25 Days of Christmas: ‘J.T.’ – A tragic, poetic and improbably beautiful holiday special

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Throughout the month of December, TV Editor Kate Kulzick and Film Editor Ricky D will review classic Christmas adaptions, posting a total of 13 each, one a day, until the 25th of December.

The catch: They will swap roles as Rick will take on reviews of classic television Christmas specials and Kate will take on Christmas movies. Today is Christmas day!

J.T. (1969)

Directed by Robert M. Young

Teleplay by Jane Wagner

What’s it about?

Produced for a Saturday morning children’s anthology on CBS, J.T. premiered to such rave reviews, the network scheduled it again a week later in a prime time slot. The Christmas special Follows J. T. Gamble (Kevin Hooks), a shy, withdrawn Harlem boy who befriends a sick, one-eyed, old and badly injured alley cat days before Christmas. Showing compassion and responsibility, J.T. secretly nurses the feline back to health.

Review:

Those who have seen J.T. will never forget the emotional impact this heartfelt drama has. Nor will they have forgotten the heartbreaking moment in which the cat is hit by a car. Priceless because it catches the sights, sounds and moods of a city that are of a bygone era, watching J.T. is like being present for the opening of a time capsule, giving us one a look back at pre-Giuliani NYC. Brilliantly written by Jane Wagner and based on her own book of the same name, J.T. will capture the hearts of many, as we witness the young boy create a wellspring of comfort for his newfound pet in an abandoned apartment complex.

Winner of a Peabody Award, J.T. is also a story of a single mother’s struggle to be independent and support both herself and her son, while refusing to allow the ghetto life to break the family’s optimism. Come the teary denouement, this story will warm the coldest of hearts and challenge even the most hard-hearted moviegoer. There is a wonderful surprise at the end when a local grocer and his wife offer the young boy a second chance. Kevin Hooks is amazing in the lead, as is Ja’Net Dubois who plays his overworked mother, who tries her best to supply for her family while slaving away and working a low-paying job. Sensitively directed and rarely over-sentimental, this touching parable will likely ravish the emotions of cat lovers everywhere.

How Christmassy is it?

There isn’t much Christmas cheer, Christmas music, holiday shopping, decorations and so on, but the special ends with an uplifting note – one that rings true with Christmas spirit. So I would say 50/50.

You May Like It If…

If you are nostalgic for late 60’s New York City or are an animal lover.

Final Thoughts:

It stars actor Kevin Hooks as the young lead. Hooks currently works as a director for several hit TV shows including Lost, 24, Monk and Prison Break. The role of J.T.’s mother is played by actress Ja’net DuBois, who also appeared as the upstairs neighbour, Willona, on the groundbreaking 1970s sitcom Good Times.

As far as I know, J.T. was never released on DVD, but you can watch it in several parts on YouTube. There are also a few bootleg copies floating around the Internet.

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