that certain thing, frank capra, classic movies, boxing day

It was Boxing Day in England yesterday, but this does not mean that everyone is heading out to see Stallone and De Niro in Grudge Match. The origins of the day after Christmas, (St. Stephen’s Day in Roman times) that has now become a bank holiday are quite different. And while somewhat tied into the English class system, they are also tied to the nation’s ideas of fairness.

In the 17th Century, reference was first made to a tradition of honoring tradesmen and servants on the day after Christmas, as they would usually spend Christmas Day waiting on their masters or patrons. This was often done in the form of having the day off, while many were given boxes of presents and leftovers from the holiday feast. A possible interpretation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol could be that the morning after his hallucinations is really ‘Boxing Day.’ This tradition has often now been interpreted as putting one’s opened present boxes out by the curb, while the ‘telly’ shows Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (1963 — the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour from 1967 is right out!).

In honor of Boxing Day, I present an early silent film from a director that one could say was at times the closest Hollywood equivalent to an American Dickens: Frank Capra’s That Certain Thing (1928).

Capra’s story of the son of a wealthy restaurateur who is disinherited when he marries a cigar stand girl is certainly worthy of the author of Carol and Oliver Twist. Consigned to a life as a ditch-digger, the plot turns on the enlightened idea formed with his wife to sell affordable box lunches to his fellow workers. This film was Capra’s first for Harry Cohn’s Columbia Pictures, where he would go on to great acclaim the following decade with films such as It Happened One Night (1934 — the first film to achieve a 5-Oscar sweep), Lost Horizon (1937), You Can’t Take It With You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939). Already many of the fine details and populist touches are in place, from the hero’s relationship with his chauffeur, to the shoebox that holds the food. A more recently added musical score is nevertheless well done. A great little holiday picture as it applies that spirit to any day.

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