Christmas Interlude #3 Five Traditional and Five Alternative Christmas Movies and More

 

 

FIVE TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS FILMS

1 – Barbara Stanwyck made two Christmas movies in her career,  “Christmas in Connecticut” and “Remember the Night”. While I like both (Stanwyck being one of my favorite actresses) the latter, written by Preston Sturges is a witty film with charming performances, and is now available on DVD.

2 – “Holiday Inn”  introduced Irving Berlin’s yuletide classic  ‘White Christmas.” While it is improbable, and economically unsound, to say the least, to run an Inn that only opens on Holidays the odd premise does nothing to take away from the many joys of this film. 

3 – My favorite film to watch on Thanksgiving Day is “Miracle on 34th Street with Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn, a true holiday classic. There have been various remakes of this movie over the years most of which are easily forgettable. There is the 1973 TV version with David Hartman and Jane Alexander, and a mediocre 1994 film where they could not use the name “Macy’s” because the department store refused to give them permission. There are a couple of other TV adaptations of which a live 1959 version with Ed Wynn, as Kris Kringle, was discovered a few years ago. A kinescope was donated some years back by NBC to the Library of Congress, where it laid buried, unseen and forgotten.  Read more here.

 

4 – “A Christmas Carol” (1951) with Alastair Sims. Originally titled “Scrooge” this is generally considered the best version and I agree. Still, there are many good versions of this classic Charles Dicken’s story out there.

 

5 – Monty Wooley’s Sheridan Whiteside makes  Ebenezer Scrooge look like Mr. Nice Guy in this classic screen version of George S Kaufmann’s  play, “The Man Who Came to Dinner”

 

FIVE ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS FILMS

1- Bob Hope’s “The Lemon Drop Kid.”  Okay, I know what you thinking, “Bob Hope on an alternative list? Stop spiking this guys punch!” Well, unless you really hate Bob Hope, you will enjoy this lessor known  work.  Based on a Christmas themed Damon Runyon story, made in 1951, the movie is a load of fun. If you are familiar with Damon Runyon then you know the story will revolve around racetracks, gamblers, gangsters and con-artists. Also, the classic song “Silver Bells”, sung by Hope and Marilyn Maxwell, was introduced in this movie.

2 – In The Ref” Denis Leary is a cat burglar who is holding a dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve and they drive him nuts. If you ever felt like a hostage at a family function this film is for you.

3 – Anyone who has seen Woody Allen’s “Small Time Crooks” will recognize the premise of “Larceny Inc.  Edward G. Robinson does a wonderful takeoff on his gangster image in this fun-filled comedy. The Christmas scene involves co-star Broderick Crawford who dresses as Santa to create a diversion while Eddie G. and the rest of his gang drill through the wall of his luggage store and into the bank located on the other side. When the cantankerous Santa (Crawford is flawless here) is beat up and knocked out by holiday shoppers, Robinson takes over putting on the Santa outfit.

4 – Shane Black’s idiosyncratic “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” is a crime thriller/black comedy set during the Christmas season. Filled with in-jokes, including the film’s title, the film engages many conventional crime drama traits with its tongue firmly in cheek. If my memory serves me well, the film did not do well at the box office, despite good reviews, however it has found a following since its release on DVD. 

5- “The Ice Harvest” unfortunately came and went fairly quickly in theaters. John Cusack is Charlie a slimy mob attorney who, along with his partner Vic (Bill Bob Thornton), unburden his boss of a few million dollars during one ice ridden Christmas Eve. Only problem is they cannot get out of town due to all the ice on the roads. To avoid suspicion, they split up for the night with Vic holding the money. Charlie spends the night getting involved with a beautiful strip club owner who has her own agenda, his drunken friend who married his ex-wife and the rest of his dysfunctional family and now regretting every minute of it.  Another dark moody holiday delight.

 

A MOST INTRIGUING YET TO BE SEEN CHRISTMAS MOVIE

When I first read about this film, “Christmas Holiday”  with  Gene Kelly and Deanna Durbin, I thought, sounds like a sweet happy musical filled holiday treat. Only then I looked at the credits and read “Directed by Robert Siodmak. This does  not sound right. As I investigated more I found out its a crime ridden film noir with Kelly playing a murderer and the usual perky Durbin is his girlfriend who is fully aware of what he is.  Siodmak made the film the same year he directed “Cobra Woman” and “Phantom Lady.” To make this film even more intriguing it is based on a novel by Somerset Maugham with a screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz. I just ordered the DVD the other day and will let you know more later on.

