The House Without a Christmas Tree Reviews
WRITTEN BY: Eleanor Perry based upon the novel by Gail Rock
DIRECTED BY: Paul Bogart
FEATURING: Jason Robards, Mildred Natwick, Lisa Lucas, Kathryn Walker, Alexa Kenin
NOTES: this was a Hallmark Hall Of Fame, CBS Production
PLOT: In 1946, a sharp-witted, selfless schoolgirl summons all of her resources to navigate her miserly father's conflicted psyche when a gifted Yule tree stirs a cascade of repressed family issues. Poignant, well-written, and free of cheap clichés and sappiness, it's better than it sounds.
The House Without A Christmas Tree is about the complexity of relationships and the evolution of personal character. Too slow for today's kids, and too somber for merrymakers, this forgotten gem of a film is holiday-suitable for serious drama enthusiasts only.
This CBS shot-on-video production won a Peabody Award, screenwriter Perry won an Emmy based on the script, and Director Bogart was nominated for a Director's Guild award. After decades in VHS limbo, The House Without A Christmas Tree has finally been released on DVD. The book, one of several by Gaill Rock about her experiences growing up in rustic Nebraska is still in print through Scholastic Press.
COMMENTS: Christmas, at least in its secular context, should be a time reserved for joy, happiness, and letting go of those bugaboos which worry one's conscience the rest of the year. Yet some people just insist on making themselves feel morose for the occasion. Case in point, the popularity of a sappy, cheaply emotionally manipulative Christmas song called "Dear Mr. Jesus," about a little girl who is beaten nearly to death by her abusive foster parents.
This corny, musically saccharin, structurally gimmicky trailer-trash classic, sung by then nine-year old Sharon Batt, a Beale Street-urchin who couldn't carry a tune in a shopping bag, remarkably made the rounds of nearly every US small-market country-music radio station during the late 1980's. Years later, it still rears its ugly head during the Christmas season and is clung to by all those who want to shed a tear while the rest of us rejoice
Why do people want to wallow in the sordidness of a maudlin song about a vile tragedy when they could be celebrating the most joyous occasion of the year? For God's sake, whatever happened to jubilant, rum soaked revelers engaging in good cheer over hot toddies on Christmas, while belting out heartfelt renditions of high-spirited ditties such as "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen?"
So it is with great reservation that I recommend the following film. It's a different kind of Christmas movie, with a touching, sometimes sad, poignant chronology, but importantly, it's not maudlin, nor does it make cheap ploys to manipulate our emotions or spark phony sentiment.
What redeems its somewhat somber tone is that the story is so darn well put together and genuine. In fact, it's one of the best Christmas movies I've seen, even though it isn't overflowing with stunts and boisterous good times. This is a thinking person's Christmas story and features believable actors, credible dialogue, and a basic but worthwhile plot that offers a message without an agenda.
The House Without A Christmas Tree is a relic from the early 1970's when a significant number of made-for-television movies still contained elements of real artistry, and had meaningful storylines. The networks were not yet completely afraid to be experimental or to challenge their audiences. The House Without A Christmas Tree is a good example. It's a general-consumption, family-friendly film, yet it also has real depth and offers quality, substantial performances. There's a significant rapport between the superbly well-cast principal actors that is all too absent from today's television productions.
Pensive, sincere, simply but thoughtfully structured, The House Without A Christmas tree is about a little girl in a small Nebraska town in 1946. Ten year old Addie (Lucas) desperately wants a Christmas tree, but her parsimonious, emotionally absent father James (Robards) is a real scrooge about the holidays.
Bitter, stubborn, and perpetually grieving over the untimely death of Addie's mother years before, Addie's daddy doesn't have much enthusiasm for finding or spreading Christmas joy. Worse, he's a dreadful miser, having barely survived the Great Depression. Not only does James have difficulty showing Addie affection, but he has even more trouble opening the purse strings for the holidays. Frugal to the point of night-sweats, James sees a Christmas tree as being merely a frivolous and unnecessary expense.
But when Addie wins a Yule tree in a school contest, she excitedly brings it home to try and sway her father's lack of Christmas spirit. Addie soon learns however that her father's scorn for Christmas is not related to his miserliness after all. The tree turns out to be symbolic of some pretty heavy, repressed emotions regarding Addie's long dead mother. Addie's' relationship with her laconic, seemingly unsentimental father is far more emotionally charged than we -or they ever realized. Put to her ultimate test, will resourceful Addie find a way to help her bah!-humbug! father come to terms with his charred soul in order to save Christmas Future?
Truly solid character development and a well-developed plot distinguish The House Without A Christmas Tree. Despite its heavy focus on childhood, this is not a kid's movie. It's for adults who enjoy films which remind them of what it was like to be a kid. Moreover, the picture's Great Plains setting, as well as its strong essence of family, home and hearth, redemption, and emotional growth make it a prime and nostalgic pick for fans of the similarly-themed and popular Little House On The Prairie books and long-running '70's television series.
The same team later did "A Thanksgiving Treasure", which is the BEST Thanksgiving story EVER made for tv.