As much as I love our contemporary corny Holiday cinematic fare (and I do love it, as I discussed here) there is a soft spot in my heart for some of the Christmas films of yore. Do I like It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street? Of course. But it seems like some of my favorites are often overlooked. These are great flicks, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas. They’re funny, sad, charming and full of heart.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940) This movie was later remade several times, as You’ve Got Mail, In the Good Old Summertime, and the Broadway musical, She Loves Me. The original film stars James Stewart as Alfred Kralik, a salesman in Budapest. He has been corresponding anonymously with a woman he met via an ad in the newspaper. When Klara Novik (Maureen Sullivan) comes into the store looking for work, Alfred tells her that they’re not hiring. Then his boss hires her a few minutes later. The two coworkers disagree and argue constantly. Meanwhile, Alfred makes plans with his mystery pen pal to finally meet. See where this is going?
Remember The Night (1940) In this film, Lee Leander (played by Barbara Stanwyck) is arrested for shoplifting. Her trial begins just before Christmas, but the prosecutor, John Sargent (played by Fred MacMurry) doesn’t want a jury filled with the forgiving Christmas spirit or one that’s anxious to get home to their families, so he gets the proceedings postponed until after the holiday. He does feel guilty about that move so he posts Lee’s bail so that she can at least spend Christmas with her family. As it turns out, they’re both headed in the same direction, so John ends up giving Lee a ride, and yes, they end up falling in love. It’s got a bit of comedy, a bit of drama and a lot of heart. Check it out if you want a warmhearted film.
The Man Who Came To Dinner (1942) While on a speaking tour in Ohio, arrogant radio personality, Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley), is scheduled to dine with the prominent Stanley family. When he slips on the ice and breaks his hip, he must recover at the Stanley house over the holiday season, along with his assistant, Maggie (Bette Davis). He soon comes to dominate the lives of the Stanley family, and pretty much everyone else who enters their house. It’s a zany screwball comedy that’s great for a holiday laugh.
I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) Mary (Ginger Rogers) is on an eight day furlough from prison so that she can spend Christmas with her aunt and uncle in Pine Hill. Zach (Joseph Cotten) is a soldier suffering from shell shock who has been given a ten day leave from the military hospital to re-acclimate him to every day life. They meet on the train to Pine Hill and hit it off, planning to meet up later. But the holiday will eventually be over. What happens when they tell one another the truth about who they are and where they come from?
Christmas in Connecticut (1945) Elizabeth (Barbara Stanwyck) is a successful expert of marriage, cooking and homemaking (sort of like a 1940’s Martha Stewart). When her publisher arranges for her to host a war hero at her Connecticut home for Christmas, it should be simple. Except that Elizabeth is actually single, can’t cook and lives in an apartment in New York City. But with a little help, a lot of planning, and perhaps a bit of luck, she might just pull it off… This is screwball comedy at it’s most charming.
It Happened on Fifth Ave (1947) Every Christmas, Aloysius T. McKeever moves into a mansion on Fifth ave, while the owners are away for the winter. Every year he invites his fellow homeless friends, in from the cold. But this year, Mary O’Conner comes home from vacation unexpectedly after she has a fight with her boyfriend. Then her father, pretending to be homeless wrangles an invitation to spend Christmas in his own house! There’s lots of pretending and some mistaken identity but it’s all in good fun.
Holiday Affair (1949) Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) is a war widow who is working as a comparative shopper for a department store to support herself and her six year old son, Timmy. She buys an expensive toy train set, and Timmy is thrilled when he sneaks a peak and thinks it’s his Christmas present. When he learns that she bought it for work, he’s disappointed, but keeps a stiff upper lip. When Connie returns the train the next day, Steve (Robert Mitchum) a clerk at the store ID’s her as a comparative shopper and is about to report her to the store detective, when he learns that she’s a war widow with a child to support. Against his better judgement he keeps quiet and refunds her money. The gesture costs him his job, but he becomes acquainted with Connie and Timmy. This is a light romantic comedy, that doesn’t have any big twists, but it’s charming and emotionally satisfying.
What’s your favorite holiday film fare? What do you think of these choices?
I wish all the best this season, whatever you may celebrate in December, and in life.