Directed by Frank Sinatra himself, and sponsored by the good people of Bulova and Chesterfield, it’s surely one of the classiest Christmas specials ever to go out over the airwaves: twenty-five minutes of unassuming Yuletide excellence. And it’s currently available via YouTube (and embedded below).
The year, 1957, was also when Sinatra recorded his great Jolly Christmas album, and, aside from the fact that he performs a couple of songs in this show in the same style as on that record, there is another kind of mirroring of the album that I find charming and intriguing. You see, I’ve always felt that that record captures a sense of someone celebrating Christmas alone. Not necessarily lonely, but solitary, as if standing at a window benignly watching people scurrying below carrying their presents and their trees and heading off to parties and gatherings. The singer seems to be there watching, a little wistful, but ultimately cheerful all the same.
And in this television Christmas special the conceit of the show is that we are seeing Frank Sinatra at his own home, a bachelor pad (which instead of a fireplace has some funny kind of Weber grill in the middle of the living room). He is alone at Christmas. However, on this night at least he is expecting one special guest, for whom he and his unobtrusive but dependable hired hand Leon have prepared a fine festive repast. That guest is, of-course, Bing Crosby, who shows up sans famille, as if he too is a bachelor.
And then, aside from a little low-key ribbing between the two crooners, the whole show is about the music. At one point there is a kind of fantasy sequence where they head outside and join some carol singers in “merry old England.” They come back inside to Frank’s place where Sinatra delivers a genuinely gorgeous, intimate and reverent rendition of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” followed by Bing’s lovely “Away in a Manger.” Bing throws in a version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” which builds to a hip and jazzy conclusion, and Frank does something similarly cool with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
With Nelson Riddle conducting and arranging as necessary, there cannot be a wrong note, and the whole thing is just a pleasure to watch and listen to; it’s people who know how to do these things, pulling it all off with good taste and just the right spirit.
Before you can even find yourself checking your Bulova watch, it’s over, and then you just might want to light up another Chesterfield and watch the thing again.
UPDATE: The full show is no longer available on YouTube, but there are clips, like this one: