Tag: Christmas movie

Movie Review: The Great Rupert (aka The Christmas Wish)

In The Great Rupert/The Christmas wish, an animal trainer has trained a tamed squirrel named Rupert to wear a tiny kilt and tam and dance. However, a broadway agent informs him that the squirrel isn’t “box office” because he is too small to be seen in a Broadway show. This is the animal trainer’s last chance before he’s evicted from the shack leaning against the fancy home of his landlord (Frank Orth-Inspector Farraday from the TV version of Boston Blackie). He releases his tamed squirrel into a local park, but the squirrel struggles to survive in the wild, so he returns home and takes up residence in a hidey-hole between the shack and the landlord’s fancy home.

The story is actually about a down-on-their-luck Vaudeville family with the father, Louie, played by Jimmy Durante. It’s Christmastime, they only have forty cents for a tree, and they can’t afford shoes for their daughter (Terry Moore). At the same time, the miserly landlord learns that his gold mine investment has paid off and that each week he will be receiving $1,500 (about $16,000 in today’s money.)

With bad memories from the 1929 crash, he doesn’t trust banks, so he hides his cash upstairs in a hole in the wall, unaware Rupert has built his nest right behind it. The money takes up space the squirrel is storing nuts in, so he dumps the money out, above a hole in the shack’s roof, which the money falls through just as Louie’s wife (Queenie Smith) is praying. Christmas is saved and so is the rest of the year as the landlord keeps putting money in like clockwork and Rupert keeps tossing it out to Louie’s family, who are unwittingly paying their rent with the Landlord’s own money.

There’s a lot to like about the movie. Rupert was a stop-motion animation. For the times, he looks really life-like and cute.

Louie is mostly a typical Jimmy Durante character: positive, upbeat, and a lot of fun. Yet there were a few moments when he’d acknowledge the problems he’s facing. It makes the character someone who understands life’s challenges but faces them with laughter and a positive attitude rather than a crazy screwball character. Queenie Smith gave a sweet, down-to-earth performance and played well opposite of Durante.

While the story is light and fun, it does have some interesting ideas at its core. It asks what money is for and fundamentally how you approach the rest of the human race, Louie and his landlord have different approaches and it’s interesting to see how they play out over the course of the film. Again, this is done without being heavy-handed.

There’s some nice music here. A Christmas Party sets up a couple signature Durante piano numbers, including one wishing Christmas came twice a year, and a piece called Melody for Two Orphan Instruments.

The film does have its flaws. The original title, The Great Rupert, isn’t a good choice as Rupert is only the focus of the film at the beginning and toward the end. It’s often sold under the title The Christmas Wish, which makes far more sense. The plot does sag a bit in the middle before the final act and some of its resolution is too pat by modern standards. Still, this is a fun film with a sweet feel. It makes nice viewing around Christmas or any other time you want to escape the cynicism of our modern world.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Note: This film is in the public domain and is available at numerous sources on DVD, but is also available for free download through the Internet Archive.

Film Review: Alias Boston Blackie

I noticed Alias Boston Blackie was available for free viewing on Amazon Prime, which is a treat given Sony holds the rights to the Boston Blackie series and has not done much to make the films available. While this was released in April 1942, it’s the most Christmasy detective film I’ve seen from the 1940s, so much so I debated not reviewing it until Christmas, but since it might disappear from Amazon before then, I decided to review it now.

Alias Boston Blackie find Blackie (Chester Morris) staging a Christmas Eve show for prisoners.  Inspector Farraday (Richard Lane) comes along for the ride suspecting Blackie is up to no good. However, a bitter prisoner (future Academy Award nominee Larry Parks) claims he was framed. He decides to tie up a performing clown and take his place so he can get to the outside and enact vengeance on the men who framed him. Blackie needs to stop him before the prisoner gets Blackie and his sister (Adele Mara) in trouble.

What Worked:

Morris’ portrayal of Boston Blackie is the best I’ve seen.  This film avoids the worst fault of Blackie as a character as he can sometimes seem a bit “too cool for school.” Here Blackie is more grounded. The script acknowledges Blackie’s been to prison and Farraday sent him there. Blackie expresses an understandable note of annoyance at Farraday’s continued suspicion.

I also like Farraday in this one as he seems more competent and believable than in many of the radio episodes. Blackie still gets the better of Farraday several times throughout the story, but it feels less like Blackie is fighting a battle of wits with an unarmed man than it does in some later films.

Detective Matthews schtick as a bit of a dim bulb policeman works far better than it did in the later film A Close Call for Boston Blackie which I reviewed previously. He’s helped by Farraday’s competence.

There are fun antics and clever turns as Blackie has to dodge the police and find some way out of this mess. There were a couple moments when I was expecting the film to go one direction and it went somewhere else entirely, leaving me pleasantly surprised. It was both exciting and amusing.

George Stone made a decent showing here as Blackie’s sidekick Runt, delivering a few laughs, and never becoming annoying.

I like the Christmas vibe, which the film uses just right. While the movie’s not overly sentimental, it does maintain a holiday feel without overdoing it. It’s the type of detective movie you’d reach for around the holidays when you want their flavor without being drenched.

Also, we get to see the character of Arthur Manleder, who I’d only heard in the 1944 Summer radio series.  

What Doesn’t Work

Larry Park’s character is loathsome. Giving the escaped prisoner a sister who was one of the performers served a plot purpose of explaining why Blackie tries to reason with the guy so he can return the escapee without getting the sister in trouble. However, the guy’s response to Blackie’s overtures and his willingness to expose his sister to legal jeopardy to carry out this revenge plot makes me despite this character. That’s a problem as the movie’s focus eventually shifts to Blackie trying to uncover proof of the escaped would-be murderer’s innocence.

I also have to say the prisoner had his own private office as the prison’s “dramatic director” that he could access while guards were everywhere. This is one of the silliest plot ideas I’ve ever heard.

Being only sixty-seven minutes hurts this film as its more than forty minutes in when Blackie shifts from tracking down the prisoner to proving his innocence which makes for a bit of a rushed story towards the end.


I enjoyed this quite a bit. It’s still a B-movie, but it’s a pretty well-done film despite its flaws. Chester Morris turns in a solid performance and most of the rest of the cast is on-point. It’s a fun, fast-paced film with fun comic moments. Watch it now, or wait until December and hope it’s still on Amazon to watch so you can enjoy it in all its Christmasy glory.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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