Friday, November 30, 2007

Holiday movie favorites: An Unscientifc Survey

Whilst sojourning at our home a week ago, Older Daughter's Boyfriend claimed not to have seen "Miracle on 34th Street". I immediately undertook to remedy this, although we were interrupted by the start of the Thanksgiving Day football schedule. Now that she knows, however, I'm certain that Older Daughter will take up the cause and make certain that he sees it all the way through.

And if he knows what's good for him, he'd better like it, too.

I know "Miracle" has been remade at least twice, but the original, with Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, and Natalie Wood, stands head and shoulders above the latter day imitations. In fact, I have arbitrarily assigned it the No. 1 position in my own Top 5 Christmas Movie list.

What a great movie: The lawyer's the good guy! Even opposing counsel (the prosecutor) is a good guy -- and so, too, the judge. (Hard to believe I'd like this, then, isn't it?) If you, like the Boyfriend, for some reason (perhaps you were raised by wolves?) haven't seen this movie, buy or rent it now.

The judge, by the way, was played by Gene Lockhart. He was June Lockhart's father. That would make him... Lassie's grandfather? (I wonder how young you can be and still get that joke. I probably wouldn't like the answer.)

Any Top 5 List like this is completely arbitrary and I'll probably disagree with it by next Christmas -- and maybe even this one -- but, if it serves as a starting spot for a stimulating discussion, why the heck not play along?

For no. 2 on the list, I recommend the original version of "Christmas in Connecticut" starring Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan.

The plot twists and turns agreeably until the principals get together, as they must, in any good comedy.

But, for me, the movie succeeds because of the performances of the wonderful character actors, such as S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall and Sydney Greenstreet. Yes, they were both in "Casablanca" as well (my nominee for greatest movie of all time), Sakall as Carl, the German headwaiter, and Greenstreet as Signor Ferrari. And Greenstreet was Kasper Gutman -- the Fat Man -- in "The Maltese Falcon". It's Sakall who steals the show in "Christmas in Connecticut" as Uncle Felix, who isn't Barbara Stanwyck's uncle at all.

If you buy or rent this movie, I'm pretty certain you'll agree it's "hunky-dunky."

No. 3 on my list is "The Bishop's Wife", with David Niven, Loretta Young, and Cary Grant.

Our kids were confused by this one, when they were younger, since they knew that Catholic bishops do not marry. They got over it.

It's hard to imagine, but David Niven is actually ruffled in this movie, even a tad flustered, as an overstressed bishop who prays for help in erecting a new cathedral and receives instead Cary Grant -- who seems to have a very un-angelic interest in Loretta Young. This may be Long Suffering Spouse's favorite Christmas movie. (Another of her favorites would be "My Favorite Wife," with Cary Grant, Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne. There's a great role for a judge in that movie, too -- played by Granville Bates -- as well as a Christmas ending... although it doesn't end on Christmas....)

The principals can't be upstaged in "The Bishop's Wife," but the supporting cast sure tries. I particularly like Monty Woolley as the old professor and James Gleason as Sylvester, the cab driver. Gleason you may remember as Max Corkle in "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" (later remade as "Heaven Can Wait") or for his parts in two great Frank Capra movies, "Aresenic and Old Lace" and "Meet John Doe".

"Meet John Doe," by the way, is a very dark movie, especially by comparison to Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" -- which isn't on this list, but only because it's been done to death. "John Doe" seems to have slipped into the public domain, just as "Wonderful Life" did a few years back. That's when it was on one TV station or another all night long on Christmas Eve.

And just to contradict myself, I'll nominate as no. 4 on my list, a movie that is shown continuously every Christmas Day -- all day long -- "A Christmas Story".

Consistency, I remind you, is the hobgoblin of little minds.

I admit, however, that it wears on me by Christmas afternoon... when the kids are watching it for the sixth time. But still -- the first three or four times you see it every year -- it's great.

There are so many other wonderful Christmas movies, but I may have overstayed my welcome in the Golden Age of Hollywood... so for No. 5 I'll go with Bill Murray in "Scrooged".

That's Carol Kane here with Bill Murray. Kane plays a most unorthodox Ghost of Christmas Present.

