Christmas Movies

Great Christmas Movies

Classics (1)

Great Christmas Movies
(chronological by film title)
Intro | Classics (1) | Classics (2) | Modern-Day (1) | Modern-Day (2)

Great Christmas Movies: Classics (1)
(in chronological order)
Title Screen
Film Title/Year/Director, Setting and Brief Description

A Christmas Carol (1938)

One of the earliest big screen adaptations of Dickens' classic tale--starring Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Mid-Nineteenth Century London, England, at Christmas-time

This MGM production was one of the earliest (and best) screen adaptations of Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol - first published in 1843. [See also the entry for 1951.] Note: The earliest version of the tale was a crude, 11 minute silent film from Thomas A. Edison, titled A Christmas Carol (1910), with Marc McDermott as Scrooge, and Charles Ogle as Bob Cratchit.

In this 69-minute long Christmas family film, old miserly humbug Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen, rather than Lionel Barrymore who was the definitive hard-hearted Scrooge on the radio) exhibited his hatred of his penniless nephew Fred (Barry MacKay), when he rejected a dinner invitation. He also fired his underpaid, kind-hearted clerk-assistant Bob Cratchit (Gene Lockhart), after one of Bob's errant snowballs accidentally hit Scrooge. Cratchit remained upbeat, bought his family's Christmas feast, and cared for their crippled youngest child Tiny Tim (Terry Kilburn).

In his large empty mansion, tight-fisted Scrooge was visited later on Christmas Eve by the chained spirit of his former business partner Jacob Marley (Leo G. Carroll), who warned him to change his mean ways or suffer a cruel fate in chains in the afterlife. After dismissing the apparition's warning, he was haunted from 1-3 am by three ghosts:

  • the Spirit of Christmas Past (Ann Rutherford), a sweet-faced, angelic young woman, who showed him his lonely childhood
  • Christmas Present (Lionel Braham) revealed to Scrooge the joy of Fred and the Cratchits
  • Christmas Future (D'Arcy Corrigan) showed the stark contrast between Scrooge's own bleak death and grave (a funeral without mourners) and that of Tiny Tim

Miraculously, Scrooge awakened a different man, and quickly distributed presents and gifts. He made Fred his partner, and at the Cratchit's home, he gave the family gifts and promised Bob a raise. He toasted: "To all of us, everywhere, a Merry Christmas to us all, my dears," while Tiny Tim added: "God bless us, everyone."

(Reginald Owen)

Jacob Marley
(Leo G. Carroll)

Remember the Night (1940)

A shoplifter and her prosecutor, in the middle of her trial when she is bailed out, spend the Christmas holidays together and fall in love.

In 1940, in New York City, and on a road trip through Pennsylvania to Indiana, and back to NYC through Canada (Niagara Falls)

This holiday-themed, Paramount Pictures production, a romantic comedy-drama, was directed by Mitchell Leisen, with a script by Preston Sturges. It was the first of four films pairing Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck (their next film was Wilder's cynical film noir classic Double Indemnity (1944)), and similar in theme to Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934). Although a charming film (often neglected and little-seen), it featured an unlikely premise, that a prosecuting attorney would bail out a suspect, take her to dinner/dancing, drive her to a different state (thereby violating parole), fall in love with her and attempt to throw the trial in her favor, and attempt to marry her before sentencing.

While shopping in a department store during December, attractive Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) stole a diamond bracelet, and when she attempted to pawn it, the suspicious broker locked her in and called the authorities. Skilled assistant D.A. Prosecutor Jack Sargent (Fred MacMurray), known for his skill in convicting females, acquired the case and argued against Lee's defense attorney Francis X. O'Leary (Willard Robertson). When the defense verbosely and in manic-style stated that Lee was hypnotized by the seller and lured into stealing, Jack was able to get the Judge (Charles Waldron) to delay the case until after the holidays (his main intent so that his holiday plans wouldn't be postponed), due to having to wait for a hypnotist to testify as an expert witness. The delay would also be in his favor, since he believed that jurors were usually more lenient just before Christmas.

After an attack of conscience, a sympathetic Jack worked with bail-bondsman 'Fat' Mike (Tom Kennedy) to bail out Lee for $5,000 (without fees). Due to a misundertanding with 'Fat' Mike, Lee was delivered to Jack's apartment. She was surprised at the gesture and suspected he wanted to have sex. To decide what to do with her, Jack took her to dinner at a nightclub and they danced. The hotel where she was staying was overdue for payment (she was basically homeless), so Jack offered to drive the fellow Hoosier home for the holidays, since her family's home in Eltonville was on the way to his family's house in Wabash, Indiana, only 50 miles further.

