Christmas Movies

December 24th, 2013 by Max Allan Collins

For my family, the Christmas holiday is wrapped up in film, not ribbon. We have our favorites that we watch every year, and they are fairly predictable.

Our top pick is MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (the original, not the terrible remake) with the Alistair Sim SCROOGE a close second. A very close third is IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (James Stewart appeared in more great movies than any other actor). I’m one of the few who saw A CHRISTMAS STORY in the theater on its original release and it’s an annual event for us – but it’s more a Jean Shepherd film than a Christmas movie, showcasing his patented bittersweet nostalgia. CHRISTMAS VACATION has found its place on our seasonal special shelf, as well, and MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS is always worth a look – was Judy Garland ever lovelier?

There are many other worthwhile Christmas movies out there. HOLIDAY INN is easily better than WHITE CHRISTMAS, although the latter has its charms – it’s helped keep Danny Kaye from being forgotten, for one, and my pal Miguel Ferrer’s mom is in it. The Riff Trax and MST2K versions of various horrible Christmas movies are always good for a festive laugh. BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE (1958) is an old favorite of ours, the movie Kim Novak and James Stewart made together after VERTIGO. With Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs stealing scenes left and right, it’s a precursor to BEWITCHED and might seem a better choice for Halloween, only it’s set at Christmas.

But we decided this year to try some movies that at least one of us (talking Barb and me now) hadn’t seen before. Having done so, we’d like to recommend the following relative obscurities:

THE FAMILY MAN (2000) with Nic Cage, a modern reworking of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Heartwarming and funny. Cage may be an over-the-top actor, but the man commits – he gives one thousand percent to every performance, and this time he has a wonderful movie to do it in. This is a favorite of Nate’s, whose goal in life is to own every Nic Cage movie.

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS (2004). Okay, so it’s a shameless reworking of GROUNDHOG’S DAY as a Christmas movie, but this admittedly minor TV movie is funny and rewarding – good-hearted but with a darkly comic sensibility. Steven Weber is excellent as the successful slick businessman (similar to Cage in THE FAMILY MAN) who has twelve tries to get Christmas Eve right. Molly Shannon gets her best post-SNL role.

THREE GODFATHERS (1948). This John Ford western stars John Wayne and is surprisingly gritty and even harrowing before a finale that you may find too sentimental. There’s some humor, too, and Ford’s first color film is visually beautiful. It’s dedicated to Harry Carey and “introduces” Harry Carey, Jr., who is very good, as is Pedro Armendariz (FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE).

PRANCER (1989). This features an amazing naturalistic performance from child actor Rebecca Herrell. It’s a sort of smalltown/rural variation on MIRACLE ON 34th STREET. Is the reindeer the little girl helps back to health really Santa’s Prancer? Sam Elliot is uncompromising as the father who doesn’t understand his daughter, whose mother has died.

We found it a fun way to get ourselves into the Christmas swing by introducing some of these lesser known films into the mix.

* * *

THE WRONG QUARRY reviews have begun, like this great one from Ron Fortier.

Here’s another nice WRONG QUARRY review from Big Daddy.

Mike Dennis likes THE WRONG QUARRY, too.

That Woody Haut “Ten Favorite Crime Novels of 2013” piece, showcasing ASK NOT, has been picked up all over the place, notably at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

And the staff at Greenwich chooses COMPLEX 90 as best mystery, with the two runners-up ASK NOT and Bob Goldsborough’s ARCHIE MEETS NERO WOLFE. Some people have good taste!


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