William Sydney Porter (O. Henry) - Wikimedia
The Original Classic
Every eighth-grader has read the classic story “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry which relates the tale of a newly-wed couple, Jim and Della, who have only two prized possessions in their married life. Jim had inherited a beautiful gold watch which had belonged to his father as well as his grandfather. Della had beautiful hair which fell to her waist in which she took great pride. Jim had his eyes on a Christmas present he wanted to give his new bride - a set of combs to care for her beautiful hair. Della decided that she wanted to buy Jim a gold chain for his watch.
Neither party had the money to buy Christmas presents. Jim made the decision to sell his most prized possession, his watch, to buy Della the beautiful set of combs. Della decided to sell her hair to buy Jim the gold chain for his watch. On Christmas day, they experienced the love that each one had for the other when they opened their Christmas gifts. Their gifts were now useless to the other, but the sacrifice each had made was the greatest gift they could have given.
The Updated Version
In 2010, the Hallmark Channel presented an updated version of “The Gift of the Magi” which can only be described as cool. Della and Jim are the stars of his tale also. Viewers will not recognize any of the actors, all of whom are very talented and should go on to make inroads into the difficult profession they have chosen.
We know the story but Hallmark has given it a pleasant modern twist. Newly-weds Jim and Della Alexander have just moved into their first home, a modest apartment with makeshift furniture, but they are in love and that is all that matters to them. Jim (Mark Webber) works as a bartender, and Della (Marla Sokoloff) works as a telephone representative for a fabric cleaning company, “Clean and Bright,” answering phone calls from customers who have misused the cleaner and need help.
Jim’s second-hand car has been stolen in their run-down neighborhood, and the couple is forced to use all of their meager savings to buy another one. They make the decision together that they will not buy each other a Christmas gift this year, as the holiday is coming up shortly.
Mark Webber - Wikimedia
Their Prized Possessions
Jim’s prized possession is his shabby 1955 Chevy Bel Air convertible which he spends an inordinate amount of time restoring even though it is missing a steering wheel and cannot be driven. He knows that a junk yard might produce a wheel, but he yearns for the prized 1955 version which would show off his restoration best. Della is an amateur photographer who loves taking pictures of her husband and his beloved Chevy, but knows that a zoom lens for her camera would enable her to take better pictures. Right now, it would be a foolish expense.
Jim’s co-workers at his job know of his great love for Della. Jim’s best friend, Ian, stops in just about every night to chat with Jim and have a few drinks. Ian is a widower with a young boy and would love it if Della’s friend, Renee, would go out with him. Renee dates a lot but has no desire to settle down now, and is not interested in dating Ian who is obviously looking for a life partner. Della has made efforts to bring them together, but so far it has not worked out. She tries once again when Renee decides to paint her apartment, but can only afford the paint and not any other supplies for the task. Della tells Ian about the project and he surprises Renee by bringing her drop clothes, brushes and masking tape for the project. However, when he suggests a “painting party,” she turns him down once again. This sub-plot is necessary, I suppose, to add a little bulk to the film, which has just the one little sweet story to tell.
A Second Job
Della has located a pawn shop owner who can probably track down a 1955 steering wheel for a Chevy Bel Air, but it would probably cost $400. Della wants it badly, so she takes on a second job in the evening to cover the cost of the steering wheel, even though the couple has pledged not to buy each other a gift this Christmas. The flaw in the plot, I think, is that Della does not tell Jim that she has taken on another job. Yet, it is the premise that moves the plot along, so the viewer has to accept it.
With Christmas coming up shortly, Della realizes that even her second job will not bring in enough to pay for the steering wheel. She asks the pawn shop owner if he will take her Nikon camera in partial payment for the steering wheel.
Every night, Della has a different excuse for her absence. Jim is so focused on restoring his car that he pays little attention to the fabricated stories. She pretends she is taking a kick-boxing class, or that Renee needs her for an emotional heart-to-heart talk, or that she has had to work late at her job. She is actually at her job in the laundry room of the exquisite Allenby Hotel. Jim is shocked one evening as he drives past the Allenby and sees Della walking into the hotel with a strange man (who is actually her boss). He confronts Della who is so astonished that he would distrust her that she offers no excuses and leaves the house. She goes to Renee’s apartment to stay while she considers her next step. Jim stays at Ian’s house where his friend commiserates with him and Jim is able to offer his baby-sitting services, rather than staying in his lonely apartment.
Marla Sokoloff - Wikimedia
Things come to a head the night of the town Christmas Tree Lighting in Dillingham Square, which is a family tradition for the entire town. It is interesting that Dillingham is the last name of Jim and Della in O. Henry’s original version of the story. Also, the building where the couple lives has a store named Magi’s, for the viewer who is canny enough to notice.
Despite their friends’ efforts to bring the couple back together, it doesn’t happen right away at the Christmas Tree Lighting. The two avoid each other.
When Della returns home to place her gift-wrapped steering wheel in Jim’s Chevy, she is shocked to note that the car is gone. Jim pulls up and she tells him frantically that someone has stolen his car. He sheepishly admits that he sold the car to buy her a Christmas present. Della admits that she had taken a second job to pay for his classic steering wheel. They then exchange their gifts and realize, as their doubles did in the original version, that their gifts to each other are now useless.
The moral of the story remains the same. Sacrifice for a loved one is the greatest gift that one could give. Oh, and by the way, Ian and Renee finally get together.
Hallmark has shown this film again twice during the Christmas season. Let us hope they show this timeless story once again in 2015.