Christmas Movies

Great Christmas Movies

Classics (2)

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

Great Christmas Movies: Classics (2)
(in chronological order)
Title Screen
Film Title/Year/Director, Setting and Brief Description

It's A Wonderful Life (1947)

How does one person affect the lives of others? George Bailey (James Stewart) gets a glimpse on Christmas Eve. He is about to commit suicide - and it takes the entire town of Bedford Falls to turn him around in this inspirational classic featuring a whimsical guardian angel named Clarence.

Bedford Falls, NY (fictional town) on Christmas Eve

This moving, inspirational, much-loved perennial Christmas classic from director Frank Capra is one of the most popular and heartwarming films ever made. It was actually a box-office flop at the time of its release, and only became the Christmas movie classic in the 1970s due to repeated television showings at Christmas-time.

It was actually a dark, bittersweet post-war tale about the life (seen in flashback) of savings-and-loan manager George Bailey (James Stewart) who struggled in his small town against a greedy, rich and evil tycoon-banker Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) and his own self-doubting nature. He began to suffer many hardships, sacrifices, mishaps and fateful trials, including compromised dreams of his youth to leave the town and seek fame and fortune.

Facing financial ruin and suicide, earnest down-on-his-luck do-gooder George became hysterical, melancholy and despairing. He was given encouragement and assistance by a whimsical, endearing, trainee guardian angel named Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers). He was allowed to see what life in his town of Bedford Falls would have been like if he hadn't been born (a journey to Pottersville). It was a frightening, nightmarish, noirish view of the world (at Christmas-time) that brought him back from self-destruction. Only then did he recognize his life as wonderful and truly rich, even in its humdrum and bleak nature.

The tale of near-suicide and depression during the Christmas season came full circle with family and friends supporting him and his beleaguered family. His daughter Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes) reminded him: "Look, Daddy! Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." He returned to the idyllic, small-town world that he had left, with renewed faith and confidence in life itself.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Is Kris Kringle real or is he just plain crazy? The Macy's Santa must prove himself by enduring corporate competition, a court case, and even a psych evaluation. This classic shows us that "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to."

In New York City in 1947, Following the Thanksgiving Day Parade (Macy's), Through to Christmas Day

This wonderful holiday film has long been considered a cherished family tradition, with a strong faith-affirming religious theme. [The film's plot about the identity of "Kris Kringle" paralleled and retold the last year of the life of Jesus when he was tried before Pontius Pilate.] In fact, the theme of the film was capsulized in this quote: "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don't you see? It's not just Kris that's on trial, it's everything he stands for. It's kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles."

Bearded Kris Kringle (Oscar-winning Edmund Gwenn, the only actor to win an Oscar for playing Santa Claus) was offered the job of Santa for the Macy's Department Store (on W 34th Street in NYC) by reluctant, feisty event director Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara), when the Santa character for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was reported to be drunk and unconscious. Disillusioned divorcee Doris' skeptical 6 year-old daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) didn't believe that the actual, warm-hearted, white-haired Kris Kringle was real, and pulled his beard to test him. Doris was dismayed that Santa was recommending that shoppers go elsewhere if they couldn't find toys that they wanted at Macy's.

Disbelieving cynics institutionalized him and declared him delusional and insane. In the meantime, good ol' Saint Nick created goodwill and peace between feuding store owners (of Macy's and Gimbels) and delighted customers. The white-bearded Santa, a resident of the Brook's Home for Old People, a retirement home on Long Island, also was instrumental in assisting the romantic relationship between Doris and her attorney/neighbor Fred Gailey (John Payne), with whom he was staying.

In the stirring finale and happy ending set in the NY Supreme Court on Christmas Eve, a battle between lawyers tried to determine Kris' sanity or lunacy. The climax came when the Postal Service delivered many bundles of letters. The bags of mail were regarded as official proof from the U.S. Government that Santa existed, and the judge dismissed the case.

Kringle eventually fulfilled Susan's Christmas wish for a beautiful dream house (for sale) with a swing in the backyard, and she was ecstatic ("This is my house, Mommy. The one I asked Mr. Kringle for...Mr. Kringle is Santa Claus!").

The film concluded as Fred kissed Doris and proposed to her in their future home, and then both of them noticed Kris's cane leaning against the wall by the fireplace. She doubted its ownership ("Oh no, it can't be. It must have been left here by the people that moved out"), while Fred added his own reflection about his successful defense of Kringle: "Maybe...Maybe I didn't do such a wonderful thing after all."

