Why Do You Love Me?: A Movie Review of “A Time to Remember”
Length: 88 minutes
Maturity: G (Suitable for All Ages)
Cast: Ruben Gomez (Angelo Villano), Donald O’Connor (Fr. Walsh), Ray Serra (Frank Villano), Morgana King (Mama Theresa), Tommy Makem (Fr. Halloran), Paris Dimolean (Mr. Nicoli), Alison Case (Kelly), Suzanne Gardner (Mary), Vincent J. Burns (Joseph), Nadien Dickerson (Christ Child), Daniel Brewer (Adult Angelo’s Voice)
Director: Thomas Travers
Personal Rating: 4 Stars
There are a slew of warm and fuzzy Christmas productions circulating, usually produced by small studios and rarely marketable on a large scale. Most are as similar to each other as they are sappy and cliché. However, there are a special few which tap into the true “reason for the season” and achieve an intimacy of feeling through the simple beauty of the setting and story-line. One such film is A Time to Remember.
Ruben Gomez stars as Angelo Villano, an Italian-American boy in the 1950’s who dreams of being a singer like his idol, Mario Lanza. He finds support in his tough yet loving grandmother, Mama Theresa, and his local parish priest, the redoubtable and very Irish Fr. Walsh. But Angelo’s widowed father, Frank, who labors as a factory-worker every day to put bread on the table, thinks that singing is for “sissies” and would much prefer to see his son participate in sports like the other boys.
When Fr. Walsh introduces Angelo to a famous opera singer, Mr. Nicoli, who is willing to give Angelo voice lessons, Frank becomes increasingly set against the prospect of his son becoming a singer. Angelo tries various methods to get his father to change him mind about singing, including trying to have a heart-to-heart with him in a bar and getting him to watch The Great Caruso at the movies. Needless to say, neither of these plans pans out very well, and Frank eventually forces Angelo to quit his singing lessons.
Feeling increasingly hopeless about the situation, Angelo finds comfort in his best friend, Kelly, a local girl who understands his sensitive soul and artistic dreams. But he has a harder time getting along with the neighborhood boys, who bully Angelo for his interest in singing and his Italian ancestry. Fleeing one such encounter at a malt shop, he runs into the street and into the path of an oncoming car. Although he survives the accident with only minor physical injuries, he loses his voice as a result of trauma.
Mama Theresa blames the accident on Frank, saying that his refusal to let the boy sing has elicited the punishment of God. Meanwhile, the much-beloved Fr. Walsh has a fatal heart-attack and dies soon after giving Angelo a holy card of the Nativity. Although Angelo feels more isolated than ever and still unable to speak or sing, he volunteers to help the new parish priest, Fr. Halloran set up for Christmas mass, and he is sent to the cellar to get the nativity set for church. But the bullies return with a vengeance, and pull a cruel prank by shutting off the cellar light and locking the door.
Unable to use his voice, Angelo is unable to call for help, and everyone leaves the church under the assumption that he has already gone home. However, as he lays sobbing in the darkness, he experiences a miraculous vision of the Holy Family. When he is finally rescued by his father and Fr. Halloran, he is found sleeping peacefully with the Christ Child from the nativity scene in his arms. At Christmas mass, he astounds everyone by singing “Ave Maria”, and even Frank acknowledges his son’s special gift now that it has at last been restored.
A Time to Remember has always been a holiday favorite for my family. It may have been made on a tight budget, but it has endearing warmth and tenderness that should make it better known than it is. Unfortunately, it tends to be hard to find, except for being aired on EWTN ever and anon (long before my time, that’s how my parents located it!) and sold online in limited quantities. I suppose I can understand the situation, considering that most of the cast was practically unknown, and it’s sad to say, but young Ruben Gomez really isn’t that striking of a singer…although somehow the way the story plays out somehow makes it easier to overlook that!
Evidently, the two actors who actually got this little production off the ground and saved it from complete obscurity were the dynamic Donald O’Connor, who featured in Singing in the Rain and Francis the Talking Donkey among other things, and Tommy Makem from the Irish band Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers. And yet, the lads do get song debuts, just to make it worth their while! Also, there’s a fun personal connection I have with the film: the voice of Angelo as an adult tenor, singing Bach’s Ave Maria at the end of the movie, is actually a friend of a friend of ours, named Daniel Brewer!
Mama Theresa is portrayed wonderfully by Morgana King, with her pushy yet loving personality, her no-nonsense approach to lecturing her son and encouraging her grandson, and even her over the top (and very Italian!) predictions of doom: “God’s gonna punish you for what you did!” Ray Serra as Frank also comes off as a true son of Italy, with his cross between groundedness and deeper sentiments. He is probably one of the most sympathetic characters in the film, because he truly loves his boy but fails to realize his own unique gift until it is almost too late.
Since I do have a fair share of Italian blood in my veins, Italian-American sub-culture in general holds a cultural connectivity for me, and this film brings it to light in the form of a charming yet very human vignette. Also, faith and family are portrayed as the bulwarks of suburban America, as various cultures integrate in the great melting pot. There is a sense of community and common purpose, as well as a realization that the world, under Heaven, is a magical place filled with many ups and downs, but always girded up by hope.
Some people make it a point to complain about nostalgia in movies, especially for the 1950’s, but even though life wasn’t perfect back then, I do believe that most middle class Americans shared an intimacy through honest work and simple pleasures that has somehow been largely lost in our overly technical and “Me”-oriented generation. As wise men have realized from time immemorial, every age has its good and bad attributes, and oftentimes we find that each new generation will indubitably right some old wrongs and wrong some old rights. But for those looking back, all memories become precious.
I find it interesting how Angelo is shown being hit at the exact same time that Fr. Walsh collapses from a heart-attack. The film flashes back and forth from one scene to the next several times to draw the parallel and almost indicate that Angelo’s voice was intricately bound up in the encouragement of the priest. When he is stricken down, the boy’s voice leaves him. Angelo had once asked Fr. Walsh: “Why do you love me?” When Fr. Walsh lies dying, and gives the boy the Nativity holy card, he responds in kind with great tenderness: “Why do you love me?”
I suppose this is one of the great questions of the human experience. Love is both stunningly complex and beautifully simplistic. It is bound up in a reality beyond cells and molecules, and hinges on the divine. I believe Angelo experiences his vision through the prayers of his late priestly mentor, and has his precious voice restored. And is it not so very appropriate that Blessed Virgin should appear to him, looking oh-so Italian? When heaven reaches out to earth, we will see that which is dearest to our deepest selves, that fragment of God in all of us that makes us unique. It is that uniqueness that Angelo shows through his voice, and that his father finally acknowledges by putting his arm around his son as he sings. It is also that uniqueness that makes A Time to Remember such a very special Christmas tradition.
By Rosaria Marie