Great Christmas Movies
(chronological by film title)
Intro | Classics (1) | Classics (2) | Modern-Day (1) | Modern-Day (2)
(in chronological order)
|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:
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."
(Leo G. Carroll)
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
The Two Couples
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:
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:
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:
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.
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
In this delightful, light-hearted screwball romantic comedy (remade poorly as a TV movie in 1992), a perennial Christmas favorite, 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 agreed to have snooty, humorless, unromantic, and infatuated architect John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner) stand in as her beau (and wedding arrangements were made). 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, 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. And John's instincts were accurate - Elizabeth fell in love with Jones during the festivities (especially during a flirtatious sleigh ride together), although Jones was being pursued for marriage by Navy nurse Mary Lee (Joyce Compton). 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.
When she 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). It appeared that Jones would marry Elizabeth after he proposed to her, 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!"
(Barbara Stanwyck) with
Uncle Felix (S.Z. Sakall)
With Jefferson Jones
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: