DVD Review: The House Without a Christmas Tree
By Jeff Swindoll Oct 18, 2007, 15:41 GMT
Based on Gail Rock\'s autobiographical book about growing up in rural Nebraska in 1946, this beloved holiday classic follows ten-year old Addie who lives with her bitter, widowed father and his mother in Clear River, Nebraska. After a mother dies, her family appears destined to spend the rest of its days picking up the pieces. In 1940\'s Nebraska, a sweet and intelligent 10-year-old girl raises the ire of her bitter ...more
Jason Robards stars in this tele-drama about a father haunted by the past that he refuses to put up a Christmas tree, much to the disappointment of his young daughter. When she wins a tree in a contest will father allow it to be displayed?
Jamie Mills (Jason Robards) and his daughter Addie (Lisa Lucas) live with his mother (Mildred Natwick) in her tiny house in 1946. It’s Christmastime but Jaime never allows them to put up a Christmas tree. He says that it’s a waste of money, of which they appear to have little, but there are reasons in his past that prevent him from erecting the traditional holiday ornament.
Addie wins the school’s Christmas tree when her teacher Miss Thompson (Kathryn Walker) asks the two children without trees to guess a number between one and ten. Jaime’s teaching of his daughter how to play the odds will end up with her dragging a Christmas tree back to the house after school. Now Jaime must confront his own inner demons when he has to come to terms with the green Christmas harbinger that has invaded his mother’s house.
The House Without a Christmas Tree is based on a book by Gail Rock and was adapted by Eleanor Perry and directed by Paul Bogart. The film is narrated by Patricia Hamilton as Addie as an adult looking back at this incident from her childhood. The film has a feeling of the classic age of television and reminded me of an episode of the Waltons.
The commercial breaks are book ended by frames of construction paper cutouts and this also gives the show a rural feel that reminded me of the Waltons. The film was shot on videotape and this gives the show an aged look, but I think this works in its favor since it gives the film a flavor that we’re looking at a historical document. The show is excellently cast with Jason Robards giving another fine performance and ably assisted by newcomer Lisa Lucas as his precocious daughter. Mildred Natwick, who appeared in many a John Ford film, is also memorable as Grandma Mills who is proud to be called a character.
I had always heard of this production but had not seen it and now that has been remedied. It is an excellent production and quite the holiday treat. What surprised me is that the show is the first in a series of adaptations of Rocks books and featuring the same cast. Those are The Thanksgiving Promise (1973), The Easter Promise (1975), and Addie and the King of Hearts (1976, and most likely about Valentine’s Day in keeping with the holiday theme).
I don’t know if Paramount owns all of them but it would’ve been a treat to release all of them, but maybe as the holidays they’re associated with nears we may be treated to some more fine acting from the cast (fingers crossed).
The House Without a Christmas Tree is presented in fullscreen as it was originally aired on television. Sadly, there are no special features. An interview or commentary with Lisa Lucas, who’s still around, would’ve been most welcome.
The House Without a Christmas Tree is an excellent production and filled with performances of the same measure. It will make a fine addition under your Christmas tree this year, providing that your household has one.