If you would rather see a good show instead of making New Year’s resolutions that probably won’t last twenty-four hours or instead of watching the Times Square ceremony with whoever is trying to replace Dick Clark, I can recommend any of the following films. Each will help you bring in the New Year.
1. The Apartment (1960) with Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, and Jack Kruschen: Jack Lemmon plays a schnook who tries to be a corporate climber by loaning out his apartment to married execs that need a place to entertain their lady “friends.” Billy Wilder directed this comedy-drama that won five Oscars including best picture, best director, and best screenplay (Wilder and I.A.L Diamond). Fred MacMurray is cast against type as Lemmon’s boss and is splendid. Somehow he was overlooked in the supporting actor category with Kruschen as Lemmon’s appalled neighbor getting a nomination instead. The film ends on New Year’s Day, and be sure to listen for the pop of the cork from the champagne bottle. [Available on DVD]
2. Burning Secret (1988) with Faye Dunaway, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Ian Richardson, and young David Eberts: This little-known treasure is really Mr. Eberts’ film, and the camera loves him. He plays a boy who travels to a clinic and plush hotel for asthma therapy. His mother (Ms. Dunaway) comes with him while leaving his father (Mr. Richardson) in Vienna. He is befriended by an interesting baron (Mr. Brandauer) who had been wounded in WWI. But is the baron only using him to meet his mother? Beautifully filmed – the snow-laden landscape is gorgeous – and taking place during the last days of 1919 – the story ends on New Year’s Day. [Hard to find but worth the search – it was once available on VHS.]
3. Lord Peter Wimsey: The Nine Tailors (1974) with Ian Carmichael: Before heading to the trenches of World War I, Lord Peter attends a wedding at an estate in Fenchurch-St. Paul. The happy occasion is shattered when priceless jewels are stolen from one of guests. Twenty years later, Lord Peter and his butler have an auto mishap while passing through the area again. Roomed and boarded by the local minister, Lord Peter offers to help ring in the New Year by pulling one of the nine bells (tailors) of the fen country church. This ultimately leads to the discovery of a mutilated body and the recovery of the long-lost stolen jewels. But who was the dead man, and who killed him? This superb four-part BBC drama was originally telecast in the U.S. on Masterpiece Theatre. [Available on DVD.]
4. Route 66: A Fury Slinging Flame (TV series 1960-61) with George Maharis and Martin Milner and guests Leslie Nielsen, James Brown, Fay Spain, and Conrad Nagel: Buz Murdoch and Tod Stiles (with their trusty Corvette) are working in White City, New Mexico, at the end of 1960. Leslie Nielsen, years before he turned to comedy, plays a brilliant nuclear physicist who is convinced that the Soviet Union is going to launch a devastating nuclear attack on the U.S. at 6:00 P.M. on New Year’s Day. He has gathered a select group with which he hopes to survive the assault by living deep inside Carlsbad Caverns. James Brown was a regular guest star on this series, always playing some kind of official like a police captain or sheriff. In this episode, he plays the chief ranger at the Caverns, and it’s his job to figure out what to do with this menagerie of campers who aren’t supposed to be there. The superb teleplay is by Sterling Silliphant (future Oscar winner for In the Heat of the Night). Classic TV at its best. [“Season One” is available on DVD: unfortunately, about five minutes is inexplicably missing from this specific episode. Fortunately for me, I recorded the full-length version when it was re-shown on Nick at Nite.]
by David Offutt, December 2005 (slightly revised December 12, 2009)