This year my Christmas selection is the movie “Silent Night”. It was made for television (Hallmark) and released in 2002. It was directed by Rodney Gibbons and stars Linda Hamilton. It is based on a true story that is set in the Battle of the Bulge at Christmas time in 1944.
The movie begins with an elderly German named Fritz reminiscing with a young American about his grandfather who he had met in the war. The movie then proceeds into flashback mode. Fritz (Matthew Harbour) and his mother Elizabeth Vincken (Linda Hamilton) are refugees from the fighting in the Ardennes. Elizabeth thinks their cabin in the woods will be a safe haven from the war. They plan on a quiet uneventful Christmas eve. That is ruined when three American soldiers barge in. One of them is wounded (Michael Elkin as Pvt. Ridgin). Sgt. Blank (Alain Goulem) is very distrustful of Elizabeth, but Pvt. Rassi (Romano Orzari) bonds with Fritz. Three is a party, six is a movie as three Germans arrive to complicate matters. Rassi bluffs them into surrendering, but then the forceful Mrs. Vincken insists that the opposing sides agree to truce and leave all the weapons outside. The deal is reluctantly agreed to with Blank and Lt. Klosterman (Martin Neufeld) both wink-winking. Klosterman is a hard-core Nazi who implies that Elizabeth will be held accountable for not warning them about the Americans. He also wonders why Fritz is not in the Hitler Youth at the ripe old age of 12. Sgt. Mueller (Mark Antony Krupa) helps with Ridgin’s wound.
A shared meal and conversations encourage empathy and camaraderie among the soldiers. The sergeants make a connection over singing “Oh Christmas Tree” and Blank and Klosterman debate Nazism. Next comes trimming the Christmas tree and the obligatory singing of “Silent Night”. It all comes to a screeching halt when Klosterman notices Rassi has an Iron Cross souvenir. Klosterman’s decorated brother was stripped when he was killed. Not a good moment for Ridgin to enter with a pistol. The party comes to an end the next morning when an American MP arrives. Or is he?
“Silent Night” is a sweet little Christmas movie and should leave a warm spot even for Scrooges. It is decidedly made for TV and if you are looking for action… The acting starts out weak, but the actors seem to calm down and play it more naturally as the movie proceeds. Hamilton is the only star and she anchors the film. The others are no names who emote adequately. The characters are stock, but well-developed. The dialogue is fine if a bit Hallmarkish. At least it’s not mawkish. The movie is not overtly religious, but it won’t turn you into an atheist. The ending has a nice twist to it.
“Silent Night” is not in a league with “Joyeux Noel” or “A Midnight Clear”, but it is a nice choice if you want something that combines war and Christmas. See the spoiler report on how much of the story is true below.
Grade = B-
HOW TRUE IS IT? The basic scenario is true, but the details are enhanced for our viewing pleasure and so we won’t fall asleep. The Vincken’s did take refuge in a cabin. Three Americans did join them and one of them was wounded. Unlike the movie, the Germans did not speak English. Who wants to read subtitles in a made-for-TV movie? The three Germans knocked before being invited in by Elizabeth. She did require them to leave their weapons outside and they did agree to a truce. One of the Germans did help with the wounded American. The group shared a meal of stew. The next day the two trios parted without incident. Overall, acceptable artistic license for a movie that was not meant to be an important historical retelling.