What follows is a list of  10 other favorite Christmas theme related films.

Die Hard

Christmas in Connecticut

Desk Set

Black Christmas (Original version)

Trading Places

The Shop Around the Corner

A Christmas Carol (with George C. Scott)

Bad Santa

Scrooge (the Musical)

and  It’s a Wonderful Life (of course)

There are plenty of other wonderful Christmas films (and a barn full of bad ones) whether traditional or not, so feel free to submit your favorites.

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22 comments on “Christmas Interlude #3 Five Traditional and Five Alternative Christmas Movies and More

  1. Nice, varied list! As for Bob Hope, I find that people usually just parrot what they hear critics say about him and if they really watched Hope in action they’d like him a lot more than they’d admit. Perhaps boomers have bad memories of too many sub-par NBC specials. The movies and Hope’s brilliant comic timing and delivery are always worth watching.

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    • John Greco says:

      I was always a Bob Hope fan growing up though I, like you mention turned away from him with those “sub-par NBC specials” he was doing late in his career along with some really bad films toward the end. However, I always enjoyed his earlier work, The Paleface, Son of Paleface, The Ghost Breakers, My Favorite Brunette and the “Road” pictures to a lesser extent. Hope was major influence on Woody Allen,which you are probably aware of, and you can see Hope’s style in the “Woody” character.

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  2. Ed Howard says:

    Is it totally perverse to admit my favorite Christmas movie by far is Eyes Wide Shut? All those gorgeous Christmas lights in every scene capture the feel of a fantasy NYC winter better even than the Hollywood fantasias listed above.

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    • John Greco says:

      LOL!

      Ed, Eyes Wide Shut made my short list and if I listed 12 instead of 10 other favorites it would have been there. Thanks!!!

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  3. J.D. says:

    Good call on THE REF! I always liked this film and esp. Denis Leary’s acerbic humor. In recent years, I’ve enjoyed ELF, which has such a wonderful romantic vibe of New York City (Gimbel’s!) and THE FAMILY STONE, which I hate when I first saw it but has grown on me over the years.

    Another one I like that is set in and around the holidays is the much-maligned (back in the day) THE HUDSUCKER PROXY by the Coen brothers. Love that film.

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    • John Greco says:

      J.D. – Elf was on my short list (just like Eyes Wide Shut). Definitely, one of the better recent Xmas films as it The Family Stone.

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  4. Troy Olson says:

    The ones my wife and I end up watching just about every year, two good and two fairly awful:

    IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE — yeah, it’s my favorite Christmas movie…to easy, huh.

    MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL — This one actually is a pretty fun take on the story. Michael Caine is great as Scrooge.

    HOME ALONE — by NO means a good movie, but a remnant of my youth that stays to this day. We’ll usually catch it on TBS and recite all the lines while wrapping gifts.

    A VERY BRADY CHRISTMAS — I never go out of my way to watch this, but somehow, someway, it finds itself on my TV (typically running post NFL football on the Fox affiliate or something). Still, it’s fun to watch in a purely ironic, “they actually made this hunk of crap” kind of way. Good for a laugh every time.

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    • John Greco says:

      Troy – You can’t go wrong with It’s a Wonderful Life. Home Alone is a fun film, though I actually prefer Home Alone 2 because of the New York locations but that is just me being nostalgic for NYC. Haven’t seen the Muppet Xmas Carol but I would think it’s fun and The Brady Xmas was way after my time. My take on that kind of stuff is everyone loves crap at times I know I do. If its “good for a laugh” as you say, well there is nothing wrong with that. Thanks for your input.