During their road trip, they were forced to take a detour on a WPA road, smashed through farmer Hank's (John Wray) fence, and found themselves on unfamiliar land in the dark. After sleeping in the car (the scene slightly evoked the Nativity story), they were awakened by a cow munching on Lee's hat. The enraged farmer with a shotgun charged them with trespassing, destruction of property, and petty larceny (for stealing milk from his cow). At Justice of the Peace Clyde Emory's (Thomas W. Ross) office in town, the two gave false names and occupations (Mary Smith, bubble dancer, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, steam fitter), and fled as fugitives when Lee set the trashcan on fire.

When they arrived at Lee's dark childhood home, they discovered that Lee's estranged, unloving and cold mother (Georgia Caine) had remarried, and that she held a continuing loveless grudge against her thieving daughter. There was no alternative for Jack but to take Lee on with him to his home. There, the couple were warmly greeted by his mother Mrs. Sargent (Beulah Bondi), spinster Aunt Emma (Elizabeth Patterson), and Jack's cousin Willie (Sterling Holloway). The lovely family festivities began with the making of popcorn to string on the tree, and the playing of the piano by Jack, and Lee accompanying Willie (singing "The End of a Perfect Day"). Even Lee was included in the gift-giving on Christmas Day, although Jack revealed to his mother that Lee was in trouble with the law and had a criminal past (with two previous offenses for stealing).

There were holiday activities, including a charity bazaar rummage sale (Lee helped empty the wallet of a prominent judge), and a New Year's Eve barn dance (Aunt Emma dressed Lee in a corset and her own turn-of-the-century pinafore). At midnight on New Years, Jack kissed Lee, and although he invited Lee to his room afterwards for a cigarette, she did not visit him. Jack's mother had explained to her how Jack had worked hard to get to his present position, and asked her not to ruin him.

On their trip back to New York, they drove through Canada (to avoid Pennsylvania), and at Niagara Falls, they kissed as Jack professed his love and desire to marry her. Jack tried to persuade Lee to jump bail and stay in Canada, but Lee was determined to return and face trial. Back in New York just before the trial resumed, Lee told Jack that she couldn't reciprocate his love, and that marriage would be a bad idea.

During the trial, Jack tried to harshly and savagely condemn Lee on the stand in order to antagonize the jury and get an acquittal, but the strategy backfired. Fearing a lost case would hurt John's career, Lee became upset and changed her plea to guilty. It was inevitable that she would be sentenced and serve jail time as a repeat offender. Jack was angered at her for pleading guilty, and still wanted to marry her. Lee advised that if he still loved her after her imprisonment, they could reconsider, because she also loved him. In their relationship, Jack's character had become more dishonest, while Lee's character had become more honorable.

Lee Leander
(Barbara Stanwyck)

D.A. Jack Sargent
(Fred MacMurray)

With a Cow

Family Christmas

Kissing at Niagara Falls

Holiday Inn (1942)

Screen legends Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire debut the quintessential holiday song, "White Christmas" in this Christmas musical.

In the 1940s, in New York City, also at the rustic "Holiday Inn" in Midville, Connecticut

The plot of this romantic musical film by director Mark Sandrich was spiced up with an Irving Berlin story and score (twelve songs), and it became the highest-grossing film musical to that time. It provided a spectacle of fifteen holidays throughout the year, all presented in song and dance routines - each represented by a calendar page.

The film opened on Christmas Eve in New York City at the Midnight Club, when the song-and-dance team of retiring crooner Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) and ladies man/hoofer Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire) was breaking up. Hardy retired to his Connecticut farm alone when smooth-talking friend Hanover stole away his fiance, singer/dancer Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale).

Jim decided to turn his country house-inn into a nightclub, dubbed "Holiday Inn," that would only be open on national holidays. Jim hired wide-eyed, aspiring ingénue-singer/dancer Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) as his leading lady to make his dream a success, of providing both dinner and entertainment.

This film was most famous for the debut of the quintessential holiday song, "White Christmas," sung as an unaccompanied ballad by Jim to Linda.

Unfortunately, Ted (after being dropped by Lila for "most wonderful millionaire in world" in Texas on New Year's Eve) was again partner-less (and obsessed about finding a replacement), and he arrived at the inn to drown his sorrows - and to capture Linda as his new dance partner. Of course, romantic shenanigans ensued between the two pairs, and it appeared that Ted and Linda were going to get married in Hollywood during the holidays.

By film's end, however, Ted was reunited with Lila, and Jim and Linda were also a couple. The two duos performed together on New Year's Eve at the Holiday Inn in the conclusion.

Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby),
Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale), and Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire)

Jim and Linda Mason (Marjorie Reynolds) singing
"White Christmas"

The Two Couples

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

This holiday musical starring Judy Garland features the debut of the classic song, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

A Turn-of-the-Century Family in Suburban, Midwestern St. Louis of 1903, Who Lived in a Stylish Edwardian Home at 5135 Kensington Avenue

This film remains a delightful, classic, nostalgic, poignant, and romanticized musical film - and one of the greatest musicals ever made. Vincente Minnelli's gorgeous musical (his third film and his first in color) romanticized and idealized the turn of the century in the year 1904. It was the second highest-grossing film for MGM up to that time.

The film was structured as a series of coming-of-age vignettes (four in number). Different acts represented the seasons from summer 1903 to spring 1904 that concluded in the year of the St. Louis World's Fair/Exposition. Each segment marked changes and rites of passage - and was introduced by a filigreed tintype from the Smith family album - each static, initially sepia-toned image turned into color and came to life. Although the winter segment was one of the shortest vignettes, the film is still considered a favorite Christmas movie.

The opening image for winter was a nostalgic, Currier-and-Ives view of a horse-drawn sleigh, the sound of sleigh bells, and youngsters sledding down the lawns of Kensington Avenue in the winter sunshine. The city, and the well-to-do Smith family (with four beautiful daughters) living in the suburbs was on the verge of hosting (and celebrating) the arrival of the spectacular World's Fair. However, the family's head of the house was beckoned to New York due to a job promotion - an uprooting move that threatened to indelibly change the lives of the family members forever.

Judy Garland portrayed winsome daughter Esther Smith, who in this last part of the film had just returned home late at night after a Christmas Eve ball. She found her distressed sister 'Tootie' (Margaret O'Brien) worried and wondering about the prospect of moving from their beloved home:

Did he [Santa Claus] come yet? I've been waiting such a long time. And I haven't seen a thing....How will he know how to find us next year? He's so used to coming here.

Esther reassured her and placed her warming wrap around her shivering sister: "Oh, you can't fool him. He can find anybody he wants to find." Obviously upset, 'Tootie' sadly declared: "I'm taking all my dolls, the dead ones too. I'm taking everything." When Esther reminded her that she must leave behind her snow people she had built in their yard, there was a haunting view of their backyard lawn full of Christmas snowmen, seen from her bedroom window.

In one of the most memorable scenes of the film, Esther consoled her distraught sister 'Tootie' - compassionately and sweetly singing the wistful song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" while at the window. Her solemn voice was accompanied by the tinkling of 'Tootie's' antique monkey music box. Lovingly and tenderly photographed, Esther touchingly sang of hope:

Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Let your heart be light.
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Make the Yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away
Once again, as in olden days, happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us, will be near to us once more
Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now

Sobbing, 'Tootie' was most affected and traumatized by the thought of moving and abandoning her snow people - a group that represented her once-happy family. To show her emotional upset and misery after the song was finished, she ran in her nightgown from the house - and hysterically and maniacally decapitated the Christmas snowmen. She bludgeoned and destroyed them because they could not go to New York with the family: "Nobody's gonna have them. Not everybody's going to New York. I'd rather kill them if we can't take them with us." Esther vainly attempted to comfort her utterly despairing sister by kneeling and embracing her. 'Tootie' drowned out her words with her ceaseless crying:

"New York is a wonderful town. Everybody dreams about going there. But we're luckier than lots of families because we're really going. Wait until you see the fine home we're going to have and the loads and loads of friends we'll make. Wonderful friends. But the main thing Tootie is that we're all going to be together just like we've always been. That's what really counts. We could be happy anywhere as long as we're together."

Ultimately, Mr. Smith reconsidered the move, and decided to compromise with his family and stay in St. Louis after all, refusing his company's promotion regardless of the work prospects and other consequences.

Esther (Judy Garland)
with Tootie
(Margaret O'Brien)

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Elizabeth (Barbara Stanwyck) transforms from spinster Manhattanite to perfect housewife when her boss invites himself for Christmas. A war hero has Christmas dinner with the Martha Stewart-esque Barbara Stanwyck (who actually can't cook) in this holiday farce.

Post-WWII Era, in NYC and at a Rural Connecticut Farmhouse, Around Christmas Eve

This delightful, light-hearted screwball romantic comedy (remade poorly as a TV movie in 1992 with Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson) is a perennial Christmas favorite from director Peter Godfrey. Barbara Stanwyck portrayed Elizabeth Lane, a Martha Stewart-like food writer for Smart Housekeeping magazine who misled her readership. In her column "Diary of a Housewife," she wrote about her perfect life on a Connecticut farm with a husband and eight month-old son, great recipes and furnishings, etc. She was regarded as "the finest, most exemplary wife and mother." However, she was a spinster - there was no husband and no baby, she wasn't a gourmet cook (she got her recipes from her Hungarian Uncle Felix Bassenak's (S.Z. Sakall) restaurant), and she lived in a modest, high-rise apartment in Manhattan.

