Posted by highhurdler on December 23, 2008
I am loath to watch anything twice; I’m a compiler, so anything that I willingly watch over and over again is an exception to my rule. Therefore, my habit of choosing to view the same movies and programs each Christmas holiday season is unusual. While not all of the following are movies (in the strictest sense), a Christmas without seeing these shows would be breaking a holiday tradition for me. So here they are:
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) – first and foremost, this annual tradition began in my youth and continues to this day with my own family. Throughout the holiday season, we watch a number of the same programs (many of which we have on VHS or DVD), but this one is special enough that we save it for Christmas Eve, just before the kids go to bed. I remember being terrified and afraid of having a nightmare about the Abominable Snowman when I was younger; as an adult, I laugh out loud at Yukon Cornelius and his eccentric way of licking his pick axe for traces of gold after tossing it into the air. It’s hard not to hum or sing one if not several of the show’s many catchy tunes (even the ones sung by Burl Ives) after viewing it.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) – even before I learned who Boris Karloff was, I loved hearing his voice narrate this classic tale (that was unfortunately remade by Ron Howard and Jim Carrey earlier this decade). My daughter and I have unsuccessfully tried to make sense of the first words to the song “Welcome Christmas”, which sticks in our head each year and so infuriates the Grinch as he listens to the sounds of the happy Whos singing around their Christmas tree. Of course, the lyrics to “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” are truly inspired. Dr. Seuss by Chuck Jones, what more could you ask for?
The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) – though (along with Rudolph) there are several Rankin and Bass Christmastime videos in our collection, this is the only other one that I’ll mention; it’s an annual favorite primarily for the Snow Miser-Heat Miser songs, sung enthusiastically by Dick Shawn and George S. Irving (and hammed by their respective puppets). Obviously, we aren’t the only ones who love this bit since A Miser Brothers’ Christmas (2008) premiered this holiday season; unfortunately, this follow-on feature is uninspired and entirely humorless. Shirley Booth and Mickey Rooney lent their voices for Mrs. & Santa Claus in the original.
The Toy That Saved Christmas (1996) – before I get to the full length movies, many of which are shown on TCM annually, I thought I’d mention this little gem from the creative geniuses of the Veggie Tales series and characters, Mike Nawrocki and Phil Vischer. I think that the tape we have was actually given to us by a neighbor of ours (and I should probably let her know how much it has meant to us). If you haven’t seen it, you pretty much have to buy it because I don’t think it airs on television regularly (like the others I’ve listed). The title is a pretty good summary of the story which is typical of the series: featuring Pixar-like animation of anthropomorphic vegetable characters in a tale that espouses Christian values. The songs are terrific, the highlight being “Oh, Santa!” (This appears as a commercial break approximately half way through the narrative):
Now that I’ve shared these more contemporary picks, I thought I’d list five classics from the 1940s, starting with one that won Gordon Hollingshead his second Academy Award for Best Short Subject, Two-reel (he also won two Oscars for Best Short Subject, One-reel among his plethora of nominations):
Star in the Night (1945) – I won’t reiterate my earlier summary of it here (follow this link if you care to), only lament that it’s a shame MGMWBRKO no longer updates TCM’s message boards with when it will be shown next on the channel.
The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) – is really a horror story (the houseguest that never leaves!) that Warner Bros. turned into a clever comedy with lots of “laugh out loud” moments. Monty Woolley gives a career performance as Sheridan Whiteside, an egotistical radio personality that takes advantage of the Stanley family’s kindness while threatening them with a lawsuit after slipping on the ice of their front stoop. He then proceeds to take over their household, interfering in the lives of all those around him including his personal assistant, played by Bette Davis. The rest of the cast is terrific too, including Ann Sheridan, Richard Travis, Jimmy Durante, Billie Burke, Grant Mitchell and Mary Wickes (among others).
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – no surprise here, right? Who doesn’t love this one? It has everything anyone could possible want and it’s even been colorized for the truly jaded: Frank Capra’s classic stars James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Harry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame, and H.B. Warner (among others). Anything I write here would be superfluous, but I will provide this link to the sentimental ending that always brings a tear to my eye:
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “This film is not just a kids’ movie. Indeed, much of the dialogue and several subtexts within the film are too advanced for many children younger than ten (and a lot of it would bore a seven year old).” Its script is well written (it won 2 Oscars for writing), the acting is terrific (‘Santa Claus’ Edmund Gwenn won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award), and Natalie Wood was an adorable eight year-old! Besides lead actors Maureen O’Hara and an underrated John Payne, the bench is deep (featuring): Gene Lockhart, Porter Hall, William Frawley, and Jerome Cowan, as well as Jack Albertson, Percy Helton and Thelma Ritter (her screen debut) uncredited.
I also chose Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) as a film to get one through the Christmas holiday season but, after watching it again this past season, I’ve finally realized how objectionable this classic must be to the overly sensitive. In fact, a politically correct individual would complain about how violent the movie is!
Sweet little teardrop machine Margaret O’Brien ‘kills’ her neighbor by throwing flour on his face after ringing his doorbell (I guess this game morphed into the much less violent ring-and-run game that we played as children) on All Hallows’ Eve.
Judy Garland assaults boy-next-door Tom Drake, punching him before shoving him to the ground
and then bites him as he tries to defend himself
and Tootie (O’Brien) then attacks and even beheads a yard full of snow persons
I tell you, this is a shameful movie, simply shameful! Therefore, I think that I’ll replace it on my list with White Christmas (1954) for its ending: Bing Crosby’s character serenading and honoring his former WW II General (Dean Jagger) gets me every time.
My contemporary pick is Prancer (1989): a delightful little film about believing in Santa Claus et al that rivals Miracle on 34th Street (1947) right down to the eight year old girl Jessica Riggs (Rebecca Harrell), only Jessica is an enthusiastic believer while her father – a widower played by Sam Elliott – is a ‘Grinch’ of a man who’s struggling to make ends meet. Jessica’s kind of a misfit child that sings Christmas carols too loud and soon discovers an injured reindeer that she believes is Santa’s Prancer. She then takes it upon herself to rehabilitate the titled animal in hopes of returning to its owner in time for Christmas Eve deliveries. The supporting cast includes Oscar winner Cloris Leachman, as an old maid (or widow) who’s cloistered herself in her expansive home and now cares only for her precious garden, three time Emmy nominee Abe Vigoda as a grouchy old veterinarian, and Michael Constantine as the department store Santa. Because of her determined belief, Jessica eventually wins over these crotchety characters and, indeed, the whole town. Jessica’s non-believing peer Carol is played by Ariana Richards, who would go on to play Lex in the Jurassic Park movies. Like Miracle, this one is much more than a kids’ movie, and if you aren’t choked up during its final 20 minutes then you’re either completely without feeling or dead already. If you haven’t seen it and want to, there’s still time but, it’s airing on that other channel that professes to show classic movies but doesn’t.
I sincerely wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings and a Happy New Year!
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