Saturday, December 19, 2015

10 Overlooked Holiday Movies

For those who love classic holiday films, the Yuletide truly can be the most wonderful time of the year. At the same time it can be a source of frustration. Often one will want to watch a holiday movie, only to find cable channels and TV stations are showing films that actually have very little to do with Christmas (Little Women and Meet Me in St. Louis come to mind). Sadly, while the various cable channels and TV stations are sometimes showing films that have very little Christmas in them, they are ignoring films that have a great deal to do with the holiday. Here is a list of ten films that are quite firmly holiday movies.

1. The Apartment (1960): Okay, I know I mention The Apartment every single time I mention Christmas movies, but there are two very good reasons for this. First, it is my second favourite movie of all time and widely considered one of the greatest films of all time. Second, it is blatantly a Christmas movie. The Apartment takes place from sometime in November (I always thought it was around Thanksgiving) to New Year's Eve, and Christmas plays a central role in the plot. In fact, the holiday season (and specifically Christmas and New Year's) are so pivotal to its plot that The Apartment could not possibly take place any other time of year. Sadly, it is often overlooked when it comes to lists of Christmas movies and it is not very often that it is shown this time of year.

2. Bell, Book, and Candle (1958): Like The Apartment, this film is set during the holiday season. Bell, Book, and Candle begins shortly before Christmas and ends on New Year's. Both Christmas and New Year's play a central role in the plot, and the film probably would not work quite so well when set at any other time of year. I can only guess that since Bell, Book, and Candle deals with witches, people associate it more with Halloween than Christmas. Regardless, it is firmly a Christmas movie. While it is essentially a romantic comedy, it does deal with many of the more common holiday themes: acceptance, family, friendship, and redemption. Also, any film starring Pyewacket the Cat is required holiday viewing!

3. Die Hard (1988): Die Hard takes place entirely on Christmas Eve. What is more, it begins at a Christmas party, complete with Christmas decorations, a Christmas tree, and Christmas carols. The movie even deals with themes traditionally associated with the holidays: family, love, and redemption. It is much more of a Christmas movie than any version of Little Women ever has been. Despite this, it rarely makes lists of classic Christmas movies and it is only rarely shown in December. I suspect there are two reasons for this. First, Die Hard was, oddly enough, released in the middle of summer, on July 15 1988. Second, it is an action movie, a genre not generally known for its holiday offerings. Regardless, Die Hard is clearly a Christmas movie and perfect for holiday viewing.

4. Gremlins (1984): Gremlins is set during the holiday season and, in fact, the entire movie begins with a father looking for a gift for his son for Christmas. Gremlins features all the traditional holiday imagery, from Christmas lights to Santa Claus, as well as a soundtrack that includes the greatest rock 'n' roll Christmas song ever, Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)". The film even includes themes suitable to the holiday, such as love and family. That having been said, it is rarely included in lists of Christmas movies. I suspect this is for two reasons. First, it was released in late spring (June 8 1984). Second, it is a horror black comedy, genres that are not often associated with the holiday. Despite this, it is very much a Christmas movie.

5. I'll Be Seeing You (1944): I'll Be Seeing You was a hit upon its release in 1944, raking in over $6 million. It centres on Joseph Cotten as  Sgt. Zachary Morgan, a soldier suffering from what we would today call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Ginger Rogers as Mary Marshall, a woman convicted of manslaughter when she was only defending herself. The film explores these two social misfits as their relationship develops. It is set from a little before Christmas to New Year's Eve, and the holidays are central to its plot. Sadly, while I'll Be Seeing You was a box office hit, it seems to me that it has largely been forgotten now. Classic film buffs are aware of the movie, but the general public doesn't seem to be. This is sad, as it is truly a holiday movie worth seeing. Not only does it deal with the holiday itself, but it boasts great performances from its leads and a supporting cast that includes Spring Byington, Tom Tully, and Shirley Temple.

