Red Ryder BB-guns and green roast beast. As the yuletide season approaches, so too does a smorgasbord of holiday-related entertainment. In my last post I got into trouble with a few family members. So, this is sort of my olive branch (or mistletoe twig). These are films and animated specials that have stood the test of time and appeal to both juveniles and adults. If you see them on TV, check ‘em out! And if I’ve omitted your favorite, please let me know!
Here they are, oldest to newest:
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Frank Capra directed this uplifting (literally) fable starring Jimmy Stewart. It concerns how a man’s seemingly insignificant acts of kindness can have an enormous effect on people and events around him. Lots of subplots and spot-on acting, and the ending is one of the most heartwarming in cinema history.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
I’ve never seen this movie beginning to end, but it must be good because the original 1947 version has been remade numerous times. An unassuming Santa Claus at Macy’s claims he’s the real Kris Kringle, and his sanity is called into question. Edmund Gwenn, as Kringle, won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Also stars Maureen O’Hara and a precocious child actress named Natalie Wood.
White Christmas (1954)
With Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney, and featuring the timeless songs of Irving Berlin, this has both great storyline and music. The highlights are the gold-plated vocal cords of Crosby and Clooney. I’m not big on musicals, but this has to be one of the best. To be shared with loved ones and a tray full of hot toddies (or hot chocolate) while wearing red and green turtlenecks before a crackling fire.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
This is a stop-motion animated movie, narrated by Burl Ives, and it’s the longest-running Christmas TV special in history. Why is it so popular? My guess is the sly adult humor and offbeat characters: a nerdy elf who wants to be a dentist, a rambunctious prospector named Yukon Cornelius, and a cross-eyed Abominable Snow Monster who has his teeth extracted by the elf. If this were made a few years later, I’d suspect the creator of experimenting with more than just animation.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Linus’s speech “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown,” alone on stage, in hushed silence, is the centerpiece. But my favorite scene is when Schroeder starts jamming and turns the Christmas play into a dance party, much to Charlie’s dismay. Creator Charles M. Schulz was equal parts animator and sociologist. His genius, and pianist Vince Guaraldi‘s cool jazz score, makes “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the gold standard among animated Christmas specials. My personal favorite.
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Dr. Seuss as narrated by Boris Karloff. What a brilliant teaming! Karloff, for those who don’t know, was the original movie “Frankenstein” monster and made many subsequent horror films. His lilting and slightly ominous delivery make him perfect to narrate this tale about a sinister green creature who lives on a mountaintop and plots to ruin Christmas for the townsfolk below. This animated special came on the heels of the Peanuts and Rudolph specials and caps an amazing three-year run for network television at Christmastime.
A Christmas Story (1983)
This comedy is shown as a marathon every holiday. We’ve all had that experience of yearning for that one special toy. Here we have a man’s reminiscence of his boyhood in a small Indiana town and his obsession with getting a BB-gun for Christmas. It has a ton of old-fashioned charm, and some folks consider it the greatest thing since spiced egg nog. I haven’t joined the cult yet (the narration gets to me after a while). But it has more holiday ambience than any other movie of the last 30 years, ages like a fine wine, and appeals to kids ages 9 to 90.
A Christmas Carol (aka Scrooge) (various years)
Charles Dickens’s miserly Scrooge is so compelling he’s become part of the vernacular, and it’s hard to imagine him and “Bah humbug!” not existing until the mid-19th century. There are several fantastic filmed versions starring, variously, Reginald Owen, Alistair Sim, Albert Finney, and George C. Scott. Also a modern translation with Bill Murray that got mixed reviews, and a well-regarded cartoon movie starring Mr. Magoo, among many others.
I’ll let Tiny Tim have the last words: “God bless us everyone!!”