An eccentric wealthy family facing bankruptcy schemes to steal an inheritance, but an alcoholic ex-actor they take in for Christmas charity complicates their plan.An eccentric wealthy family facing bankruptcy schemes to steal an inheritance, but an alcoholic ex-actor they take in for Christmas charity complicates their plan.An eccentric wealthy family facing bankruptcy schemes to steal an inheritance, but an alcoholic ex-actor they take in for Christmas charity complicates their plan.
A wealthy family is preparing for Christmas in their usual stylish fashion. They hit on a bright idea that will make them outstanding during this holiday season among their friends. They will adopt a "lost man" and bring him to their house for the holidays. They find a news story of a washed-up actor who has attempted to commit suicide and bring him to their home. The actor proves far more than they bargained for and he shows them some real truths about giving and living. —Anonymous
THE CHEATERS (Joseph Kane, 1945) ***
I had no idea until recently that this was a Christmas-related film – the title certainly hints at nothing of the sort; however, it proved one of the more pleasant surprises of the festive season as I thoroughly enjoyed the picture. A B-movie at heart (being a production of the lower-berth company Republic), this was dealt an even greater blow when shorn of some 27 minutes on being licensed to TV – getting retitled in the interim to THE CASTAWAYS, and its potential appeal as a holiday flick thus made no clearer! The central premise involves a high-society household who, in spite of financial distress, tries to maintain decorum for the sake of a daughter's visiting fiancé; with this in mind, on realizing it has been snubbed out of a fortune – a deceased eccentric relative having willed his legacy to an unwitting child actress from long ago! – the family schemes to track the woman down (who is herself trying to make ends meet at the moment) and make sure she be kept ignorant of the fact. However, to uphold a façade of respectability and flaunt their would-be generous spirit in the eyes of the world, they go so far as to invite a less privileged soul (randomly picked off the social register) to partake of their 'bounty' during the Yuletide period; he turns out to be a former thespian who contrives to instill in them a regard for basic human decency, in the process learning to achieve peace of heart through the virtue of humility! Interestingly, though, the actor is himself not shown in a completely good light (unlike typical life-altering figures): he is shown to be fond of the bottle (even having the family butler mix him a special cocktail ostensibly to cure some form of ailment!), relentlessly draws on his knack for theatricality to drive home a point (such as affecting a limp – which momentarily brushes onto the head of the family as well! – and, claiming no one will be the same after that night, proceeds to give an intense solo rendition of "A Christmas Carol") and is himself guilty of insensitivity on occasion (especially when dealing with the duped heiress); incidentally, the woman's pragmatism and perennially optimistic outlook (while admitting to having herself consciously used them as a meal-ticket) has at least as much to do with the family's ultimate repentance. Though the behind-the-scenes personnel involved were no more than modest, if undeniably efficient, the film is essentially buoyed by a splendid line-up of actors: Joseph Schildkraut (surprising but effective casting, especially through his distinctive accent and mellifluous voice, for the down-and-out but resourceful ex-star), Ona Munson as the other 'interloper' in the scenario, Billie Burke and Eugene Palette as the masters of the house (typecast but always fun to watch as scatter-brained and flustered respectively), and Raymond Walburn as an equally useless next-of-kin (in fact, Palette had hilariously suggested to use him for the apparently fashionable "charity case" to be paraded in front of guests at Christmastime!). The Yuletide atmosphere is wonderfully captured throughout (down to having children carol-singing in the snow), lending the whole the requisite warmth – this, coupled with its gentle humor and nicely-drawn characters, makes THE CHEATERS a generally delightful concoction worthy of much greater attention than it has received over the years.
- Jan 24, 2010
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