Elizabeth's corpulent mogul publisher Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) and returning, wounded Navy war hero-sailor Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) (who was hallucinating about fine dining!) invited themselves to her rural farm-home for an old-fashioned, traditional family Christmas Eve. The manipulative writer was worried that she might lose her job due to her charade. Exasperated, she was forced to spin a cover up of all of her deceitfulness, asking herself: "Arrange it? Are you crazy? Where am I gonna get a farm? I haven't even got a window box!" She didn't want to lose her well-paid job, her mink coat, and her lifestyle, so decided upon an elaborate and complicated ploy.

She agreed to have snooty, humorless, unromantic, stuffy and infatuated architect John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) stand in as her beau (and actual wedding arrangements were made with a local befuddled Judge Crothers (Dick Elliott)). He had been dogging her for a proposal but she had always refused until now. She also asked restaurant chef Uncle Felix to cook for her, and 'borrowed' John's idyllic farm (with a cow named Macushla), who regretted helping her with the ploy: "I know I shall regret this for the rest of my life."

The marriage ceremony between Elizabeth and John was continually being interrupted and postponed, by circumstances, deliberate delays or deceptions, poor timing, and unexpected arrivals. And John's instincts were accurate - Elizabeth fell in love with Jones during the festivities (especially during a flirtatious sleigh ride together following a barn dance). Yardley soon began to suspect that Jones was having an affair with Elizabeth.

The screwball plot intensified with multiple borrowed stand-in babies (a blonde boy, a dark-haired girl) brought in to impersonate the Lane family child, and cared for by Norah the housekeeper (Una O'Connor). Further complications ensued when Jones and Elizabeth were arrested and spent the night in jail for 'stealing' the sleigh, and when Yardley called state troopers when he suspected one of the babies was kidnapped (the real mother was just picking up the baby!) And then, Jones' Navy nurse Mary Lee (Joyce Compton) arrived, with news that she was engaged to marry - although she turned out to be engaged to Jones' Navy buddy Sinkewicz (Frank Jenks).

When Elizabeth eventually admitted the truth to Yardley that she wasn't married, she was fired and after a quarrel, she broke up with Sloan. Yardley soon reinstated her with a doubled salary raise (Uncle Felix convinced him that a rival publisher would hire her away). Elizabeth also admitted - finally - that she wasn't married, thereby freeing them up to consummate their hesitant 'love at first sight' over two days, although he was warned by Yardley that Elizabeth couldn't cook. The film ended with rotund Yardley's line: "What a Christmas! Ho, ho, what a Christmas!"

Elizabeth Lane
(Barbara Stanwyck) with
Uncle Felix (S.Z. Sakall)

With Jefferson Jones
(Dennis Morgan)

With Alexander Yardley
(Sydney Greenstreet)

The Bishop's Wife (1947)

Guardian angel Dudley (Cary Grant) helps a smalltown bishop realize that "loving kindness and warm hearts" is what's important in life.

An Urban Setting, Post WWII, at Christmastime

This popular Christmas classic was poorly remade by director Penny Marshall as The Preacher's Wife (1996), with Denzel Washington as the angel who fell in love with co-star Whitney Houston. The original version, a romantic fantasy-comedy, told about an angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) who was sent to help ambitious Episcopal Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven). The well-dressed, handsome, urbane guardian angel advised the troubled bishop about his failing project, after he had prayed for "guidance" regarding problems of fund-raising for the construction of a new church.

Dudley was not there to assist with the Bishop's building and funding of a new cathedral, but to show the busy Henry what he had been neglecting in life -- the poor and needy, the boys' choir, his parishioners and most noticeably, his lovely wife Julia (Loretta Young), who had the incredible gift, according to Dudley of "making heaven here on Earth." Unexpectedly, Dudley began to have romantic feelings for Julia.

Dudley rewrote Henry's Christmas sermon, dictating while the typewriter took down his words. When Henry finally publically announced the importance of Julia in his life to Dudley ("Julia means more to me than my life, I'm not going to lose her"), the angel promptly announced his departure. The angel told Henry that he and everyone else would have no memory of his visit or existence ("When I'm gone, you will never know that an angel visited your house").

At St. Timothy's Church, the Bishop delivered Dudley's sermon on Christmas Eve at midnight, while Julia beamed at him from the pews. From the street outside under a light falling snow, Dudley listened to the poignant and touching words, satisfied that his work was complete as he turned and slowly walked away - bringing the film to a heartfelt close:

"Tonight I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking. Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child's cry. A blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven't forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees with the sound of bells, and with gifts. But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry could do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It's his birthday we're celebrating. Don't let us ever forget that. Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share: loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched-out hand of tolerance - all the shining gifts that make peace on Earth."

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