TV… It Happened One Christmas (1977) (TV MOVIE)



It’s a heartwarming take on a wonderful life…


A suicidal woman who has always helped others rather than fulfil her dreams is shown what their lives would have been like without her by an angel who wants to earn her wings.


ABC Christmas promos 1977, robatsea2009


It’s one of the last posts before Christmas, so what about a review of a remake of that much loved classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life (1949? Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), I’ve never seen the original and this is despite that Capra movie having Donna Reed, aka the other Miss Ellie from Dallas (1978-91) in it. After reading about the plot of this TV Movie, is pretty faithful to the original film, apart from the lead character’s gender swap – before it became a trope – and a few other characters, including that wannabe angel, now named Clara Oddvoice Oddbody.

So get your box of tissues handy, if like me you sob at movies. Now, if you are sitting comfortably with the tissues ready, I will tell you all about It Happened One Christmas (1977). The film starts with a howling wind and then goes to space, where you hear lots of disembodied voices praying for the safety of Mary Hatch (Marlo Thomas), these voices describe her as a friend, daughter, wife and so on.

Charles Grodin as Joseph talks to a (now female) Angel and asks who is available to guide Mary in her hour of need. She suggests Clara, an Angel who wants to “earn her wings”. Anyway judging from Joseph’s dismay and the angel’s pleas it sounds like Clara is a bit of a loose cannon in the Angel world. A trumpet announces Clara’s presence, and she’s given the gig where she is told she has to guide and not save Mary.

Clara and Joseph watch Mary at 11, and she is a lovely wee girl saving her wee brother Harry from drowning. She also saves the life of a kid as she tells a pharmacist he’s made an accidental near-lethal error. She works for her father and the Bailey family has a few run-ins with Henry F Potter (Orson Welles), the town’s richest and meanest man. He wants to shut her father’s business down. Mary has a bit of a mutual attraction with another kid, George Hatch.

Then she’s suddenly all grown up and it’s 1928. Mary – now played by Marlo Thomas – is about to travel the world and goes to a dance with her brother. She sees George Hatch, as he dances with another girl. She is dancing with someone else and when she and George’s eyes lock, it’s an immediate attraction. (I stifle a sob.)

They flirt, walk and talk and make wishes by throwing stones through the window of an abandoned house. He tells her of his dream to build a town and to see her, every day for the following two weeks before he leaves town. She tells him she can’t as she’s off to Europe the next day (and another sob is stopped).

Then just before she gets on the train, her father has a stroke. Mary has to take over the family business as her wee brother is too young to do this. Business means even more clashes with Potter. She gives Harry, the payment for her untaken – now postponed – European trip so he can go to college. Then Harry returns from college with a wife. He says he’s been offered a job by her father in another part of the country.

Then George returns, and that night Mary and he meet up again. He tells her he loves her. They get married and leave for their Paris honeymoon. Mary is still working for her father’s business. I feel those tears down my cheek, as it turns out the family business has problems. This is discovered literally just before they take the train and Potter takes great relish in her misfortune. He tries to get the upper hand… and you’ll have to watch the rest to see how things unfold.

As a bit of a romantic at heart, I loved how George and Mary’s relationship blossomed naturally and realistically. Rogers and Thomas had a lovely natural and credible on-screen rapport and chemistry. This was felt throughout the movie, but never more so as they remet as adults, at the dance and here this TV Movie honoured the original film.

This is as they do the Charleston together in a competition. – which they win. Then as some prankers press a button the dance floor divides in two and Mary and George fall into a swimming pool. IMDb states this scene was filmed at the same school gymnasium as the original 1949 film.

Cloris Leachman as Clara played her as an Irish? Cockney? angel with an indescribable – and grating – accent. Leachman and Grodin’s “fun” commentary immediately annoyed me. They totally clashed in their delivery, with him being the straight man to her superannoying “amusing” character.

Her character does improve in later scenes but sadly keeps the accent. I wondered why they let this Oscar winner do this when she had a perfectly lovely voice. And both are usually more amusing, see Grodin’s cameo in So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993). She won an Emmy nomination for her role in 1978 for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama or Comedy Special.

