Friday, July 20, 2018
A Claus for Joy
This is my entry in the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood
"Can't sing. Can't act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little."
Variations of that description have been passed down over the years from Fred Astaire's first screen test. It is a legend, but one source I encountered says it is probably true. No one knows who the person was who noted that description. Probably someone who was out of a job not long afterwards, as Astaire became a popular and prolific star of the cinema. I personally can't vouch for his singing ability, since I am not the best judge of singing, but he definitely could dance. As far as acting, one only has to watch The Towering Inferno, On the Beach or Ghost Story to realize that it is a bad evaluation. He was even nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Towering Inferno (but lost to Robert DeNiro in The Godfather Part II)
The Man in the Santa Claus Suit (1979):
The scene is New York City. It's Christmas Eve. We look in on the lives of three men who have their daily lives in turmoil due to one circumstance or another. The opening credits feature a theme song, sung by Astaire (who says he can't sing?)
Gil Travis (Bert Convy) is a political dynamo who has everything going for him in his career. But he is neglecting his family in pursuit of his career. While on a Christmas eve trip, the limo driver (Astaire) gives him a piece of advice from his own childhood. Dress up like Santa Claus and show up at the house. Gil's son is sure to be impressed, as the limo driver was when his father did the same thing years ago. Gil takes the driver's advice and goes to a costume rental shop, run by an eccentric old man (Astaire).
Sam Summerville (John Byner) is a homeless guy who is on the run from some shady characters because he found and has kept a gun that was used in a robbery. He wants to leave the city and head west, but he has no money. A friend, Eddie (Ray Vitte), suggests he could get some money by posing as Santa Claus. Sam goes to the same shop being run by Astaire, and then proceed to try to rob a rich house.
Bob Willis (Gary Burghoff) is a shy math teacher who is desperately in love with his neighbor, Polly (Tara Buckman). He is shy but he plans on trying to propose to her. A jeweler (Astaire) suggests that he dress up like a pirate or something to overcome his shyness when he proposes, and they come to the conclusion that the best costume for the time of year would be as Santa Claus. So he ends up at the same costume shop.
Astaire has several other roles during the course of the movie (9 in all), but no one is even aware that the characters all look alike. (Of course they don't.)
The best scenes in the movie are with Byner as Sam who has attempted to rob a family of their money. The family consists of two former vaudeville performers, Dickie and Dora (Harold Gould and Nanette Fabray), who are spending Christmas with their grandchildren (Patrick Peterson and Debbie Lytton). The grandchildren are the most self-obsessed obnoxious kids ever portrayed in film. One wonders why they aren't with the parents. But the parents went to Bermuda on vacation. Why didn't they take the kids? That probably explains why the kids are the way they are; their parents aren't very mature either... The grandparents take a liking to Sam and try to help him out. But the kids are intent on trying to get Sam arrested.
The movie ends like any TV movie of this type ends, of course, with everybody happy and their lives turned around for the good. But there is one surprise left for the end. Guess who Fred Astaire really is. Come on, guess... (If I have to tell you, you haven't watched enough of these kinds of movies...)