MGM Holiday Classics Collection

Ah, Christmas: the time of year when we turn our thoughts to peace on Earth, family togetherness and tepid whimsy on television. The three films in this collection have all been TV staples at one time or another and it’s not hard to see why none of them exactly entered the canon. Best of the bunch is March of the Wooden Soldiers (aka Babes in Toyland), an extremely loose adaptation of the Victor Herbert operetta. Set in an alternate universe populated by Mother Goose characters, it posits Laurel and Hardy as the only thing standing in the way of Little Bo-Peep (Charlotte Henry) being married off to evil schemer Silas Barnaby (Henry Brandon). I’ve always been a fan of the comic duo but there’s not quite enough of them here, and the fantasy elements are simply too muted to have much pleasurable impact. Still, it’s pleasant enough for what it is. After that comes The Bishop’s Wife, with Cary Grant as an angel sent to lend guidance to stymied bishop David Niven. The man of the cloth is obsessed with building a cathedral but Grant has bigger things in store for him. The two stars are in fine form (along with Loretta Young as the eponymous spouse caught in between them) and the film is proficiently, if not spectacularly, directed by Henry Koster. But the goody-two-shoes attitude grates after a while, as does the endless parade of miracles provided by Grant. But the low point of the collection is achieved with A Pocketful of Miracles, Frank Capra’s misbegotten remake of his own Lady for a Day. Bette Davis is humiliated as the apple-selling panhandler who brings good luck to ex-bootlegger Glenn Ford. When her daughter threatens to arrive with a highborn fiancé in tow, Ford swings into action to give the impression that Davis is actually some kind of blueblood. It’s no surprise that a Capra effort would be totally shameless but the plucky homeless people on offer here are almost too much to bear — what would have been tart and funny in the hands of original writer Damon Runyon has been turned into an exercise in schmaltz that isn’t even worthy of the director. You start off sort of mildly tolerating it and end shaking your fist at the screen. It’s hardly the sort of sentiment you want around this time of year. (MGM)