Friday, November 13, 2009

Santa Claus on suicide watch

Edmund Gwenn played a surprisingly broad range of characters in his career: a murderer-for-hire in Foreign Correspondent; a scientist in Them!; and, of course, Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street. Just as enjoyable is his role in Apartment for Peggy, which the Fox Movie Channel is showing tomorrow morning at 10:00 AM ET.

Gwenn plays a retired philosophy professor at a college somewhere in the Midwest. Having been forced into retirement, he's spent the last few years working on a book cataloging everything he knows about philosophy. Once he finishes it, he feels as though he's got nothing left to contribute to society, and it would be better if he chose for himself the time his life would end, rather than becoming old and decrepit.

Meanwhile, this is the period just after World War II, and there's a housing shortage on. Jeanne Crain and Wiliam Holden are a struggling married couple, living in a trailer, while he tries to finish his degree. (You'd think this would have given Holden some sympathy in Miss Grant Takes Richmond.) You can guess what happens next. Gwenn meets Crain, and the meeting will change their lives. Crain worms her way into renting Gwenn's garret apartment. Crain and Holden learn quite a bit about life from the old professor, and he learns that he's still got a lot to offer. Not that it's going to be easy for any of them, of course.

Apartment For Peggy is one of those movies that, on the face of it, shouldn't be very good. It's formulaic and predictable, and somewhat sappy to boot. However, it's one of those old movies that is pleasant in large part because it's predictable. Gwenn plays the curmudgeon well and is easy to like, while Crain's pushiness is more humorous than obnoxious. Holden wasn't a star yet, and isn't given a particularly difficult role, but he's fine with what he does. Apartment For Peggy is the sort of movie that probably ought to show up every year around Christmas, even though it's not set at the holidays: like a good Christmas movie, you know what's going to happen, yet it's still heart-warming.

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