“…Susan’s the reason I asked you to drop down.
She’s a little confused and I thought maybe
you could help to straighten her out.
I’d be glad to.
Would you please tell her that you’re not really Santa Claus?
That there actually is no such person.
Well, I’m sorry to disagree with you, Mrs. Walker,
but not only is there such a person, but here I am to prove it.
No, no, no, you misunderstand. I want you to tell her the truth.
Uh, what’s your name?
I mean your real name.
That is my real name.
~ Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Who doesn’t enjoy, or even love, a good Christmas movie? Even those who don’t celebrate Christmas very much, if at all, often appreciate a well-made movie that warms the heart, lifts the spirit and inspires goodwill. Even the frothy, cookie-cutter movies on Lifetime and Hallmark can lighten moods during the stresses and pressures of the holiday season.
But it’s the classics — vintage and modern — that can draw us into the magic of the holidays. Christmas movies respond to our desires for kindness, the comforts of hearth and home, the aroma of cookies baking and fresh evergreen trees, and the reassurance that dreams do come true, especially at Christmastime. Whatever your age, Christmas movies are part of this season of joy, generosity, self-discovery and celebration.
It is to these movies that I dedicate this entry.
Like fine wine, these vintage Christmas classics have stood the test of time and become increasingly enjoyable to watch as the years go by:
We’re No Angels (1955)
Humphrey Bogart fans will love their hero’s venture into comedy in one of my favorite films set against the backdrop of Christmas. Get comfortable, and enjoy.
White Christmas (1954)
The Irving Berlin song, “White Christmas,” was sung in this classic movie, but was first featured in the film’s 1942 predecessor, Holiday Inn, when it won the Oscar for best original song. The song was first sung publicly on the Kraft Music Hall radio program by Bing Crosby, who would forever be associated with it.
And while the movie is heartwarming and entertaining, I associate the song with my mother’s stories of my older brother being reassigned to the Pacific Theatre during WWII, and of them both listening to Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” and making them homesick and heartsick: my brother and his fellow soldiers in the jungles of the South Pacific yearning for the War to end so they could go home to their families and the white Christmases they remember, and my mother wondering how and where her son was and if he would ever come home to another Christmas again. Thankfully, he did; but even today I cannot hear that lovely song without getting a bit choked up.
Based on Charles Dickens’ classic novel, “A Christmas Carol,” this movie version is considered by many to be the best. While I have always loved this version immensely, I also like the George C. Scott adaptation (see Modern Classics, below).
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
This quintessential Christmas movie originally was released in June with the holiday theme played down! But despite this cynical marketing move, this Academy Award-winning film (Oscars for Edmund Gwenn who played Kris Kringle and for the original story and screenplay) became a Christmas classic. The movie was filmed at Macy’s at Herald Square in New York, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade depicted in the film was real with Edmund Gwenn riding in the Parade as Santa. It has been reported that nine-year-old actress Natalie Wood (who played Susan) really believed that Edmund Gwenn was Kris Kringle. For more fun facts, go here.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Nominated for five Oscars (including for best picture and best actor in a leading role) this classic was named one of the best 100 films ever made by the American Film Institute even though it was initially panned at the box office. And, like Miracle on 34th Street, it didn’t start out as movie about Christmas or Santa, but as a romantic comedy; as such, it was also released in June! But, audiences are often smarter than film makers and, thus, it has long been considered to be the most popular Christmas movie of all time.
March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934)
This is classic Laurel and Hardy. The movie is usually shown on TV on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, and has alternately been titled, Babes in Toyland. Don’t miss it. Just don’t. Period.
New classics have emerged in recent decades that reflect how we view the traditions of Christmas and cope with age-old problems in modern terms. These are my favorites:
Christmas Story (2007)
This enchanting, bittersweet and utterly charming Finish film, said to be based on L. Frank Baum’s book, “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus,” is the best movie I’ve ever seen about the origins of St. Nicholas. Set in the far North hundreds of years ago, the film takes us through the tough childhood and adolescence of an orphan named Nicholas and how he grew up to be the renowned Father Christmas. No one, especially parents and older children, should miss this illuminating and thrilling tale of the legend of Santa.
Movies that feature someone who spreads kindness, acceptance and joy certainly appeal to me, and Elf, starring Will Ferrell, fills the bill on that score (although his dining etiquette could stand some improvement). This is the story of a human baby that winds up in Santa’s Workshop and is reared as an elf named “Buddy.” However, Buddy soon outgrows his role as an elf (literally!), and as an adult (sort of) sets off to find his real father in the magical land of New York City. Along the way he changes lives and, of course, saves Christmas.
