Forgotten Christmas Movies x5

I love classic movies. So now that it’s Christmastime, I’d like to talk about some favorite classic Christmas movies. And by classic, I mean movies made before 1990.

I’m a sucker for a good Christmas movie, and there have been some really good ones produced in the last few years. The Polar Express is a favorite, along with Home Alone, The Grinch, Elf, and A Christmas Story. And there have been many, MANY, adaptations of Dicken’s classic A Christmas Carol, starring everyone from the Muppets to George C. Scott, and others featuring Alastair Sim, Donald Duck, Bill Murray, Patrick Stewart, and many more. Take your pick.

For this list, I’m going to stay away from better known Christmas classics – so, no White Christmas, no It’s a Wonderful Life, and no Miracle on 34th Street. Those are all great films that are among my favorites, but I want to focus on some that are not as familiar. All of these listed here are family-friendly and very watchable Christmas films.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

This movie has been remade a couple of times, most recently as 1998’s You’ve Got Mail starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, but the original is still the best. Jimmie Stewart and Margaret Sullavan star as co-workers at a luggage shop who can’t stand each other in person but who have unknowingly fallen in love with each other as anonymous pen pals. Don’t miss Frank Morgan as their boss – as an actor, he’s better known as the title character in The Wizard of Oz (1939). I just love this little movie, though. It’s really wonderful.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Barbara Stanwyck gives a fine performance as a Martha Stewart-type homemaker and magazine writer who is an awesome cook, a loving wife, and a devoted mother, living on her family’s farm in Connecticut. Except she’s really a terrible cook, never married, not a mom, and lives in a high-rise New York apartment. But then her boss at the magazine (Sydney Greenstreet), who doesn’t know that she’s been making up the whole thing, has the idea to have a war hero spend Christmas with the writer and her family at the farm, and she has to scramble to keep everything going. Also with S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall as her friend, Chef Felix.

It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)

Every year, the world’s second richest man (Charles Ruggles) leaves his mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York and heads south to warmer weather, and every year, as soon as he is gone, a homeless guy (Victor Moore) moves into the vacated manor for the winter. He meets an Army veteran (Don DeFore), just out of the service, who has lost his apartment, and invites him to stay with him in the absent guy’s mansion. Soon, there are more homeless vets, a displaced heiress, and even the homeowner and his estranged wife all living there and trying to hide their true identities and motives. It’s a terrific farce comedy that also takes a serious look at some of the problems returning GIs faced in trying to find their place in post-war America.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

A very cool angel (Cary Grant) comes to Earth to help an Episcopalian priest (David Niven), who is so obsessed with raising money to build a new cathedral that he neglects not only his family and wife (Loretta Young), but also his true calling as a minister. Grant and Niven were originally cast to play each other’s roles in the film, but when the original director was fired, the producer, Samuel Goldwyn, made them swap roles to create this wonderful film.

Holiday Affair (1949)

Robert Mitchum and a very young Janet Leigh (only 22 at the time) star: she is a war widow with a young son, he is a department store clerk. Through a series of interactions, she causes him to lose his job. Even though she is already engaged to one man, when she meets Mitchum, she can’t deny the attraction she feels. He is sensational in a break from his usual tough guy roles. It’s a terrific story with a strong supporting cast; look for a young Harry Morgan (Col. Potter on M*A*S*H) as an exasperated police lieutenant trying to sort things out at one point.

There’s a great book that I would highly recommend for any classic movie fan on your Christmas gift list: Christmas in the Movies – 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season, by Jeremy Arnold, published by Turner Classic Movies. It’s a great look at some terrific holiday films.

Merry Christmas! And please save me some popcorn.

Christmas at the Movies

I was excited when I learned that the theme for this year’s Haskell Chamber of Commerce Christmas parade was going to be “Christmas Movies.” Because I love movies. And I love Christmas! So naturally, I love Christmas movies. (By the way, the parade this year is scheduled for Saturday, December 12, leaving from the Civic Center at 6:30 pm, and following the usual route.)

Now, I don’t want to start any arguments about whether a particular film should or should not be included in the Christmas movie list – I’ll leave that up to you, gentle reader. If you want to include Die Hard or Home Alone on your list, that’s perfectly fine and entirely up to you. And with that disclaimer, in alphabetical order, here are some personal Christmas movie favorites.

A Christmas Carol (Made for TV, 1984) “Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of this story I am going to relate.” So begins my favorite version of this familiar story by Charles Dickens. It is a British-American production, released to theaters in Great Britain, and on television here. George C. Scott plays the miserly, lonely Ebenezer Scrooge, with David Warner as his faithful employee, Bob Cratchit; and Roger Rees, as the good-hearted nephew, Fred Holywell. Scott does a masterful job of making Scrooge into a believable bad guy, so that the audience is genuinely happy for him after he is visited by the ghost of his late partner, Jacob Marley, and the three Christmas spirits, and experiences a change of heart.

Holiday Affair (1949) This is probably the least well known of any of these films, but I just love this little movie. It stars Robert Mitchum and a very young Janet Leigh (only 22 at the time), who plays a war widow with a young son. She is already engaged to one man, but when she meets Mitchum, she can’t deny the attraction she feels. Robert Mitchum is sensational in a break from his usual film noir tough guy roles. It’s a terrific story with a strong supporting cast; look for a young Harry Morgan (Col. Potter on M*A*S*H) as an exasperated police lieutenant trying to sort things out at one point.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) If “Holiday Affair” is one of the least-known Christmas movies, this may be one of the best known. Jimmy Stewart stars in this classic tale of an ordinary man who discovers the difference his life has made in the lives of so many others. It was the first movie he made after coming back from World War II, and he and director Frank Capra wanted it to be a good one. Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Ward Bond, and Gloria Grahame are just a few of the others who help make this a movie for the ages. “No man is a failure who has friends.” Attaboy, Clarence.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, and an 8-year-old Natalie Wood star in this whimsical fantasy about an old gentleman who is hired to be a department store Santa; the only problem is, he thinks he is the real Kris Kringle. The scene where Santa meets a young orphan from Holland who can’t speak English, and he begins to converse with her in perfect Dutch, is wonderful, as is the movie’s climactic courtroom scene.

White Christmas (1954) This may be our family’s favorite Christmas movie. And yes, I know that it’s basically a remake of “Holiday Inn,” but I like this version better. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye play war buddies who have become show business producers, when they meet a sister act featuring Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. My personal favorite moment is when Bing sings to Rosemary, “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep, counting my blessings.” Screen veterans Dean Jagger and Mary Wickes co-star.

Finally, I realize that there are a LOT of really good – and some very popular – Christmas movies that are not on this list. I’m not saying my list contains the finest holiday movies ever made; they just happen to be my personal picks. I had to make some hard choices to cut it down to only five, so if I have omitted your favorite, I’m sorry. Polar Express. A Christmas Story. Elf. The Shop Around the Corner. Christmas in Connecticut. There are LOTS more to pick from.

If you want to read more about any of these, I’d suggest Christmas in the Movies – 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season, by Jeremy Arnold, published by the Turner Classic Movies channel. And no, they’re not paying me to say this, but it’s a great look at some terrific holiday films, and I highly recommend it for any movie fan on your Christmas gift list.

Save me some popcorn.