Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas And Gene Lockhart

Christmas time on TV must mean one thing --it's Canadian actor Gene Lockhart's yearly chance to shine.
I was thinking of this remarkable character star only last night as I watched for the umpteenth time 1947's Miracle On 34th Street.
That was the black and white comedy that won Edmund Gwenn his sole supporting Oscar and he deserved it --he's most convincing as Kris Kringle.
Forget the dreary TV remake of 1973 that featured Sebastian Cabot as Kris. And don't bother with the terrible widescreen remake with the usually reliable Richard Attenborough.
Born in London, Ontario in 1891 Lockhart was only 56 when he made Miracle in 1947 although he looked at least a dozen years older.
The year 1947 was a busy one for Lockhart --he also made Her Husband's Affairs, The Foxes Of Harrow, Cynthia, Honeymoon and The Shocking Miss Pilgrim all in the same year.
Seventh billed as the seemingly stern Judge Henry X. Harper, Lockhart shares wonderful scenes with Bill Frawley (later on I Love Lucy) as he convincingly portrays the judge who keeps getting reminded he's up for reelection.
In fact this one is chock full of scene stealing veterans: Porter Hall, Jerome Cowan, and in uncredited bits such talents as Jack Albertson, Jeff Corey, Mae Marsh and even Thelma Ritter in a great movie debut.
Then I caught the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol. Granted it's not quite up to the standards of the Alastair sim British edition. But it still tops TV's multiple remakes.
This lush MGM version was supposed to star Lionel Barrymore who'd spend every Christmas Eve reading the story live on radio.
But Barrymore was ill so Reginald Owen was deputized and fares right well.
The talented cast also includes Terry Kilburn as Tiny Tim, another Canadian Ann Rutherford as the Spirit of Christmas Past, Leo G. Carroll as Marley's Ghost and Lynne Carver as Bess.
And to add to my delight Gene's wife Kathleen appears as Mrs, Crachit and daughter June Lockhart is around, too, as Belinda Crachit.
Wait! I'm not through with Gene and Christmas.
Saving the most popular of the holiday films for last I must cite Going My Way (1944) starring Bing Crosby in his Oscared performance.
And right in there's Lockhart steady and assured cast as the money man Ted Haines Sr. It may be a small part but Lockhart was no small actor, he gives the role his all.
Other Gene Lockhart performances I admire were in Abe Lincoln In Illinois (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), Meet John Doe (1941) and Joan Of Arc (1948).
Heck I even sat through Bedtime For Bonzo (1952) just to catch a Lockhart performance.
But I sincerely believe Christmas on TV belongs to Gene Lockhart, one of three gifted actors to emerge from London, Ontario, around the same time.
The others were Alexander Knox and Hume Cronyn.
And I enjoyed talking about her father the sole time I met up with June Lockhart in Los Angeles. And if you want to know more about June and her famous papa then simple google that great movie magazine Classic Images for the current edition.

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