Those who have seen "The Sons of Katie Elder" and the much more recent "Four Brothers" may sense some surface resemblance to this forgotten holiday movie. An eccentric old heiress (Ann Harding) in trouble needs her long-lost sons to come to her rescue by Christmas Eve before her nephew Philip (Reginald Denny) takes control of her fortune. In this case, her three sons were adopted as infants and left as soon as they could make their own way in order not to sponge off a kindly lady who gave them everything.
We first meet Michael (George Brent), a spendthrift playboy whose debt puts him at Philip's mercy. Mario (George Raft) is an escaped con now running a night club in South America who falls into the clutches of an escaped Nazi. Jonathan (Randolph Scott) is a rodeo cowboy barely scraping by out west who has a strange experience at a baby mill. While on the surface each is a specific stereotype, as soon as they learn of their adoptive mother's predicament - she savvily holds a press conference - all priorities fall in line. A certain nobility despite their failings is a reaction that bonds them as a real family.
Brent is bland as usual playing bland comedy with Joan Blondell clinging on to spice things up. As expected, a slimmed down Raft gets some romance, some fighting and some tragedy. Scott has to deal with that kind of "cowboy talk" that only exists in movies, where everything is a ranch metaphor, but he's charming. Harding (actually younger than all of her "sons") stretches to play double her age, and comes across just fine. Denny is variously a rat and a skunk, but he gets his. Wonderful and very busy character actor John Litel is the FBI agent after Raft. Back in '40, he played an unfortunate truck driver in Raft's "They Drive By Night" and years later was coincidentally in "The Sons of Katie Elder." "Christmas Eve" has no big emotional kick and little holiday sentimentality, but there is genuine family affection. It is not a special film, the story lines somehow both stereotypical and nonsensical. It can be stodgy and it's easy to see why it's little remembered. Clearly everyone in it was capable of better, yet there are satisfying moments.