Welles chews the scenery wonderfully when he’s not acting and steals the scenes when he is and this trait is seen in all his appearances. His voice is one I adore be it selling everything from wine to board games and all too brief appearances in Moonlighting (1985-89). He loses none of his gravitas and he brings his presence to all his scenes in the movie. He plays a great villain and was clearly having fun with his role. He particularly seemed to relish one scene, where Mary hears his disembodied voice repeating a phrase and you can tell that he did just that rather than use the initial recording several times.

But it’s a lovely romantic Christmas movie and was a major weepie for me. And now I have a big dilemma. Do I watch the original film now this TV Movie has a place in my heart…? Especially now after writing this review, I discovered this original film had been added to a certain streaming channel.

Maybe, just maybe I should watch it to see if Leachman’s voice was the trial or a tribute for this always timely story. This Christmas story has inspired everyone and anyone from The Muppets to those Dallas writers. Now that is a Conundrum for a double bill for these two The Greatest Gift inspired movies…


Weeper Rating 😦😦 😦😦😦 😦😦 😦😦😦/10

Handsqueeze Rating  🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂  /10

Hulk Rating: ‎ mrgreen mrgreen‎ /10

New Rating! Eye Candy Rating: (check out definition HERE): 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍 😍/10


It’s a Wonderful Life Blogathon No 38, 2021 

This post was added to the In The Classic Movie Muse’s It’s a Wonderful Life Blogathon. Charles Grodin starred in The Heartbreak Kid, Dave and Heaven Can Wait. Barney Martin in Murder She Wrote and Hotel. Cloris Leachman in The Simpsons, Rhoda and The Love Boat. Christopher Guest also starred in The Simpsons, and Doris Roberts in Fantasy Island. Marlo Thomas in fr. Orson Welles starred in a shed load of adverts and  Moonlighting, Voyage of the Damned and Magnum PI. Wayne Rogers in MASH and Alfred Hitchock Presents. Richard Dysart in Meteor.


25 thoughts on “TV… It Happened One Christmas (1977) (TV MOVIE)

  1. I have not seen this movie since it first aired back in 1977, yet there are scenes that have stayed with me through the years. I enjoyed revisiting it with you and now my conundrum is whether to give it a re-watch this season.

    PS: Cloris’s accent(s) is not a tribute to the earlier portrayal of Clarence. If for no other reason, you should check out It’s a Wonderful Life to confirm my statement.

    Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review, Gill! I have not seen It Happened One Christmas, but it sounds almost identical to the original, save the gender swap. I am interested to give it a try this year. The opportunity to see Orson Welles as Mr. Potter is too intriguing and fun.

    If you check out the original, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it!

    Thank you for contributing this excellent post to my blogathon! Merry Christmas! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful post, Gill, have not thought of this in years but really enjoyed it. Thought Marlo was wonderful, Cloris as well and Orson Welles was a perfect Potter!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember coming across this movie several years ago on TV. I passed up the opportunity to watch it – and it never came my way again. 😦 But your review inspired me to a little digging, and I found it! 😀 I will definitely watch it at some point in this Christmas season. I’m especially looking forward to seeing Wayne Rogers play someone other than his character from MASH. (I mean, I love Trapper John – but that’s all I’ve seen from him.)

    Incidentally, my favorite Charles Grodin film is Heaven Can Wait. ❤ He’s responsible for most of the laugh-out-loud moments in that one. 😀

    Yes, you 100% SHOULD watch the original – but, since this one made you sob, don’t try it without some Kleenex handy (and definitely make a space in your heart – as I imagine it might take up even more room than this version). From what you’ve shared here, both sound quite similar – except the first movie’s Clarence is adorable and doesn’t have an annoying voice. 🙂 If you watch it, I’ll be interested to know what you think.

    It was nice to participate in another blogathon with you. 🙂 If you haven’t yet, I’d love for you to check out my post!

    Liked by 1 person

Love your thoughts... but only if they are spoiler free!

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