|THE CHEATERS (director: Joseph Kane; screenwriter: Frances Hyland/Albert Ray; cinematographer: Reggie Lanning; editor: Richard van Enger; music: Walter Scharf; cast: Robert Grieg (MacFarland), Joseph Schildkraut (Mr. M), Billie Burke (Mrs. Pidgeon), Eugene Pallette (Mr. Pidgeon), Ona Munson (Florie), Raymond Walburn (Willie Crawford), David Holt (Reggie Pidgeon), Ann Gillis (Angela), Ruth Terry (Theresa), Norma Varden (Mattie, Mr. Pidgeon's Secretary), St. Luke's Choristers (Carolers), Byron Foulger (Process Server), Robert Livingston (Stephen Bates); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Joseph Kane; Republic; 1945-b/w)|
|"An uplifting almost forgotten Christmas
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An uplifting almost forgotten Christmas tale set in NYC a week before the holiday. It's efficiently directed by Joseph Kane ("Hoodlum Empire"/"Dakota"), though it never achieves more than being slightly interesting because the story is so contrived and inane. It's based on the 1941 story by the husband and wife team of Frances Hyland & Albert Ray, with the screenplay by Hyland (Ray is deceased). It's supposedly a clever mix of comedy and mush, that sort of works its way to all mush.
The Pidgeons are a snooty, selfish and eccentric wealthy family who have seen their patriarch's financial business take a downturn and is facing bankruptcy. While planning for their usual Christmas gathering in their Park Avenue townhouse, they learn their wealthy uncle dies and leaves five million dollars to an actress he saw only once in Uncle Tom's Cabin when he was a child, Florie Watson (Ona Munson), and nothing to the relatives (which is a tough plot to sell). The conniving patriarch, J.C. Pidgeon (Eugene Pallette), arranges with the Colorado lawyer of the will not to find the actress after only a week search and in turn receive a chunk of the inheritance money.
Meanwhile the oldest daughter, Theresa (Ruth Terry), of the gravelly voiced patriarch and his ditsy wife (Billie Burke), has invited her socialite Army captain boyfriend (Robert Livingston) to be a house guest during the holiday season. When Mrs. Pidgeon finds out his parents always invite a charity case to stay with them during Christmas, she is aided in getting her own charity guest by her good-natured free-loader permanent house guest brother Willie (Raymond Walburn). He uses a newspaper story to find and bring home to the Pidgeons a once famous classic actor, Mr. M. (Joseph Schildkraut), who after going lame from a traffic accident and hitting the bottle, hits the skids.
The film's flawed angel is a boozer, who surprisingly helps the Pidgeons while also helping the down-and-out likeable Florie. The unemployed actress ends up also spending Christmas with the Pidgeons in their rustic country retreat. The happy ending and the reformation of the Pidgeons seems a bit much, while the casting of the stage actor Schildkraut might have seemed like a good idea but his hammy performance was brutal. What worked were the performances by the reliable character actors Pallette and Burke, who at least added some laughs. The film's chief problem is that no one in the self-absorbed Pidgeon family is a sympathetic character who can be appealing and that they are saved from bankruptcy in the end might not cheer everyone up in the audience, especially since the scheming family is The Cheaters from the title.
REVIEWED ON 1/31/2018 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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