Holiday Affair (1949)

A love triangle and a final kiss on New Year's Eve wrap up this romance starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh.

In New York City During the Christmas Season, in the Post-War 1940s

A Christmas season romance developed in this sentimental b/w romantic drama, even though the circumstances weren't promising at first. It was advertised with the tagline: "IT HAPPENS IN DECEMBER...BUT IT'S HOTTER THAN JULY!"

Department store clerk Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum), a drifter hired during the busy Christmas season by Crowley's in New York, assisted pretty young war widow Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) whose husband was killed in the war. She had purchased an expensive model Red Rocket Express electric train set at the store for her 6 1/2 year-old son Timmy (Gordon Gebert). When the boy was disappointed that the gift wasn't intended for him, she returned it. Steve threatened to turn her in as a professional "comparative shopper" from a rival store. But he felt sorry for her that she would lose her job, and helped her by refunding her money for the purchase ("Now I write you a refund slip which I have a feeling I'm gonna live to regret") - and he was fired.

An almost-broke Steve became friends with Connie and the boy, and bought the train set as a Christmas gift for Timmy. Before long, an awkward love triangle developed between Connie, Steve, and Carl Davis (Wendell Corey), Connie's long-time stable admirer/boyfriend - a stuffy divorce lawyer whom she was planning to marry on New Year's Day. Meanwhile, Steve was concerned about Connie and lectured and reprimanded her for grieving over her dead husband. He advised her to let go of the past which was affecting her present love life:

"You were even gonna play it safe and settle for someone you didn't love so you wouldn't be unfaithful to your husband....All anybody wants is for you to live in the present and not be afraid of the future. You know, maybe it can happen again if you quit pretending that something that's dead is still alive...I want a girl that'll drop everything and run to me, no matter what the score is."

Realizing that Steve was destitute, Timmy had returned his train set to Crowley's for the refund of $79.50, where he successfully pleaded his case to the store owner Mr. Crowley (Henry O'Neill). When Steve received the refund money, he claimed to Connie: "I can shake myself loose from this penthouse and grab the first cheap train to California."

In the conclusion set on New Year's Eve, Connie decided to find love with Steve rather than Carl (who had decided to "divorce" their relationship and break up). Connie received a Western Union telegram that Steve was taking the "midnight special" - a westbound train to Balboa, California (where he planned to build sailboats with his friend). He promised: "WILL BE DRINKING TO YOU ABOARD THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. HAPPY NEW YEAR. STEVE." Timmy and Connie rushed through the partygoers on the moving train. She met up with Steve and embraced him between cars, as the camera pulled back. They were on one of the model train cars outside the Balboa, California station.

A Christmas Carol (1951) (aka Scrooge, UK)

17 minutes longer then the '38 version, this movie adds depth and more special effects -- starring Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge.

In London, England in the mid-1800s

This black and white classic from director Brian Desmond Hurst has been considered the most definitive and faithful film ever made about miserly Ebenezer Scrooge. It was 17 minutes longer, at 86 minutes than the 1938 version (at 69 minutes), with more depth and some crude special effects. [Note: Director Walter R. Booth's British short, titled Scrooge, or, Marley's Ghost (1901, UK), was the first known film adaptation of the tale, although only half of the short survived.]

Scrooge (or A Christmas Carol) was based on writer Charles Dickens' 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas (aka A Christmas Carol). The mean, white-haired London Scrooge, known for his trademark phrase: "Bah, humbug!" was authentically portrayed by Alastair Sim.

The film opened at the London business exchange, where on the outside steps, Scrooge rebuffed a debtor who asked for more time to repay a loan. The wealthy Scrooge also wouldn't give to charitable causes for the poor, unfortunate and needy, including his own underpaid, humble clerk Bob Cratchit (Mervyn Johns) with lame son Tiny Tim (Glyn Dearman). He begrudgingly allowed Cratchit to have Christmas day off. On his way home after work on Christmas Eve, miserly Scrooge stopped in for a meal at an inn, and when he asked the waiter for more bread, he changed his mind when the waiter claimed it would be an extra charge.

Once he returned alone to his empty mansion (with his door knocker reflecting the face of a ghost), Scrooge heard ringing from unmoving bells. He was visited by the ghost - his former partner Jacob Marley (Michael Hordern) who asked him: "Do you believe in me or not?" With heavy chains dragging him down, the suffering and tormented Marley claimed that he was "doomed to wander without rest or peace. Incessant torture and remorse." The shackled Marley warned that Scrooge still had a chance of escaping the same fate, with the visits of three ghosts that would begin at 1 am. Marley directed Scrooge to the window, where he saw other helpless, hopeless souls and phantoms like Marley.

Then a procession of three ghosts or spirits (seen with a double-exposure special effect) appeared. They all advised the embittered Scrooge to repent of his greedy ways, and redeem himself. Each of the ghosts showed Scrooge the parts of his life that he had forgotten or ignored, and urged him to discover and adopt the true spirit of Christmas:

  • the Spirit of Christmas Past (Michael J. Dolan), a white Grecian-robed, long gray-haired gentleman
  • the Spirit of Christmas Present (Francis de Wolff)
  • the Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come (C. Konarski), a black-garbed, horrific figure

With the ghost of Christmas past, Scrooge revisited his idealistic youth. He was heartbroken when he saw his beloved sister Fan (Carol Marsh) die while giving birth to his nephew Fred (Brian Worth) - someone Scrooge would resent. [Scrooge was likewise resented by his father when his mother gave birth to him and died.] The segment showed Scrooge's first signs of tyrannical greed that manifested itself as he was lured (and corrupted) by a rival - mentor Mr. Jorkin (Jack Warner) to leave his benevolent employer Mr. Fezziwig (Roddy Hughes), who was subsequently run out of business. He then partnered with Marley and took over control of the company (to avoid scandal) when Jorkin was accused of embezzlement. Scrooge had no pity when his partner Marley died, after-hours on Christmas Eve. He ignored Marley's last words of advice on his deathbed - that they had been wrong, and Scrooge should save himself.

During the second visitation, Scrooge looked in on the happy celebrations of his nephew and the Cratchits, and saw that his spurned ex-fiancee Alice (Rona Anderson) was now charitably caring for the sick and poor. The Spirit of Christmas Present also presented Scrooge with a grim view of two children at his feet, representing Ignorance and Want.

During the final visitation, Scrooge was most fearful of this last dark-shrouded spectre (looking like the Grim Reaper), although he still claimed: "Even in my fear, I must tell you I am too old! I cannot change! It's not that I'm inpenitent, it's just...Wouldn't it be better if I just went home to bed?" He was shown that Tiny Tim's death was deeply mourned and lamented, especially by Bob Cratchit. By contrast, Scrooge saw his possessions sold after his own death (and his funeral was inexpensive since no one came), and then he horrifically saw his own tombstone.

On Christmas morning after awakening from his frightful dreams, Scrooge repented and changed ("I'm not the man I was!"). Seemingly crazed, giddy and wild-haired, he tried to reassure his screaming and hysterical maid Mrs. Dilber (Kathleen Harrison): "No. Mrs. Dilber - I am not mad. Even if I look it!" He gave her a guinea coin as a Christmas present, raised her pay from two to ten shillings a week, and gave her the day off.

Feeling redeemed, Scrooge sent a boy (with the promise of a shilling) to purchase a turkey at the local butcher's shop, to be delivered to the Cratchits. (The family reacted in astonishment, thinking Scrooge had taken leave of his senses). Scrooge then called on his nephew Fred and asked for forgiveness for refusing to dine with him earlier. He also asked forgiveness from Fred's wife (Olga Edwardes): "Can you forgive the pig-headed old fool for having no eyes to see with, no ears to hear with - all these years?" And then he danced a lively polka with her.

The next day, Scrooge laughed uncontrollably as he happily raised Bob Cratchit's salary, and then he promised: "From now on, I want to try to help you to raise that family of yours, if you'll let me." Then he mumbled and cackled to himself: "I don't deserve to be so happy! I can't help it. I just can't help it." The narrator (Peter Bull, in voice-over) concluded the film with laudatory comments about Scrooge, as he ran to meet up with Tiny Tim - now running without crutches:

"Scrooge was better than his word. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. And to Tiny Tim who lived and got well again, he became a second father. And it was always said that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us. And so, as Tiny Tim observed, 'God Bless Us - Everyone.'"

(Alastair Sim)

Jacob Marley
(Michael Hordern)

The Spirit of Christmas Past
(Michael J. Dolan)

The Spirit of Christmas Present (Francis de Wolff) with Scrooge

The Holly and the Ivy (1952, UK)

An emotionally-wounded family in post-war Britain that has survived the ordeal of the war now copes with personal issues and frailties (at Christmastime), heretofore shielded from the patriarchal head of the family - a recently-widowed clergyman.

In post-World War II England, during a Christmas family gathering

Director George More O'Ferrall's heartwarming, realistic, poignant dramatic British Christmas tale was based upon English playwright Wynyard Browne's 1950 play, and adapted into a screenplay by Russian screenwriter Anatole de Grunwald. It was released for showing in the US in 1954. [Note: The Holly and the Ivy was also the name of a traditional British folk Christmas carol.]

The main character was patriarchal English clergyman Reverend Martin Gregory (Ralph Richardson), a recently-widowed, elderly country vicar. He called together his neglected family relatives for a gathering at Christmastime in his rambling parsonage in the remote snowy village of Norfolk, where he lived with his eldest, dutiful daughter Jenny (Celia Johnson).

His relatives and others invited for the Christmas holidays included:

  • free-spirited, icy youngest daughter Margaret (Margaret Leighton), an alcoholic, employed in a fashion house as a model and fashion writer; she had borne an illegitimate child named Simon who recently and tragically died at the age of 5
  • his son Michael or "Mick" Gregory (Denholm Elliott), a furloughed soldier on leave for 48 hours
  • his sister, Aunt Bridget (Maureen Delaney)
  • his widowed sister-in-law, Aunt Lydia (Margaret Halstan), who lives in a hotel in London
  • Richard Wyndham (Hugh Williams), a distant cousin of his wife's sister

There were a number of serious issues and problems in the lives of the family members, who were reluctant to discuss them with the Reverend, fearing that his religious views would interfere with the truth. It was well-known that he cared for his parishioners more than his own clan members.

Stay-at-home devoted Jenny was engaged to an engineer named David Paterson (John Gregson) and was on the verge of leaving her beloved father, to move with him to Brazil. And Margaret's increasing alcoholism was proving difficult to deal with.

Following a series of confessions and revelations, the clergyman finally demonstrated sympathy and understanding and was able to reunite his family. Margaret agreed to return home and live with her father, thereby freeing Jenny to leave with David.

White Christmas (1954)

This holiday rom-com starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Danny Kaye was the highest grossing movie of 1954. Crosby and Astaire celebrate a year's worth of holidays against a steady flow of Irving Berlin tunes.

At a Guest Ski Lodge, the Pine Tree Inn, in Vermont in 1954

This heart-warming and sweet-natured romantic comedy musical from director Michael Curtiz was a loose remake of the earlier Holiday Inn (1942). (It had debuted "White Christmas" - also heard in this film and again performed, twice, by Bing Crosby). Irving Berlin's original song "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" was the only one to receive an Oscar nomination. The title song had already won Berlin his only Academy Award in 1942. Also notable was that the film was Paramount's first VistaVision wide-screen production, and it was the highest-grossing picture of 1954.

The main characters were two Army GIs, buddies returning from WWII, paired or partnered with two blonde singing/dancing sisters:

  • serious and quiet Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby)
  • carefree, playboyish, marriage-shy Phil Davis (Danny Kaye)
  • older and more serious Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney)
  • leggy "younger" sister Judy Haynes (Vera Ellen)

During the war, Bob and Phil had performed for their fellow troops in Europe on Christmas Eve, 1944. Now ten years later, the twosome were producing and performing very popular shows, first in nightclubs, then on the radio, and finally, they scouted new talent as producers of Broadway revues - seen on TV as The Wallace and Davis Show.

A series of incidents found them traveling from Florida by train northward, in the company of the Haynes sisters (on the run from their landlord and an arrest warrant) to bring their Broadway-level Christmas show ("Playing Around") to a Vermont inn ski lodge. They were surprised to discover it was owned by their old Army superior, Major General Thomas F. Waverly (Dean Jagger). But because it hadn't snowed since Thanksgiving, the lodge was about to go bankrupt with warm temperatures and green grass. They hoped that their show, brought from New York before its Broadway debut, would revive the lodge. Typical of romantic musical comedies, there were the usual romantic pursuits and misunderstandings between the couples.

By Christmas Eve, after advertising the show and creating publicity on the Ed Harrison (Johnny Grant) variety show/program, the lodge was packed with customers (including a reunion with members of the 151st Division showing up to honor the retired General). After performing various numbers, including "What Can You Do With a General?", and "The Old Man," the show was coming to an end - and it began to snow just before the title song finale.

During the final number with Betty and Judy, Bob and Phil (and others) were dressed in Santa outfits. The film ended with kisses between Bob and Betty, and Phil and Judy, and the reprised singing of "White Christmas." Everything ended with the toast from the song: "May your days be merry and bright; and may all your Christmases be white."

The first singing of
"White Christmas"

Scrooge (1970, UK)

A Technicolored British musical fantasy - a big-budget retelling of Charles Dickens' 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, with an especially harrowing sequence of Scrooge being sent to Hell before changing his ways.

Director Ronald Neame teamed up with British musical composer/screenwriter Leslie Bricusse to create this mostly joyous, theatrical rendition of the familiar Victorian Christmas tale.

Other previous (and future) versions of the story presented in film that deserve viewing also include:

  • Scrooge (1935, UK)
  • A Christmas Carol (1938)
  • A Christmas Carol (1951) (aka Scrooge, UK)
  • Scrooged (1988)
  • The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

In this British production with eleven cheery, rousing and spritely songs, Albert Finney starred as the title character - the miserly, stingy skinflint, Christmas-hating ("Humbug!"), ungenerous and rich London businessman Ebenezer Scrooge. He sang about his own detestable personality: "I hate people, I hate people / And I don't care if they hate me."

The moneylender was visited on Christmas Eve by his formerly-deceased business partner Marley (Alec Guinness), a white-faced ghost emerging at his door, who warned of greediness and foretold that Scrooge might end up like him - in heavy burdensome chains in Hell.

Scrooge was then visited by three 'ghosts' or spirits to review various aspects of his life:

  • the Ghost of Christmas Past (Dame Edith Evans), an upper-class Victorian woman, to see happier days when he was at school and fell in love with his employer's daughter Isabel Fezziwig (Suzanne Neve), but abandoned her for his love of wealth
  • the Ghost of Christmas Present (Kenneth More), a happy bearded giant, to see the happy spirit of Christmas celebrated in the home of his poor, underpaid office clerk Bob Cratchit (David Collings), and the dire predictions if Cratchit's crippled son, Tiny Tim (Richard Beaumont) didn't receive treatment; they also visited the joyous home of Scrooge's nephew Fred (Michael Medwin) and his wife (Mary Peach)
  • the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Paddy Stone), a shrouded, silent and faceless figure (a skeletal Grim Reaper symbolizing Death), to view his own funeral (with crowds singing "Thank You Very Much") and grave (which he fell into), and the gravesite for Tiny Tim; he also met again with the heavily-chained, raspy-voiced Marley in his red-hued, Hellish quarters where Scrooge was told:

    "Your activities in life were so pleasing to Lucifer that he has appointed you to be his personal clerk. A singular honor. You will be to him, so to speak, what Bob Cratchit was to you....Diabolical. I must confess, I find it not altogether unamusing"

In the redemptive final sequence, Scrooge awoke in bed on Christmas morning, tangled in his bedsheets - and relieved that he was not chained in Hell with Marley anymore.

He vowed to reform himself and change, and merged his words into the hopeful song: "I'll Begin Again":

"I'm alive! I'm alive! I've got a chance to change and I will not be the man I was. I'll begin again. I will build my life. I will live to know that I fulfilled my life. I'll begin today. Throw away the past. And the future I build will be something that will last. I will take the time I have left to live, and I will give it all that I have left to give. I will live my days for my fellow men, And I live in praise of that moment when
I was able to begin again. I will start anew. I will make amends. And I will make quite certain that the story ends On a note of hope On a strong amen. And I thank the world and remember when, I was able to begin again!"

His first overcompensating actions were to go on a shopping spree. He purchased a turkey, toys in a toystore, and a 'Father Christmas' costume. Before arriving at the Cratchits' house, he offered toys to children in the street, then delivered the turkey and presents to Bob Cratchit's family.

He promised to help find doctors and a cure for Tiny Tim, eliminated the obligations of his many debtors, doubled Cratchit's salary, and then prepared to have Christmas dinner with Fred, his wife and family/friends.

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