Sunday, November 18, 2012

'tis the Season...My Favorite Christmas Films

My Favorite Classic Christmas Films
(in no particular order)

Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young

The Bishop's Wife
With a cast that includes Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven, how can you miss?  Grant plays an angel sent down in a request to a prayer from Niven who plays an Episcopal bishop who's struggling with the financing for a new cathedral.  While on earth the angel (Dudley played by Grant) falls in love with the bishop's wife played by the lovely Loretta Young.  This isn't creepy at all and is more of an admiration than anything.

The supporting cast is great with Monty Woolley as professor Wutheridge and great character actor James Gleason as cab driver Sylvester.

Magic moments:

  • When only two or three boys show up for choir practice, but Dudley (miraculously) gets all the boys to show up...the singing is marvelous (by the Robert Mitchell Boy Choir)
  • Ice skating scene
  • At the end when Niven delivers his Christmas sermon (which was written by Dudley) about the true meaning of Christmas

Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood

Miracle on 34th Street
If I had to recommend just one classic Christmas film, this would be the one.  The cast includes Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle.  (If you want to see Edmund Gwenn in something exactly opposite of this role, check out Hitchcock's 'Foreign Correspondent'.)  The story is wonderful: a man who calls himself Kris Kringle and works as a department store Santa and is eventually put on trial to determine if he is indeed Santa Claus.

Also great supporting performances here by character actor Porter Hall who plays the beleaguered department store psychologist.

Magic moments:

  • When Santa speaks Dutch to the little girl (look for Thelma Ritter's first film appearance)
  • When the mail carriers deliver the mail addressed to Santa in the courtroom

The Smith Family

Meet Me in St. Louis
While not technically a movie about Christmas, the climax of the film happens around the Christmas season and one of the most beloved Christmas songs is from this film.  This is a period piece that takes place at the turn of the century in St. Louis and follows a well-to-do family whose teen daughters Esther and Rose (played by Judy Garland and Lucille Bremer) struggle with 'boy problems' and the entire family struggles with the central conflict of the film when Father decides to move the family to New York.

What makes this a great film to me is primarily the musical numbers (did I mention this is a musical?) And the performance of Margaret O'Brien as little sister Tootie who steals absolutely every scene she's in.

Other standout performances: Mary Astor as Mother and Harry Davenport as Grandpa (Dr. Meade from Gone With the Wind.)

Magic moments:

  • When Grandpa takes Esther to the dance
  • Esther sings The Trolley Song
  • Esther sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
  • The family is distraught after the announcement about New York, one by one they return to the parlor as Mother plays the piano and sings with Father
  • Tootie in everything!

"No man is a failure who has friends."

It's a Wonderful Life
Perhaps the best known classic Christmas film...and why not?! It's story is powerful: how does one life affect the lives of others?  It's hard to know unless you can go back and see what would happen if that person never existed...and that's just what happens to George Bailey in part of the film.  What I love about this film is the constant setbacks George has in his life, and how he deals with them.  He's always dreamed about getting out of town and seeing the world, but it just doesn't happen that way.

A great cast here: James Stewart, Donna Reid and Lionel Barrymore.  Special mention for Gloria Grahame as Violet Bick...the 'good-time' girl of the town.

Magic moments:

  • The swimming pool under the basketball court
  • The 'phone kiss' scene with Stewart and Reid
  • All George Bailey's friends coming to the house to help him at the end of the film