Christmas Movies for Curmudgeons
Recommended by the late Jack Gladden, former editor of the Friends of the Canton Public Library newsletter, Just Between Friends, and an all-around friend of the library.
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Forget the remake, eschew the colorized version and please PLEASE avoid any made for TV adaptations. This is the real thing and, whether viewing it for the first or the fiftieth time, youll walk away believing that Edmund Gwenn really is Santa Claus. The acting and the production may be dated but, after all, Santas not an invention of the 21st Century. Trivia hounds can look for a bit part by Thelma Ritter (her debut role) as Peters mother waiting in line for Santa at Macys and an even briefer, uncredited, appearance by a young Jack Albertson as a postal clerk.
Probably not on American Film Institutes list of top 100 movies, this screwball comedy has become one of my own Christmas classics. Barbara Stanwyck is food writer Elizabeth Lane (a kind of 1940s Martha Stewart). But unlike Stewart, Lane doesnt live on the Connecticut farm that she describes in her column and she cant even cook. When her in-the-dark publisher (played marvelously by Sydney Greenstreet) invites a wounded sailor (Dennis Morgan) to spend Christmas on her nonexistent farm, her deception is almost discovered. The movies worth watching just for the lovable role of S. Z. Cuddles Sakall as Uncle Felix who saves the day (at least as far as the cooking is concerned). DONT bother with the 1992 TV version starring Dyan Cannon and directed by the terminator governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Miracle of the Bells(1948), directed by Irving Pichel
The 1940s were good years for Christmas movies. (OK, so this is a bad movie and its not really a Christmas movie.) But its a GOOD bad movie and the most memorable scene is a Christmas Eve dinner in Ming Gows Chop Suey restaurant somewhere in the heart of Iowa. Fred McMurray plays a Hollywood press agent who develops a professional (and unrequited personal) interest in Olga Treskovna, an aspiring actress from Coaltown, Pennsylvania, whos dying of TB caused by coal dust, gets the role of Joan of Arc in a potential blockbuster movie, dies before its released and then well, never mind. The schmaltz gets worse. But its worth seeing to catch the absolutely terrible performance by Frank Sinatra as a young Catholic priest who plays a key role in the story.
From the Muppets to Mickey Mouse, from George C. Scott to Cicely Tyson, everybody, it seems, has made a version of Dickens classic tale A Christmas Carol. And, like a classic wine tasting, one persons Chateau Mouton-Rothschild is another persons sour grape juice. Its up to you to pick your favorite. But if Edmund Gwenn was the epitome of Santa Claus, Alastair Sim is Scrooge himself. Dark, humorless, misanthropic, Sim brings a true Dickensian interpretation to the role. He puts the bah in humbug. This is Scrooge the way Dickens intended him to be.
Arguably Jean Shepherds portrait of an American Christmas circa the 1940s is one of the best (American) Christmas movies ever made. Its not inspirational, its not uplifting, and its not heart-warming. Its funny. The story, of course, is about young Ralphie trying to convince his parents that the perfect Christmas present is a Daisy Red Ryder 200-shot carbine action BB gun, in the face of everyones mantra: Youll shoot your eye out! But along the way (helped out by Shepherds voice-over narration) were introduced to Christmases the way they really were (at least for those of us over 50). Its a movie that lives up to its tagline: A Tribute to the Original, Traditional, One-Hundred-Percent, Red-Blooded, Two-Fisted, All-American Christmas. See it. Enjoy it. And dont try to psychoanalyze it.