Out-of-work vaudeville performer Louie Amendola (Jimmy Durante, The Man Who Came to Dinner) and his family find themselves homeless during the Christmas season. Suddenly, a crafty little squirrel shows up and inadvertently helps The Amendolas overcome all their financial problems.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Tomorrow is Christmas. We haven’t even got a tree…”
Acclaimed stop-animation pioneer and fantasy guru George Pal made his live-action feature debut with this low-budget Christmas fable. While definitely not as snazzy as Pal’s War of the Worlds or The Time Machine, The Great Rupert (also known as A Christmas Wish) is a surprisingly heartwarming Christmastime movie.
If producer Pal wanted to make an unpretentious movie that the whole family could enjoy during the holidays, then he succeeded with flying colors. Despite a tight budget, Pal is able to come up with something filled with humor, joy and sincere sentiment. Competently directed by Irving Pichel (Destination Moon), The Great Rupert is disarmingly unassuming and charmingly whimsical.
The film gave showman extraordinaire Jimmy Durante a rare opportunity to dominate a storyline. Like iconic comedians Eddie Cantor, Bob Hope and George Burns, Durante essentially plays himself in every movie, but I like him a lot. Laslo Vadnay’s (Tales of Manhattan) fine script also allows Durante to do some of the things he was famous for: he plays the piano, sings a few songs and tells many silly jokes.
In spite of all that, Durante manages to create a multi-dimensional character. However, in my opinion, character actress Queenie Smith’s (The Killers) fabulous naturalistic performance (she plays Durante’s long-suffering wife) nearly steals the film. The cast also includes Terry Moore (Come Back, Little Sheba) as Durante and Smith’s daughter, and Tom Drake (Meet Me in St. Louis) as Moore’s boyfriend.
The real star of the movie is the super-cute title character, an ornery squirrel that magically comes to life thanks to the technical team. Pal mixes footage of a real-life squirrel with his trademark stop-motion animation work. The technique may look primitive to our modern eyes, but it works great — I truly believed that I was watching an actual squirrel doing all those incredible tricks!
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
I wasn’t expecting much from this little movie, but I ended up liking it — it’s a simple but effective piece of Christmas candy. The film’s message of hope, mercy and kindness makes it a perfect family film to watch over the holidays. And it made me feel good about people in general. That’s all one should expect from a Christmas-themed movie. You can watch it on YouTube. Recommended. B&W, 87 minutes, Not Rated.