This Month


Scorsese Screens - December 2022

Scorsese Screens - December 2022


This year’s TCM Christmas marathon has 90 programming slots occupied by 72 Christmas-related pictures, 18 of which are repeated. In some cases I have to wonder why: I wasn’t aware that Beyond Tomorrow, All Mine to Give or Bundle of Joy had become Christmas favorites. There are also certain titles that are not being shown, including Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, the 1951 British version of A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim, and… It’s a Wonderful Life! There are the usual hard-edged alternative choices, like Blast of Silence and The Silent Partner, an excellent Canadian thriller from the late 70s with a brilliant performance by Christopher Plummer as a bank robber in a Santa Claus costume.

Of course there are plenty of perennial favorites like Christmas in Connecticut and Holiday Affair. And there are a few particular titles I wanted to acknowledge this year. Curse of the Cat People and All That Heaven Allows both deal with the loneliness and isolation that are so acutely felt by some people during the Christmas season. Both films express emotional values that are either not found in most Christmas pictures or are counterbalanced by outpourings of good will and generosity in the final stretch. Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, set in a Japanese POW camp in Indonesia, is idiosyncratic on every level—unexpectedly funny, harrowing and harsh, strangely magical and deeply moving. It’s fascinating to me that Oshima, of all people, made a film (from a novel by an Afrikaner writer) that is finally a grand expression of redemption and its liberating power—in a sense, the true heart of Christmas. Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, which begins on Christmas Eve, is an epic emotional journey (filtered through the mind of a child), and it has a scope and grandeur that can only be called Shakespearean.

And then there’s Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. When the film came out, it was sold as an uproarious sex comedy. I didn’t think it was very funny, which left me feeling a little disappointed. But I found myself going back to it again and again over the years, and I came to realize that at heart it’s not really a comedy. It’s about the sadness and bitterness of living in a shallow materialistic culture, where everyone has to give up a piece of their soul to move one rung up the ladder. And it’s about the brutal pursuit of pleasure and the damage done along the way. Wilder had a remarkable working relationship with his Production Designer Alexandre Trauner, and the vast fluorescent-lit insurance office where most of the characters work, the midtown Chinese restaurant, Fred MacMurray’s big suburban house and Jack Lemmon’s upper west side 1-bedroom apartment are vivid presences, as alive as the characters. Christmas in The Apartment is sad, tawdry and borderline tragic, and Lemmon’s sudden discovery of his own humanity—his decision to become a “mensch”—happens on New Year’s Eve. But The Apartment rescues the whole “holiday season” from all the false promises of commercialism, as corrosive in 1960 as it is today, as it always has been and always will be.