Each year the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar takes a look at the perhaps lesser-known Christmas films. The ones that we don’t make a point of re-watching each year as festive tradition. With that in mind this year the Calendar, with slight inspiration from last year’s selection of The Curse Of The Cat People, delves into the world of forgotten classics, the ones that may have been slightly left behind in exchange for the likes of It’s A Wonderful Life and The Bishop’s Wife.
After yesterday’s look into an unwanted house guest in The Man Who Came To Dinner, today let’s take a glance at a different kind of Christmas guest, that of the entirely unknown one, as the Calendar presents 1950’s The Great Rupert.
The titular Great Rupert is a squirrel (taking both live-action and stop-motion animated form) living in the walls in-between the house of wealthy Frank Dingle (Frank Orth) and into the cramped living space of the Amendola family, who are renting, with increasing prices, from Frank. The fortunes of the Amendolas begin to turn around when the rarely-seen Rupert rains Frank’s money – hidden in the walls of his house – from the ceiling, although the family are unaware of the source of the money and the squirrel, they simply view this as an act of God; answering their Christmas prayers.
Soon the poor family, led by former circus performers Louie (Jimmy Durant) and Mrs Amendola (as Queenie Smith is simply credited as), come into increasing fortunes and begin to help out struggling businesses in the nearby town. While baffling Frank, who finds the Amendola family a disturbance to the calm routine of his life, he’s certainly happy with the money that’s coming in for him – particularly when it appears as a form of present on Christmas Day, with extra added on. Yet, cares are largely forgotten about on the big day as the two families, despite their differences, gather around he piano to sing and perform. Durant particularly puts on a vaudeville persona as the film almost becomes something of a variety show. Echoing TV of Christmases past with a more traditional feel and one act moved swiftly on into the other. Such a feeling arises a number of times throughout The Great Rupert, yet there’s a jovial feel to each one as the cast, particularly Durant in the lead, appear to relish the opportunity to perform in this way and show off their skills.
Such moments also allow for Amendola daughter Rosalinda (Terry Moore) to further spark a gradual relationship with restricted Dingle son, and aspiring composer, Pete (Tom Drake). After first meeting when the family move in, rather promptly, after an old performing friend (Jimmy Conlin) of theirs has been kicked out so close to Christmas after not being able to afford rent due to the money he’s put in to his new act (Rupert the, occasionally-kilt-donning, dancing squirrel – this being where the stop-motion comes in to play, with a look and effect which still manages to hold up over 70 years on).
Over it’s short run-time the film generally emits a feeling and tone of seasonal goodwill, particularly as the Amendola family’s situation turns around and things vastly improve for them over such a short amount of time. When the vaudeville elements are mixed in there’s a very traditional feel to the film in terms of not quite Christmas films, but generally performances and maybe TV specials, of the past. It’s a slight throwback and reminder to them, while still managing to capture a rather enjoyable tone within such sequences and moments, often thanks to Durant’s energy and style as he’s in his element behind the piano, or whenever generally performing. There’s a very traditional nature to The Great Rupert, shown in the general simplicity that it holds, and more often than not it manages to push the kind-heartedness of the good-natured central family and the festive spirit which they appear to emit and hold closely.
The Great Rupert can be watched in the following places:
iTunes/ Apple TV
Or, you might have a physical copy of the film somewhere. To see if the film’s available in any other places, or to see where you can buy, rent or stream it in your own country, it’s best to check JustWatch.