When it comes to Christmas and Western films, the two don’t always meet. There are scenes in some movies where Christmas happens but there’s never really been a “Western Christmas movie” Sure, some may consider a random movie on Hallmark Channel, or a Christmas special of Western shows a member of the genre. Others could consider the Sam Elliott movie Prancer a Western Christmas film. Today, however, we’re going to look at a short film from 1945 called Star in the Night.
The plot of this short? Basically, it’s the Nativity story but in then-contemporary Western America mixed with A Christmas Carol. The Carol element comes in the form of a grumpy Scrooge-like Italian-American motel owner, Nick Catapoli (J. Carrol Naish).
His hatred of Christmas isn’t quite the same as Scrooge’s where a lifetime of happiness has made him reject happiness and cheer; he hates how phony people’s “good cheer” comes off. “All year, everybody is stingy, is mean, and squeezes the money. All of sudden it’s Christmas, everybody’s smiling and has a false face. Not Nick! I’m no phony!”
Basically, he’d rather be a grump then put on a false sense of merriment. The recipient of that strong line is a mysterious hitchhiker (Donald Woods) who doesn’t believe in that. “The true meaning of Christmas is peace, brotherhood, and love. Seems to me that’s the remedy for all the world’s troubles.”
While that’s going on, he has to deal with the attendees as his motel. A woman trying to sleep complaining about loud carolers (Virginia Sale), a traveling salesman upset about the shirt cleaning service provided (Irving Bacon), and a traveling couple wanting extra blankets (Dick Elliott and Claire Du Brey).
The motel then receives another set of visitors in the form of Maria and Jose Santos (Lynn Baggett and Anthony Caruso), who “followed the star” (a giant light-up star) to the motel, but there are no more rooms available so they have to stay in the shed and, you guessed it, pregnant Maria is going into labor.
As the night goes on, the occupants of the motel hear news about the delivery and help out any way they can. The traveling wife and the complaining woman help out Nick’s wife, Rosa (Rosina Galli), deliver the baby, while the traveling husband comforts and chats with Jose. The couple also give up their extra blankets. The man complaining about the cleaning service buys Jose a cigar and offers his shirts as clean sheets for the couple.
After the baby is delivered, everybody congratulates the new father, and three cowboys come roaming in with toys they bought to impress a pretty store owner. The hitchhiker leaves and Nick feels a great sense of warmth and Christmas cheer.
Although this film is only a short, it really does have that same warmth that great specials have. And like a lot of the greats, it’s timeless. If you’re looking for something to add to you Christmas-watch list, then by all means, add this. You can watch it on YouTube below or as an extra on DVD copies of Christmas in Connecticut.
To conclude, I’ll add in a little trivia: This was the first directorial job of Don Siegel. Yes, the man who went on to direct gritty, harsh, bare-knuckle action films made this charming little film.