6. It Happened On Fifth Avenue (1947): I was a bit hesitant to include this film on the list, as I know many classic movie buffs who count it as one of their absolute favourites among Christmas movies, ranking it alongside It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. Indeed, Turner Classic Movies has aired it during the holiday season for the past several years, usually more than once each season. That having been said, I think the average person has probably never even heard of the film. That is a shame, as it is truly one of the best holiday movies ever made. The film centres on a hobo, Aloyisius T. McKeever (played by Victor Moore), who  has a unique way of surviving winter. He simply moves into the vacated mansion of the 2nd richest man in the world, Michael J. O'Connor (played by Charles Ruggles), and leaves shortly before Mr. O'Connor returns in the spring. As might be expected, McKeever finds his stay at the mansion complicated one December. It Happened On Fifth Avenue is a truly wonderful film that deals with holiday themes and should really be better known than it is.

7: Scrooge (1935): When people think of adaptations of A Christmas Carol, they probably think of MGM's 1938 film or the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim. Before either of these versions, however, was the 1935 version starring Sir Seymour Hicks. Scrooge was the first feature film with sound to be based on the novel. Sir Seymour Hicks had also already played the role both on stage and in silent films. Scrooge is not a perfect film (the casting of Scrooge's lost love Belle always seemed odd to me), but it is much more loyal to the source material than many versions. Indeed, aside from Belle, the film has a nearly perfect cast. After years of playing the role Sir Seymour Hicks is impressive as Scrooge. Donald Calthrop is one of the best Bob Crachits ever. He even looks like Bob Cratchit in the illustrations from the original printing of the novel. While I am not going to say Scrooge is a better film than the 1951 version, I suspect most Charles Dickens fans will appreciate it more than MGM's 1938 version (which really departs from the source material very dramatically).

8. The Thin Man (1934): Okay, The Thin Man is hardly an overlooked film. The movie was so successful at the box office that it sparked a whole series of "Thin Man"movies. What is more, it remains one of the best loved films of all time. That having been said, it is often excluded from lists of Christmas movies, even though the plot unfolds during the holiday season. Indeed, Christmas plays a big role in the film, with Nick Charles trimming the tree as well as Nick and Nora holding a holiday party. Despite this and despite the great love even the general public has for the film, The Thin Man is not often included in lists of holiday films. Truthfully, it really should be included in such lists. After all, it deals more with Christmas than many other films shown during the season (such as Little Women....). I suspect The Thin Man is the 1930s equivalent of Die Hard and Gremlins. Quite simply, it belongs to a genre not often associated with Christmas (it's a mystery).

9. 3 Godfathers (1948): 3 Godfathers is actually a remake of another film. The first version of Three Godfathers was made in 1916. It was based on the 1913 novel of the same name by Peter B. Kyne. A second version, under the title Marked Men, was made in 1919. A third version, starring Chester Morris, was made in 1936. It was director John Ford who made what is the quintessential version, 3 Godfathers, which was released in 1948. 3 Godfathers stars John Wayne; Harry Carey Jr., and Pedro Armendáriz as three outlaws who find themselves helping a woman about to give birth during the holiday season. 3 Godfathers is very much a Christmas film. Not only does it  feature many trappings of the season, such as Christmas carols, but it even contains a supernatural element common to holiday films. Sadly, 3 Godfathers rarely makes lists of holiday films. I can only suspect that it is because it is a Western, a genre not often associated with Christmas.

10. We're No Angels (1955): We're No Angels stars Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov as three escapees from Devil's Island right before Christmas who only mean to stay in a small French colonial village for the night. As it turns out, they find themselves helping various people in the village. We're No Angels centres on themes commonly associated with the holiday, namely helping one's fellow man. It also happens to be a very funny movie with a great cast. Sadly, while it is set during the holiday season, it is rarely included in lists of Christmas movies. This is really a shame, as it has a much stronger link to the holiday than many other films shown this time of year.


KC said...

I can't believe I've never thought of Bell, Book and Candle as a holiday movie. Of course it is! And it's one of my favorite movies, so I'm delighted to realize this.

Hal said...

It's a great list.

A few others come to mind:

NEVER SAY GOODBYE (1946) with Errol Flynn trying to win Eleanor Parker back at Christmas time. TCM had been airing it every December for a while, but it wasn't on the schedule this year.

THE REF (1994) is a cynical laugh riot that probably had its thunder stolen by BAD SANTA a few years later, but there's a lot to like in it.