The Christmas season is a great reason to escape, decorate the house, put up and trim the tree and curl up with a Christmas movie. I’ve always been a sucker for Christmas movies. Some of this stuff is corny, some makes it difficult for one to suspend disbelief. They all have something that grabbed me.
Classic Christmas Movies
A Christmas Carol (1938): As a kid, I watched this on the Late, Late Show on CBS every Christmas Eve. Reginald Owen was a terrific Scrooge and the great Leo G. Carroll plays Jacob Marley’s ghost. Many prefer the 1951 version with Alistair Sim as Scrooge. He’s good but I prefer the entire cast in the older iteration. Gene Lockhart plays Bob Cratchit and his wife and children play the family, including future Lassie/Lost in Space star June Lockhart as a daughter. The black and white film evokes a dank, raw London night air. Being based on a short story elements are added such as Scrooge’s nephew Fred “skitching” on ice with Tiny Tim on his shoulder, but the spirit of Dickens is intact.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940): Many of us know that “You’ve Got Mail” is an update on this Jimmy Stewart—Margaret Sullavan vehicle. Frank Morgan of Wizard of Oz fame plays Hugo Matuschek, the owner of a gift/luggage shop in Budapest, Hungary. His top sales clerk is Stewart and the rest of the clerks are a wonderful ensemble including Sullavan, William Tracy as messenger boy Pepe and always-reliable Felix Bressart is timid Perovitch. The love/hate relationship between Stewart and Sullavan along with the drama among the other players results in a nice Christmas Eve yarn.
Holiday Inn (1942): A part of me always wanted to believe that Midville, Connecticut, where Bing Crosby opens the Holiday Inn, is based on the still semi-rural Middlefield, CT. I drove through the town often on my way to I-91 on days I worked in Hartford. Along with a lot of silly antics, this movie has great singing (from Crosby) and dancing (Fred Astaire) as they vie for the affections of Virginia Dale and Marjorie Reynolds. And this movie introduced Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.”
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): It was Thanksgiving weekend around 40 years ago when my wife Mary’s Aunt Irma and Uncle Joe were visiting from Mississippi. Joe and I found this movie on some channel and I fell in love with it. A fictional small town, Bedford Falls, with central protagonist George Bailey (James Stewart)m is the setting for a life lived well with a happy Christmas Eve ending. Donna Reed helps round out a wonderful cast that includes Lionel Barrymore as the evil Mr. Potter, Ward Bond, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers as Clarence the Guardian Angel and Gloria Graham. It isn’t called Capra Corn for nothing.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947): I have nothing against David Niven. He was a splendid actor and chicks dug him. But let’s face it, if Cary Grant’s in a movie, he’s the one everybody’s looking at. Unless Loretta Young’s in the movie. That’s where I’m looking. This is a nice little movie that moves along at a brisk pace with a first-rate supporting cast that includes Monty Wooley and Elsa Lancaster, with an appearance by James Gleason as a cab driver.
It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947): Years ago I read something about this movie and I recorded it. It has one exceptionally sappy scene where Gail Storm sings but it’s a fun flick. Is the plot silly with a hobo who lives in a tycoon’s New York estate every winter when the tycoon goes south? It is, but Victor Moore is charming as that hobo, old pros Charles Ruggles and Ann Harding play Gail’s estranged parents and Don DeFore (before Hazel) rounds out the likeable main players.
White Christmas (1954): Bing Crosby sings “White Christmas” again 12 years after Holiday Inn and this time his singing and dancing buddy is Danny Kaye. Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen provide singing and dancing, respectively as the love interests of Crosby and Kaye. Once again a county lodge that can host shows is the venue with Dean Jagger playing the boys’ old General from their WWII days as the owner of the lodge. Mary Wickes, who was in The Man Who Came to Dinner on Broadway and in Hollywood, plays the nosy phone operator/clerk.
Kids and Family Christmas Movies
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): A charming cartoon with wonderful music from the Vince Guaraldi Trio.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1967): The original with the unmistakable voice talents of Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscroft (Tony the Tiger) can’t be surpassed.
Emmett Otter’s Jug-band Christmas (1977): We discovered this when my son was very young and he fell in love with it. Fun little story that’s a Jim Henson production.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983): Alan Young, many years after playing Wilbur on Mr. Ed, voices Scrooge (McDuck) in this light version with Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit.
A Muppet Family Christmas (1987): This was a TV movie. I don’t know how we found it but I bought the DVD years ago. My whole family loves it.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992): If Michael Caine had done this movie with humans instead of Muppets he would’ve easily upstaged everyone else. Not the case. This has some great running gags, with nice spins on Dickens’ classic.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): I didn’t know this would be as great as it is. The music alone is a revelation.
Fun Christmas Movies
Scrooged (1988): Bill Murray has never been better and “The Night the Reindeer Died” is cinema magic.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989): Outrageous, absurd and funny. Chevy Chase and the lovely Beverley D’Angelo are the hapless Griswolds, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a young Johnny Galecki and Randy Quaid part of an eclectic cast.
The Ref (1994): Denis Leary plays a cat burglar who’s hiding out with a dysfunctional family on Christmas Eve. Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey are very good as the fighting couple who are Leary’s hostages along with their interesting family. This isn’t a kid movie, but very funny stuff.
The Santa Clause (1994): Tim Allen becomes Santa with all the entanglements associated.
The Holiday (2006): A nice little Christmas rom-com with Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law and an understated, brilliant Jack Black.
Last Holiday (2006): This is a sweet movie with Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton and a great Gerard Depardieu as a famous chef. Beautiful Venues highlight the story as Queen vamps as the mysterious Georgia Byrd at a posh hotel in the Czech Republic.
The Christmas Chronicles (2018): Kurt Russell is superb as Santa in this fast-paced flick with characters you really like. When Kurt and Little Steven & the Disciples rock out with “Santa Claus is Back in Town” in the jail cell it kicks ass.