen’s Day screening of Garfield 2: A Tale of Two Kitties still matters to someone.

Anyway, I set myself the task of finding one film over the next three days that you may not have seen in the cinema and that positively demands attention. Restricting myself to basic cable — no BBC4 or Sky indie — I eventually happened upon the imperishable Build My Gallows High at 1:50 am on Stephen’s night (or, more accurately, the morning of the 27th). Also known as Out of the Past, Jacques Torneur’s film noir features a career-best performance from Robert Mitchum and so much dryly witty dialogue you could almost call it a comedy. It was remade as Against all Odds, but that film bore the same relationship to its source material as dogfood bears to a horse. If that tickles your fancy then check out the other noir gems showing as part of BBC2′s late-night noir season: Farewell My Lovely, Dead Reckoning, The Big Combo. Or don’t. It’s your bleeding Christmas. If you insist on playing with your children or caring for elderly relatives there’s nothing I can do to stop you.

(Beware! Dodgy segue coming up.)

I guess, in a few years time, the¬† TV stations will attempt to sell Avatar as the big Christmas movie. Despite its early bad buzz — and, to my mind, being only modestly good — it has gone on to receive absurdly positive reviews in the US (though much less excited ones on this side of the Atlantic) and has now been installed as favourite for the best-picture Oscar. You can’t keep Uncle Jim down.

Merry Christmas to him and to you and to all the little children.

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