Holidays are times that people love to watch the staple films of the season. Every generation has their favorites they put on and quite frankly watch without thinking. The films can become like the poinsettia plant that someone brings you each year for no apparent reason other than they to do the act.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969) is a completely different kind of darker holiday fare. Made in France and directed by Terrance Young with William Holden and Virna Lisi in the cast. A widowed single father of a boy named Pascal, who are involved in tragic event off the coast of Corse. An aircraft falls into the sea contaminating the water with nuclear radiation. Nothing is thought of it until blue marks appear on Pascal and the fateful diagnosis of a terminal illness is delivered. There is nothing for the family to do but to make Pascal comfortable for the next six months.
This picture certainly a role change for William Holden who had just finished the totally different Sam Peckinpah’s THE WILD BUNCH (1969) and one of my favorite if not slightly skewered war pictures THE DEVILS BRIGADE (1968). Holden does show range as he was beginning to grow in ‘Older” roles such as when he was ‘Bumper Morgan” in the seldom seen Television film THE BLUE KNIGHT.
How does this fit into holiday times? I believe because it is a something real that people face even at holiday times. THE CHRISTMAS TREE handles this very delicate and grim subject matter with grace. The moments showing Pascal laughing, playing, going on holidays and Holden and Lisi’s characters try to make the best of a tragic situation are wonderful. It is unfortunate that people receive this diagnoses in some shape or form even day of the year. Never once in the film does Director Terrance Young stoop to the fog shrouded, John William’s music, back lit style of Steven Spielberg sentiment.
Brook Fuller as the young stricken son Pascal has a precocious manner to him through the picture. Not deliberately set by the film maker or the writer making him the equivalent of the “adorable, cute animal” introduced in one scene only to be killed in the next scene .
There are many memorable sequences in the film, such as Pascal staring into the eyes of a wolf. Bonding with the animals as he knows he is different because of what he has inside. The disease makes you different from the others in spite of outward appearance: yet animals know. The bond that happens with outsiders becomes more apparent in the ‘angry horse’ moment as the wolves race to the boy’s rescue.
(Video Spoiler warning)
You can do everything for your children when something like this happens but protect them from what is happening inside them. Holden and Lisi are subtle and brilliant in showing the futility of this yet the exclude a warmth that we know will change as the disease takes its terrible course.
THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969) is a hard film to find as it was made in France with limited release. However if you get a chance to see it you will fine top acting, interesting story very well handled and well done production values
THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969) is not a sentimental film. The picture shows a different side of a holiday that perhaps somewhere people are going through or someone they know is going through a personal event. My Father once said that ‘Everyone has a story”. That person giving you that poinsettia plant or smile is having troubles and it is their wish to try to bring happiness so one should smile back and thank them. That despite all the other gifts the most important for everyone is that of good health.
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