Friday, December 22, 2017

The Christmas Movies of 1947

Arguably the Forties were the Golden Age of Christmas movies. Many of the holiday films released during the decade are now counted among the greatest ever made. Holiday Inn (1942), The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Christmas in Connecticut (1945), It's a Wonderful Life (1946) were all released during the decade. The peak of this cycle towards Christmas movies may well have been 1947. Not only were several holiday films released during that year, but among them were movies considered among the best ever made.

Indeed, a Christmas movie was in theatres even as the year began, for some the Christmas movie. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) premiered in New York City on December 21 1946. It would premiere in other cities over the coming days and on January 7 1947 it was released across the country. As odd as it might seem now, It's a Wonderful Life was not originally meant to be released during the holiday season. Originally its distributor, RKO, had planned to release it on January 30 1947. Its premiere was moved forward when Technicolor could not produce enough prints of Sinbad the Sailor, which was meant to be RKO's big holiday release.

If it seems odd that RKO had planned to release It's a Wonderful Life in late January, it certainly was not unusual with regards to movies with holiday themes to be released at other times of the year during the Forties. This was certainly the case with most of the Christmas movies released during the Forties. Only two would be released any time close to the holiday season.

Indeed, the first movie with the holidays as a backdrop would be released on January 23 1947. Of course, it wasn't a typical Christmas movie by any stretch of the imagination. Lady in the Lake starred Robert Montgomery as detective Philip Marlowe, who finds himself involved in a murder investigation (as might be expected). Raymond Chandler's original novel, The Lady in the Lake, was actually set during the summer, but the setting was changed in the movie to Christmastime.

A much more traditional Christmas movie would be released only a little after Easter in 1947. Even though it is now regarded as one of the holiday movies by many, It Happened on Fifth Avenue was released on April 19 1947. It was the first film released by Allied Artists, a division formed by Monogram Pictures in order to make big budget films. Today a holiday movie released in spring might not do that well, but It Happened on Fifth Avenue actually did fairly well at the box office. It would also prove popular on television until around 1990, when for some reason it disappeared for nearly twenty years. In 2009 Turner Classic Movies started showing it and since then It Happened on Fifth Avenue has become a favourite of many.

It Happened on Fifth Avenue was not the only Christmas movie released in the spring of 1947. In fact, the most famous Christmas movie of 1947 (and possibly the most famous movie of all time, short of It's a Wonderful Life) was released on June 4 1947. Miracle on 34th Street often tops polls of favourite holiday movies, and is still considered among the greatest holiday movies ever made. As to why it was released on June 4, that was the doing of 20th Century Fox executive Darryl F. Zanuck. He was so impressed with the film that he thought it would be better if it was released during the summer movie season, when he assumed more people would be in theatres. As it turned out, Mr. Zanuck's instincts turned out to be right. The film did well at the box office and was still playing in theatres when the holidays did roll around.

At least in the United Kingdom, yet another Christmas movie would be released in the summer. Of course, given the movie is set in Australia, technically it was set in the summer, although if it was December. The Rank Organisation formed Children's Entertainment Films to make children's movies to be shown in theatres in the United Kingdom. Among these films was Bush Christmas. The movie centres on five children's efforts to retrieve a horse belonging to one of their fathers that has been stolen. While the film was released in the summer in the UK, it was released closer to the holidays in both the United States and Australia. It was released on November 25 1947 in the U.S. and on December 19 1947 in Australia. As might be expected, it proved to be a huge success in Australia.

The remaining Christmas movies of 1947 would premiere closer to the holidays. Christmas Eve was released on Halloween of 1947, October 31. The movie is a black comedy centred on a wealthy eccentric's nephew who wants to have her declared incompetent so he can get control of her riches, but includes three other, interconnected plot lines as well. Unfortunately, Christmas Eve did not do particularly well at the box office, making only around $1 million.

The final Christmas movie of 1947 would be one of the most famous Christmas movies of all time. The Bishop's Wife premiered on December 9 1947 in New York City. It opened in Boston, Massachusetts and Los Angeles, California on December 25. It went into wide released on February 16 1948. The Bishop's Wife did very well at the box office and was still being run in theatres into the Fifties. Today it is one of the films that approach It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street in terms of popularity.

The cycle towards Christmas movies would continue into the early Fifties, although arguably 1947 marked its peak. With one holiday film still in theatres as the year opened and six more debuting throughout the year, 1947 saw more holiday films than most years of the cycle. What is more, some of the films released during the year (It Happened on Fifth Avenue, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Bishop's Wife) are now regarded as numbering among the greatest of holiday classics. There would never be another year that produced quite so many classic Christmas movies.

1 comment:

Caftan Woman said...

Perhaps in those immediate post-war years there was time to take a deep breath, and think about the wonderful renewal that can be found at Christmas.

Christmas Eve! I haven't thought about that quirky little movie in years. Thanks.