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  5. Sam Juliano says:

    I think I have one even more overtly perverse thatn the one Ed Howard posed: BAD SANTA with Billy Bob Thornton, which I remember being embarrassed seeing in a theatre with my two oldest kids (who were considerably younger at the time of release. But you’d surely be stretching it there John if you named it! (Wait a second! I just took one last look at your post and in fact you did!!!) Ha! I almost thought you were going to leave out IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but then I remembered it was MR. SMITH you had some mild issues with. All your choice here are magnificent of course, and the layout and art work is typically wonderful. I will add a few to the mix, though the one I happened to list first (though it’s not the best one) has some ardent detractors:

    THE POLAR EXPRESS (Zemekis; 2004)
    THE DEAD (Huston, based on Joyce; 1987)
    THE MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (Laurel & Hardy, 1934)
    JOYEUX NOEL (France; 2006)
    THE BISHOP’S WIFE (1947)
    THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993)
    SCROOGED (1988)
    A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)
    WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954)

    …and then there’s the celebrated Art Carney episode of “The Twilight Zone” titled “Night of the Meek,” which is a perennial favorite. And us golden age fans will always being up the Christmas episode of the classic 39 Honeymooners, which is the only half hour where teh characters step out of character.

    Your choice of the 1951 A CHRISTMAS CAROL with Alistair Sim is admittedly my personal favorite.

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  6. John Greco says:

    Sam – Where to start? Well, I do remember The Twilight Zone episode with Art Carney as well as The Honeymooners Xmas, both are just great! I thought of doing a similar listing of favorite TV Episodes and maybe still will. These two would certainly be on it.

    The March of the Wooden Soldiers, wow! Have not seen that in years but if I remember correctly wasn’t that on every Thanksgiving Day on WOR channel 9 every year along with King Kong and Mighty Joe Young?

    Haven’t seen Joyeux Noel, Polar Express, Burton’s The Night Before Christmas (every year I say I am going to and never do) and The Dead.

    The Bishops Wife and White Christmas are classic and Scrooged is a great take on the Dickens classic.
    Great choices and thanks for sharing.

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    • Sam Juliano says:

      John, your memory has served you well here. THE MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS a.k.a. BABES IN TOYLAND was shown every Thanksgiving.(on WOR, Ch. 9) I always remembered as a high school student that Turkey Day was known for three things: WOODEN SOLDIERS, football and dinner. I was never much for the Macy’s parade.

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      • John Greco says:

        We were always over my Aunt’s house on Thanksgiving and the parade was on the TV whether you watched it or not. After the parade, it was football (Lions vs. Packers) except for me (LOL) who went into what she called her sewing room (there was another TV in there) and watched The March of the Wooden Soldiers, King Kong, etc.

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  7. Nora says:

    Stanwyck is my favorite actress…ever. (and I’m just 30 years old) Remember the Night on dvd has made my holiday season. I don’t know how it remained so obscure for so long and though I love Christmas in Connecticut too, I love RTN more.

    Other mentions: We’re No Angels, Miracle on 34th Street, The Shop Around the Corner, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and The Nightmare Before Christmas (I love Burton)

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  8. John Greco says:

    Nora – Stanwyck has a certain aura about her that just comes right off the screen. I have not seen We’re No Angels in quite a few years but its a good film. Great selections! Thanks for the input.

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  9. Judy says:

    Hi John, I love The Man Who Came to Dinner and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang out of your choices, but must admit I hadn’t thought of either of them as Christmas movies, though I can see it now you have said it.

    My favourite Christmas movies are probably It’s A Wonderful Life and The Shop Around the Corner, so a James Stewart double. My family always seems to watch the recent version of A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge every year. As an alternative choice, I also like ‘Falling In Love’, the loose remake of ‘Brief Encounter’ starring Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep which has a lot of scenes set around the Christmas period.

    My son wants me to go and see the new version of A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey – I’m not that keen as I’m not a big fan of The Polar Express movie and this sounds like more of the same, but I expect we’ll end up going!

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  10. John Greco says:

    Judy, You can’t go wrong with the Stewart double feature; classics both. “Falling in Love” I have to admit I did not care for and I am big fans of both actors. Don’t despair with the Carrey version of “A Christmas Carol”, it is decent. See it in 3D if you can. I have not seen the Patrick Stewart’s version but plan to, however it is going to have to wait for another year. I have already seen the Carrey version and the 1970 musical “Scrooge” with Albert Finney (which I loved) and I plan on watching the Alistar Sims version between now and Christmas, so I will be all Dicken’s out by then, Bahhh humbug!

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  11. lsaspacey says:

    Add to your list Home for the Holidays, starring Holly Hunter, Dylan McDermot, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning and directed by Jodie Foster. It’s one of my favorites.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks Isaspacey! I saw this when it first came out and remember liking it a lot. Really need to watch it again come this holiday season!

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