- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 1999

Almost as much a part of the holiday ritual as the Christmas list is the Christmas movie list, those holiday movies that reliably inspire the sentimental longings for fellowship, family, colored lights, carols and egg nog that characterize the Yuletide season in postmodern times. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) and “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) usually vie for top honors, followed by “A Christmas Carol” (the 1938 version) and, of course, “Holiday Inn” (1942), in which Bing Crosby introduced the world to Irving Berlin’s sublime song, “White Christmas.” (Crosby reprised the song in the eponymous “White Christmas,” a 1954 movie that isn’t nearly as good.)

But what about movies for New Year’s? Running down the clock and flipping the calendar haven’t inspired moviemakers to the same degree. There are, however, at least a handful of golden-age movies that make use of New Year’s Eve. In consideration of all those many Americans who plan to celebrate the new year (and, in case you haven’t heard, the new millennium) by staying home, here is a list of little-known New Year’s movies (all available on video).

If New Year’s is about a fresh start, it doesn’t come a moment too soon for Norma Shearer and Chester Morris in “The Divorcee” (1930), a dangerously glamorous look at smart-setters exploring open marriage (yes they were debating it even back then). It won Miss Shearer an Oscar (the movie was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Director) and still casts a deep Deco spell.

For something more lighthearted, try “After the Thin Man” (1936), the second of the Dashiell Hammett-inspired “Thin Man” movies pairing as suave sleuths with repartee at the ready Myrna Loy and William Powell, an actor whose tailoring and comic timing were equally impeccable. Cocktails, wisecracks and a nifty murder mystery set during one long New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in San Francisco make this a splendid year-ender.

From the more exotic side of Hollywood comes “Balalaika” (1939), a surprisingly textured drama cum fairy tale that can only be described as a White Russian musical. (Told you it was exotic.) Set in Russia around the time of the Revolution, this virtually unknown gem features the magnificent voice of Nelson Eddy as Prince Kuragin, whose love for a gorgeous cafe singer, played by Hungarian songbird Ilona Massey, draws him into a nest of revolutionaries. Many plots, world war, and revolution later, the cast has reassembled in Paris (once home of the Russian count-turned-taxi-driver) for a perfectly charming and melodious Russian New Year’s sequence. Note: Following her brief Hollywood career, the talented Miss Massey became active in anti-communist and Hungarian refugee circles.

Continuing in a historic vein is “Cavalcade” (1932), Noel Coward’s upstairs-downstairs study of British society over three decades, from the Boer War to World War I to the Jazz Age, capped in the movie by Mr. Coward’s plaintive “Twentieth Century Blues.” Sober, sweet, and moving, “Cavalcade” in many ways is the most antique of this collection for its serious and evocative depiction of a vanished time, place and breed. For the main characters, New Year’s Eve is a ritual; for the viewer, “Auld Lang Syne” is a guaranteed tear-jerker. Notice the debt “Cavalcade” is owed by PBS’ “Upstairs, Downstairs.”

Lastly, “Midnight” (1939). Truth be told, “Midnight” does not have the slightest thing to do with New Year’s Eve, in spite of the promising title. The buoyant perfection of this sophisticated comedy written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, and starring Claudette Colbert as a would-be fortune hunter stranded in Paris with only a gold lame dress to her name, is such that it deserves a place on this list, if only for its infectiously celebratory spirits. Besides, the lavish party scene, complete with conga line, looks more like a New Year’s Eve party than most New Year’s Eve parties. And when Claudette Colbert’s character says, mid-conga, “Every Cinderella has her midnight,” it sounds like a good time to make a few resolutions.

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