Film, Stories, Music and Film

Christmas Movies with Legs

How many blockbuster films can you name that everyone went to see once, but not again?

I recall a poll in the 1980s, the sort of on-line poll you see on Yahoo or Google home page these days, asking what was the greatest film of all time. “Ghost Busters” won hands down, with “Gone With the Wind,” “Casablanca” and “Citizen Kane” barely making the Top Ten.

Think all the early Batman movies, each of which, in succession, broke all box-office records, while the more recent Christian Bale (and Heath Ledger) seem to have more legs, based more on social content than action scenes and pyrotechnics. James Cameron’s “Titanic” and “Avatar” also didn’t seem to have the staying power of strong legs for the long-distance runner…while so soon, just 9 years later, people seem to make a point to watch the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, back-to-back-to-back every season. Like a good book, you find new things every time you watch it. Why? It had something (we all know what that “something” is) the other films did not. Great legs. The same for “Lonesome Dove,” which is also best watched in one sitting.

To be honest, I could never watch “Citizen Kane” all the way through more than once. It just never appealed to me. The standard I’m applying here, if you want to play this game, is how many films, Christmas films in this case, do you make sure you see, all the way through, at least once every 2-3 years?

I have several, as watching movies is a hobby of mine. Especially well-written scripts, which in the WWII era, most often were adapted from plays. I’ll stop to watch almost any Frank Capra film, and it’s one of his, the 1949 flop, but eternal Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and mean old Mr Potter.

Scrolling through the remote, I always stop and catch five or ten minutes two or three times during the Season, and always make a point to watch it all the way through about every five years. I’ve seen it clear through at least eight times, and now, since it seems mean old Mr Potter is now King of America, I’ll find even newer meanings in Potter’s view of life (attributed to bankers in those days) that everyone should drink, dance and whore their lives away on the weekend and go back to work on Monday dead broke, always in debt up to the collar to the bank. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may have to pay up. Sorta sounds like Obama’s college loan program today.

At Number 2, I choose “A Christmas Story”, the 1983 classic in which Darren McGavin gave a performance which virtually every baby boomer could identify with, as both their old man, and themselves grown up. My sons would both choose this film as their No 1, and you can look for it, rotating continuously on TBS all-day Christmas Day, which has become an annual affair.

At Numbers 3 and 4 I insert two films you’re probably not acquainted with as well, both WWII Christmas light romance-comedies, 1945 “Christmas in Connecticut” (Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan) and 1942 “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (Monte Wolley and Bette Davis). Both are from plays, with great crisp performances by a cast of character actors, from Sidney Greenstreet and “Cuddles” Sakall in the former, and Ann Sheridan and Jimmy Durante in the latter.

Both have great insights into life in rural America during the war.

At Number 5, I choose “The Bishop’s Wife” (1947) with Carey Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven, in an angel-come-to-earth-to-save-a-marriage story, the suave Grant a far cry from Jimmy Stewart’s Clarence in “Wonderful Life”. What I like most about this film is the picture it gives of New York City in Christmas time, circa 1947, but also a frozen moment of the now moribund Anglican Church in the Big Apple. There’s a lot of hidden relevance in this film as a portent of things to come.

Finally, at Honorable Mention, I include “Miracle on 34th Street” (John Payne, Maureen O’Hara, little Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn as probably the most memorable Santa of all time). I haven’t watched this all the way through for about five years. I was always a little uncomfortable with the 1947 version of an unmarried (divorced?) professional, mom trying to steer her daughter away from the fancies of myths of the past, and toward a more rational, progressive view of the world.

We all know the ease with which children give up the myths of their youth while holding onto the virtues those myths represented, so even as a young man, I believed the film represented a false premise. And I didn’t like seeing one of my favorite redheads in a role I considered to be a bad role, even if she did come around in the end.

I see that film differently now, as my children and their generation have probably never bothered to see it even once, (Natalie who?)  the story-line so improbable in their post 1970’s world. The only thing really fanciful about the story today would be that any single mom in New York would ever be so gentle and kind in explaining the non-existence of Santa Claus.

As for the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol,” I’ve seen two versions, never watching anything Jim Carrey’s in since both my sons did the entire “Dumb and Dumber” dialogue from memory, one playing Dumb, the other Dumber. (Now there’s another classic). I think the book/story was much better than any of the films, but prefer the oldest, 1938 Reginald Owen (Black and White adds to the tale immeasurably) as the best of the bunch.

Now, make your own list. As always, I’m sure I’ve left something out.

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