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C. Aubrey Smith
Melton, Chadwick and O'Brien, rich but lonely heads of an engineering firm, invite three strangers to dinner on Christmas Eve. Only two show up, James and Jean, they fall in love and become friends with their three benefactors...until the latter are killed in a plane crash and come back to their old home as ghosts. In the coming months, true love encounters some rough spots; can ghostly O'Brien help the young folks? Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
This takes a simple idea and makes it work rather well, thanks to a good cast and just enough detail to create an atmospheric setting. Director A. Edward Sutherland moves the action along at a slow, deliberate pace, yet most of the time this fits in well with the nature of the characters and the story. The slow pace allows you to think a little more about the characters, and it often gives you a chance to anticipate what comes next, giving the story a feel of inevitability despite its more fanciful aspects.
The movie divides into two major sections. The first part is an upbeat series of vignettes, as the three elderly rich men befriend and help the two young lovers. The second part forms an interesting contrast, as the spirits of the three mentors, from the afterlife, try to help their young friends through some difficulties and trials. The light and ever-hopeful tone of the first half gives way to serious and often anxious drama in the second part.
The casting is a big part of making it work. As the older benefactors, Charles Winninger, C. Aubrey Smith, and Harry Carey form a good trio, working together believably and making for an interesting contrast with one another. Winninger as the happy optimist, Smith as the mellow realist, and Carey as the anguished pessimist all do a good job of bringing their characters to life. Likewise, Richard Carlson and Jean Arthur fill the roles of the young hopefuls sympathetically. Maria Ouspenskaya and Helen Vinson are also good in their parts.
For all that the story is openly sentimental, it generally avoids becoming moralistic or preachy. It just presents the characters for what they are, and allows the story and characters to speak for themselves. It's not one of the very best movies of its kind, but it's not really that easy to make any story like this work without becoming cloying or saccharine. So this is a creditable movie, and one that probably deserves to be a little better known.
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