Directed by: Alexander Johnston
Starring: Michael Welch, Cody Newton, Diana Scarwid, Keith Carradine, Nick Searcy, Joanne Pankow
This charming and unabashedly sentimental holiday film -- playing for one show only -- was the Audience Award winner at the Asheville Film Festival, where it also placed second for Best Film. It's easy to see why.
The Angel Doll is a well-crafted period movie -- set in 1950s North Carolina -- about a young boy (Michael Welch) who learns the meaning of friendship when he becomes best buddies with the generally ostracized Whitey Black (Cody Newton). Not only is Whitey's mother (Diana Scarwid) not quite socially acceptable -- mostly because she's poor -- but his little sister, Sandy (Lindsey Good), is afflicted with polio, a disease many people mistakenly think is contagious.
Sandy is obsessed with angels in every form, and what Whitey most wants is to find her an "angel doll" for Christmas, a task that proves easier said than done. The whole film is handled in fine style, and the period evocation by director Alexander Johnston (who died before The Angel Doll was completed) is right on the money.
This is not a big film by any stretch of the imagination; rather, it's a rather wonderful small one with a good heart and a certain amount of allegorical value to our own time (where similar misconceptions prevail about AIDS). The Angel Doll is also one of the few films I know that presents the small-town South of the 1950s as something other than a cross between Deliverance and The Beverly Hillbillies.
Looking for a pleasant, sentimental Christmas treat? This is it.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke