Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

STREAMING SATURDAY!! The Best Classic Christmas Movie You May Never Have Heard of: THE CHEATERS

Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed a free, fun movie for you to watch right here every week!

Okay, my dears! Gather round the Yule log for The Cheaters, the heartwarming tale of a high-society family that exploits a homeless man at Christmastime while trying to cheat a starving actress out of her inheritance!

Okay maybe it’s not heartwarming right away… but it gets there. Oh and did I mention it’s a screwball comedy?

sis-cheaters-7The clan’s matriarch and patriarch are played by Billie Burke and Eugene Pallette, because that was the law. (Though sometimes Walter Connolly or Edward Arnold stepped as head of the haughty household.) House-rich and cash-poor, the family hatches a scheme to shore up its shaky social standing by taking in a down-and-out actor who’d recently attempted suicide (Joseph Schildkraut)—and making sure anyone within a mile of a printing press knows about it.

Meanwhile, they discover their last hope of regaining their fortune—inheriting from a rich uncle—has all but vanished, as he left his estate to a struggling actress (Ona Munson, who brings some of the same jaded good-heartedness to this role that she brought to Belle Watling in Gone With the Wind).

Maybe if a major studio had made The Cheaters, it would have become one of those movies that turns up every Christmas in the classic-film lineup. But it was churned out by Republic Pictures, more famous for its low-budget Westerns and adventure serials (as well as the occasional gem, such as The Quiet Man) than screwballs. It didn’t help matters that—shades of Miracle on 34th Street—the studio released the film in July.

The story was originally bought in 1941 by Paramount, which planned to re-team Carole Lombard and John Barrymore seven years after their smash, Twentieth Century. It would have been sort of a mash-up of two of their most famous roles—Lombard reviving her My Man Godfrey turn as the wacky socialite who brings home a “lost man,” and Barrymore reprising his Dinner at Eight role as a washed-up actor. But when both actors died within months of each other the following year, Paramount’s heart went out of project, and the studio sold the story to Republic. Which actually did a crackerjack job with it, for all the good it did anybody.

It’s now in the public domain, and this was the best copy I could find; try to ignore the little “bug” in the upper left-hand corner. It’s worth it. And may all your holidays be happy, healthy, and grifter-free!

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a regular feature on Sister Celluloid, bringing you a free, fabulous film every weekend! You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?

20 Comments

  1. I’m sold! Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Let me know what you think of it!!

      • Wow. What to say. I’m surprised I never heard of it, as I’ve seen much with Burke and Pallette. But it was one odd mess of a movie.

        Started well in good classic comedy style. Got bogged down in the middle , esp with the move to the dead aunt’s place. The Mr. M character was utterly strange in his role within the plot. Helping then not helping then talking of playing “God.” Only the Marley speech interested me.

        Then the holiday spirit and happy ending…with I don’t know what between the two actors. Not love, surely. Sibling type relations? No idea.

        The son and older daughter did not impress me with their acting, and the youngest “brat” never quite developed.

        I think editing was especially in need of work.

        In the end, I can say I somewhat enjoyed it, but its flaws outweighed its strengths for me.

      • One more note: I so wish I could’ve seen the Barrymore/Lombard version. 😦

  2. Vienna

    Glad you have highlighted this little gem. Deserves a DVD release

    • Yes!! It’s in the public domain; I wish someone would clean it up and put out a really good copy…

  3. Hala

    What a lovely blog! I look forward to all your posts & love it when I wake up to one! Brilliant, many thanks and lots of love from the other side of the globe 🙂

    • Wow, thank you so much, Hala! Where on the globe are you?

      • Hala

        I’m living in Bahrain at the moment, and I just love watching all your recommendations here. It’s very hard to get hold of any classic gems like these over here, but your blog makes things easier. In fact, just made some sahlab (creamy hot milk pudding flavored with nuts and cinnamon) and about to watch this one right now…can’t wait! Thanks again for all your hard work, and all the wonderful ‘behind the scenes’ info you give that just brings all these treasures to life!

      • Thank you so much, Hala, that really means a lot to me! And that pudding sounds like just the thing to enjoy while watching this! Between Streaming Saturdays, you can also look into http://www.archive.org and http://www.openculture.com for lots of free movies, though no background! 🙂

  4. Oh I’m going to save this for during the week while I’m wrapping presents!

    • Yes, be grateful you don’t have relatives like these! (Or do you?) 🙂

      • Hahaha! 😉

  5. This really is an adorable film, and deserves more notice. I’ve noticed that Schildkraut actually reproduces some of Barrymore’s mannerisms in his acting. But he brings a wonderful dignity all his own to the role.

    • I was also wondering if he was channelling JB a little… and such a change from his other Christmas role in The Shop Around the Corner!! 🙂

  6. I saw this once, so long ago it is like a dream, on late night TV and never could recall the name. What a treat! You’re the Mistress of Lost Movies.

    • Oh my God thank you Patricia — I love that title!! I feel the need for a tiara coming on… 🙂

  7. How had I not heard of this? Thanks for this.

    • In an earlier comment, Patricia at Caftan Woman called me the Mistress of Lost Films!! I love that!! 🙂 And I’m glad you liked the film!

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