Cast & Crew
Edwin L. Marin
In the New York mansion of "Aunt Matilda" Reid, an eccentric octagenerian philanthropist, Phillip Hastings, Matilda's nephew, tries to convince a judge named Alston and a psychiatrist named Doremus that Matilda's extravagant contributions to charity are evidence of her senility. In order to prevent Phillip from being made executor of her estate, Matilda promises the judge and the doctor that her three beloved adopted sons, Michael Brooks, Mario Torio and Jonathan will be home on Christmas Eve and will prove their competency in handling her money. In order to contact the men, whom Matilda sent away to seek their own fortunes, Matilda holds a press conference and hires a private detective. Michael, a playboy, is about to marry a Manhattan heiress named Harriett, and has written $75,000 worth of bad checks in order to buy her gifts. After Michael's ex-girl friend, Ann Nelson, who still loves him, intercedes to make Harriett call off the wedding, Phillip offers to cover Michael's debt, knowing that the loan will make Michael too ashamed to come home to Matilda. Meanwhile, Mario, a hot-tempered sportsman who has been running a gambling club in South America, has been located by an FBI agent. Ten years earlier, Michael escaped federal agents in New Orleans following an indictment for illegal business practices. The agent now orders Mario to help bring in an escaped Nazi war criminal named Gus Reichman, who had been secretly involved with Mario's girl friend, Claire, prior to his conviction at the Nuremberg Trials. Reichman has come to South America to retrieve ten million dollars, which he gave to Claire for his escape money. Not until Reichman holds Claire and Mario hostage on a ship does Mario realize that Claire gave the money to the American Occupation forces in Berlin. After Reichman threatens to kill him, Mario escapes Reichman's guards and shoots him. Before he dies, Reichman fatally wounds Claire, whose last words to Mario are "I love you." Claire's heroic death inspires Mario to return to the United States and face his past. Meanwhile, Jonathan, an alcoholic rodeo rider, arrives at Grand Central Station. There he meets Jean, an agent of the humane society who is investigating a baby racket and needs Jonathan to pose as her husband. After being held up by the racketeers, Jonathan escapes with three babies to Aunt Matilda's. Jean follows, and Jonathan convinces her to marry him and help him rear the three little girls. Michael, who at Ann's urging, has been investigating Phillip's management of Matilda's business investments, exposes Phillip as a fraud and a thief. Mario arrives accompanied by a policeman and confesses that a decade earlier in New Orleans, he took a "rap" for Phillip in order to spare Matilda, whose money Phillip had used in a crooked deal. Phillip is now arrested. Seeing Matilda in the company of her upstanding sons, the judge and the doctor leave her to handle her own money, and Michael agrees to marry Ann.
Edwin L. Marin
Arthur M. Landau
Richard H. Landau
George Raft, George Brent and Randolph Scott are top-billed as the three ne'er-do-well adopted sons of Ann Harding's Wall Street heiress and eccentric grande dame. Although she hasn't seen them for years, she loves them still, she proclaims, because all three decided to make their respective ways and not live off her money. Her nephew, Reginald Denny's Philip, is a different story. He's been bilking her and milking her for years. Then he succumbs to a massive attack of greed. Why steal bit by bit, he reasons, when he could have the old lady declared incompetent and glom onto her entire (and still considerable) fortune?
Her eccentricities are charmingly idiosyncratic and not as senseless as they seem. When she serves tea, the cream and sugar are carried around the table on a model railroad one of the sons loved as a boy. Before she enters her drawing room, a fire bell rings. But, she explains, that's only to give visitors a chance to stop gossiping about her before she embarrasses them by walking in on some indiscreet remark. When Philip complains to a judge and doctor he has called to her Manhattan mansion to rubber-stamp her commitment that she spent $1.6 million for dead rats, she points out that she paid poor boys a dollar each for every dead rat they turned in, thus promoting public health and slum clearance.
She gets the judge and doc to hold off until Christmas Eve, by which time, she fervently believes, her three sons will materialize and extricate her from the mess. Brent's high-living playboy son has been in Manhattan all the time, running up bills he can't pay. His plight is the springboard for a bubbly performance by Joan Blondell as a screwball comedy paragon who inexplicably wants to marry him, and sabotages his plan to marry his way out of debt by snagging a rich society fiancée. But the giddy abandon with which she throws herself at him, and throws a diamond bracelet off an apartment balcony, reminds us that the energy level here comes and goes.
The characters from the story by Laurence Stallings and Richard H. Landau often have a warmed-over feel. Their superficial raffishness seems borrowed from Damon Runyon's universe. This means the actors have to work hard to get past the script's inadequacies. Often they do, starting with Raft's tough Mario, who skipped to South America where he runs a nightclub after he took a rap for Philip in New Orleans and fled the country to spare the old lady's feelings. In his white dinner jacket and cool, in-control exterior, he seems a parody of Humphrey Bogart's Rick in Casablanca (1942). His complications include a girlfriend (Virginia Field) who has stashed $10 million in stolen war loot from her former boyfriend, an escaped Nazi. Also, while Bogart's Rick had Conrad Veidt's Nazi to play against in Casablanca, Raft is stuck playing against Konstantin Shayne's laughably clichéd travesty of Nazi evil.
Randolph Scott, on the other hand, seems to have sidled over from his latest B-Western on a nearby lot to play the third son, a broken-down but happy-go-lucky rodeo rider. While it doesn't exactly represent a stretch for Scott, it enables him to inhabit the role with relaxed good will and even a bit of welcome goofiness when his story wanders into screwball comedy territory. This happens when he's snagged at Grand Central Station by Dolores Moran's social worker who needs a man in a hurry to pose as her husband so she can penetrate and expose an illegal baby adoption racket. He misses a couple of the nuances of the situation, but doesn't seem to mind sharing three infant daughters with Moran before they've even had their first date.
Do they make it to the mansion in time to keep their mother from being railroaded to an asylum? Does Santa wear red? And while things are conveniently being tied up in a neat package, including Raft chasing Philip out of town gangster-style, let it be said that Harding trumps them all as the gentle old lady who's foxier than she seems. Channeling her inner Ethel Barrymore, Harding faces down the camera even when she's asked to stare right into it, and shows that she has a trick or two up her mutton-chop sleeve, to say nothing of a capacity for shrewd observations kept to herself until the right moment. Beneath her dithery exterior is a granite interior. She's the prize in this otherwise often lukewarm Christmas pudding of a movie.
By Jay Carr
What's the matter, dreamboat? Didn't you have your vitamins this morning?- Ann Nelson
Oh, Michael! I thought I was going to lose you because you were a rich man and now you haven't got a quarter! Isn't it wonderful?- Ann Nelson
Promises, my dear lady, are the counterfeit currency that inferior people exact from each other when unsure of their own strength.- Gustav Reichman
The title of the viewed print was Sinner's Holiday, which May have been its television release title. Screen Achievements Bulletin credits Arch Oboler with Richard H. Landau and Laurence Stallings as writing the original stories on which this film was based; however, Oboler receives no onscreen credit.