Growing up in Minnesota, going to school in Michigan and Ontario (among other places), I slogged through enough snow to last me at least a lifetime and miss it not at all. There is no real indication that the recent divorcéee, Zoe Jensen, played by Michael Learned (just finished with years of mothering on “The Waltons”) missed it in the 1980 tv movie “Christmas Without Snow,” either. She arrived in San Francisco, seemingly at the beginning of November, from Ohio, looking for a teaching job and settling for temporary office work (I’ve been there, done that early in my San Francisco life). And she joins a church choir that has just acquired the services of a retired choir master, Ephraim Adams, played by John Houseman (The Paper Chase). This motley crew is going to perform (the Christmas part) of “The Messiah.”
That endeavor is quite ambitious for their limited talents, but especially in a Christmas movie, there can be no doubt that they WILL succeed. The suspense is about what additional obstacles will loom on the way. These include racism both directed to blacks and Asians within the choir.
Shot in San Francisco in the era when I moved here, with not only John Houseman and Beah Richards, but James Cromwell (whom I consider quasi-local on the basis of “Tales of the City” and seeing him at ACT in “The Invention of Love”) and featuring many excerpts from “The Messiah” (choruses of which I sang in both church choir and school choir as an adolescent, the baritone solos of which I sing along with on the Solti recording), I shoulda liked the movie more. Alas, there was little character development, the chorus rehearsals were painful to hear, the crisis of faith and the romance were yawn-inducing.
I like the orotund articulation of John Houseman and he got to show a lighter side (singing a ditty/gigue!) here. As the organist, composer Ed Bogas made an impression. As the soprano soloist Adams chooses, Daisietta Kim made a vocal impression. Primarily, it is the star, Ms. Learned, who did not make much of an impression, either in SF or on the phone back to Ohio with her son and her mother. This is writer-director John Korty’s fault as much as hers.
The movie is not going to displace any of those on my best Christmas movie list, but is a harmless addition to the Christmas movie genre and to the body of movies set in my hometown (San Francisco).
©2010, Stephen O. Murray