This bittersweet fantasy about one of Santa’s famous reindeer and the little girl who is determined to help him seems so real because of the wonderful acting by Sam Elliot and Rebecca Harrell.It’s also about the bond between a father and his daughter, and how love and faith in one another can accomplish the seemingly impossible.
A Christmas Carol (1984)
While none of the movies follow exactly the Charles Dickens story, I think this one best captures the mood. And in my view George C. Scott nailed the complex role and character of Ebenezer Scrooge better than any other actor.
A Christmas Story (1983)
This modern classic had a slow start but later picked up steam to become a cult classic, airing in a 24-hour marathon on some stations throughout Christmas Day.
These movies are a mix of the simply charming, suspenseful, horrifying and just plain fun. Some more than others require us to suspend belief!
The story of Jack Skellington and Halloween Town meets Christmas Town is the perfect blend for those who love both holidays, as I do! And it’s another opportunity to view an offering by the brilliant Tim Burton.
Looking for an unusual Christmas present? How about a mogwai? Just keep it out of direct light, don’t give it water (not even to drink) and never ever feed it after midnight. But if you don’t do any of these things you won’t have a quirky, whacky and terrifying Christmastime comedy-horror romp with evil gremlins! And that’s no fun!
The Thin Man (1934)
This fabulous film that kicked off the Thin Man series is not a Christmas movie, per se, but the plot takes place at Christmastime. And it features one of the wittiest, classiest and most enjoyable movie couples ever, not to mention one of the all-time clever movie dogs, Asta! Watch it and get hooked on the series!
Die Hard (1988)
I am not a fan of violent movies, but I am a fan of Alan Rickman, Bruce Willis and Bonnie Bedelia, as well as bigger-than-life heroes. So this movie is the exception — and it’s really more of a cartoon (not that that excuses the violence). Therefore, if you like movies packed with action, suspense, a dash of romance, memorable villains and “die-hard” heroes, this is your holiday movie.
Disney’s A Christmas Carol (2009)
What can I say? I grew up with Disney and absolutely love this animated version of Dickens’ classic tale. I think you’ll love it, too.
This charming story is narrated by Fred Astaire. Enjoy it with the children!
Frosty the Snowman (1969)
This adorable movie version of the story of Frosty is told and sung by the legendary Jimmy Durante. This is a real holiday treat for both children and adults. And there’s that catchy song!
Little Drummer Boy – TV Short (1968)
Aside from stories of Santa, Grinch, Frosty and all the other beloved characters of Christmas, there is also the Biblical story of Christmas. Thus, the narrative of the Little Drummer Boy, who makes his way to the manger to play his drum for the Baby Jesus, is more somber than the other animated holiday movies. However, it is just as heartwarming, touching and, ultimately, joyful and uplifting.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas – TV Special (1966)
This delightful animated version, directed by Chuck Jones and featuring the voice of Boris Karloff, is in my view much better than the far gloomier and less witty movie version starring Jim Carry (whose performances I normally appreciate). The animated production wonderfully embodies the spirit of the Dr. Seuss book.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
The beloved classic features the holiday wit and wisdom of Charles M. Schulz, creator of the Peanuts gang. Just thinking of Charlie, Lucy, Linus, Violet, Schroeder, Snoopy, Woodstock, Peppermint Patty, Pig Pen, Sally and all the wonderful characters brings a smile to my lips and warmth to my heart.
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – TV Special (1964)
This Burl Ives version of the famous misfit who leads Santa’s sleigh on Christmas eve is my favorite. It’s the one that my daughter watched growing up. And we still love it!
Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
This is not a Christmas movie, per se, but it contains one of the most beautiful Christmas scenes as well as one of the most beautiful Christmas songs ever: “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” sung by Judy Garland. The scene and song still bring tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. If you’ve never seen this movie you are in for a major treat!
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
The Muppets are in a category by themselves. And…also of course, like the Muppets themselves this is a movie for both children and adults. By the time the Muppets appeared on Sesame Street in 1969, many of us were adults, including my husband and me. But although we had left childhood behind, we loved the Muppets as much as the kids. They had us at “A is for Abby, B is for Bert, C is for Cookie Monster (and so on)!”
On My List
So after you’ve finished stringing popcorn garlands for the Christmas tree, toss the leftover popcorn in a bowl and enjoy whichever Christmas movies you choose to view! And please let me know if I’ve missed any of your favorites!
Until next time,