I think of "Scrooged" as a cross between "Newtwork" and "A Christmas Carol." And no antlers were actually stapled on any mice during the course of the filming of this movie.

Now I turn it to you: What unforgivable omissions have I made? What are your top 5?

Note: The still from "The Bishop's Wife" was taken from this site which offers stills for sale... presumably without the '' overlay.


landgirl said...

What about It's a Wonderful LIfe? I haven't seen some of the others, so thanks for more Christmas movies.

Linda said...

An excellent list! I did a post on favorite Christmas songs (it was an adaptation on two of those pesky memes that like to pop up occasionally!).

I have grown rather fond of "A Christmas Story" myself over the years - how can you not?

Now - what about "Holiday Inn"? Not exactly a Christmas movie but a great one nonetheless!

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

i loved the national lampoon christmas story with chevy chase. in addition to yours, of course!

smiles, bee

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I recall a movie where Death, played by Cedric Hardwicke was trapped up a tree. It was very unusual.

Lahdeedah said...

The nightmare before Christmas.

This is superb... from the theme song this is halloween, to the kidnapping of the Easter Bunny, the attempt to bring Christmas to Halloween is just great. My daughter loves it and I have to watch it every year.

That has the you tube link to the theme song. Though, admittedly, no real 'acting.' It really is a Christmas story too!

A Christmas Story (Duh)

The Polar Express

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

Charlie Brown Christmas
(Do cartoons count ;) )

And if cartoons don't count, A Christmas Carol (the one where Capt. Picard comes back to the 20th century to play Scrooge ; is pretty good) )

Jeni said...

When I was a kid, long before VCR's and DVD players ever showed up on the face of the land, somehow the teachers at our school managed to get a showing set up for the kids from 4th thru 6th grades of "The Bells of St. Mary's" shortly before Christmas. My kids love "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Christmas Story" too - so do I. And one no one else mentioned - "White Christmas." Ah, classics all, aren't they?

katherine. said...

Miracle on 34th Street is the best....A Christmas Carol...Wonderful Life....White Christmas (or whatever it was really called...) are good...I think we need a top TEN

The Curmudgeon said...

Sharon -- I haven't watched "Wonderful Life" for a couple of years -- like I said, it's just been worn out for me....

Linda -- Holiday Inn does too count! It was the movie that introduced "White Christmas" -- how can it not count?

Jean-Luc -- IMBd tells me the movie is "On Borrowed Time." I haven't seen it, but I'll be on the lookout.

Ladeedah -- "Nightmare" has grown on me -- I didn't think much of it the first time through. I've watched "Polar Express" and enjoyed it, but you don't mean the Jim Carey "Grinch" do you? Boris Karloff reading the Dr. Suess book is wonderful... of course I leave the room before the ending... while a Curmudgeon can still enjoy it, you know....

Jeni -- Bells of St. Mary's? Absolutely! The Christmas pageant there is the best. And note that that's the movie playing when Jimmy Stewart gets back to Bedford Falls in "Wonderful Life"....

And Katherine -- the only problem with "White Christmas" is the kids sing "We'll Follow the Old Man"... about me! *grumble*

The Curmudgeon said...

Bee -- Those "Vacation" movies are a bit much for me... but, I admit, there are some very funny bits in "Christmas Vacation"....

sari said...

I'm going to have to second both Charlie Brown and White Christmas!!

Lahdeedah said...

I mean the cartoon version.

Jim Carrey's was fun, but the original Grinch is just superb, and that is the version I was referring to. It's the one I want to see every year. I introduced the children to the cartoon version and they loved it.

rdl said...

christmas story is my favorite. I love the dad and when the dogs get the turkey and they eat at the chinese restaurant.

Rob said...

"Nat'l Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" is a must-see each Christmas season. Over the top? You betcha! Still worth a bajillion laughs each & every time? Oh yeah!

And you must have Charlie Brown and The (original) Grinch.

The Curmudgeon said...

Don't get me wrong -- I love the original Charlie Brown and Grinch specials -- they're just not movies, that's all.

Of course, being a Curmudgeon, when the kids were little, I always left the room before the conclusion of the program -- you know, when Max has gone to the top of Mt. Crumpet to dump it (the sleigh, that is) -- because, I said, I prefer happy endings....