Must-see Christmas Movies

There are so many Christmas movies out there that people settle on the ones that happen to be shown on television, not realizing that there are so many gems out there to enjoy.

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is well-known to people thanks to many showings on television. The two and a half hour story ends at Christmastime which made it into a most beloved film of realizing one’s blessings. You may be interested to know that it was due to an unrenewed copyright that the film became available for multiple television showings and that it did not enjoy such a rabid following when it was released in January of 1947.

Thomas Mitchell, Carol Combs, Donna Reed, James Stewart and Karolyn Grimes celebrate

The favorite in my house is A Christmas Carol. As you know there are many, many versions of this beloved tale and I’ll briefly touch on ones I watch each year. A Christmas Carol, 1984, with George C. Scott as Scrooge, is probably the best Scrooge in existence in my opinion. This was originally a television special but is available on DVD. One can imagine Scott in 21st century clothes working in a modern office ridiculing a member of his staff for complaining about the cold and admonishing him to wear a sweater for God’s sake.

This story has a focus on Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, and the Christmas party he has invited his uncle too but was rebuffed. The scene gives us a beautiful view of a Christmas shared by the British before America adopted its custom of festivity.

Scott’s performance as the stubborn Scrooge outshines all others with his absolute terror at his own gravesite and the terrible eternal damnation he faces if he does not change his ways. His turnaround in thinking of things to provide the Cratchit family warms the heart and allows the viewer to apply Scrooge’s thinking to their own situation.

The next best Christmas Carol is ‘Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol’ (1962) ostensibly because of the music provided by a Broadway composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill. Some of the most beautiful melodies emanate from this animated and colorful story. More than a cartoon, Mr. Magoo, the near-sighted character of the 1960’s who blunders his way through life, is a fantastic Scrooge as he greedily counts his gold coins in the office while his clerk Bob Cratchit can barely complete his ciphers due to the cold stiffening his fingers.

The best line in this production is when Magoo’s Scrooge gazes at his door-knocker, which seems to take on Jacob Marley’s visage, and says ‘Could I need spectacles?’ Indeed.

This production is readily available on DVD.

The next two movies are comparable in scope of character and production: 1951’s A Christmas Carol with British actor Alastair Sim as Scrooge. A nasty one he is too, with an ugly visage which turns positively cherubic after his transformation.

1935’s A Christmas Carol starring Reginald Owen is equally powerful as the story transports the greedy Scrooge to realizing the error of his ways and the wonderful world open to him if he would only open his heart.

Both of these movies are shown on television but are also available on DVD.

Reginald Owen as Scrooge and Terry Kilburn as Tiny Tim

There are other movies that celebrate Christmas than A Christmas Carol, of course and some of these might strike you as strange choices. The first movie I pick is Stalag 17, a World War II movie about a German prisoner of war camp of American airmen, starring William Holden, Don Taylor, Peter Graves and Otto Preminger. It takes place the weeks before and after Christmas.

As the movie opens, two prisoners are planning their escape from the harsh conditions of the prison camp, but on the night of the escape, the sound of machine guns drowns the remaining prisoners’ hopes for liberty.

William Holden’s character, Sergeant J. J. Sefton, is one holdout from supporting the prisoners’ escape plans saying that the German security and guards are too smart to allow an escape. Immediately he is suspected of tipping off those same guards in order to obtain good food and other privileges.

Animal (Robert Strauss), Sefton (William Holden) and Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck)

Comic relief is provided by two prisoners named Animal and Shapiro, whose antics include painting a stripe down the prison road in order to enter the compound where Russian women prisoners are taking showers.

Otto Preminger plays the German commandant, whose demeanor is that of a sly fox seeking to make friends of the men, while crushing their dreams if any rebellion is detected.

A movie worth seeing, as William Holden won his only Oscar for his performance.

Another surprise movie is Trading Places, with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd playing men on opposite sides of the social scale forced to “trade places” on a bet from Aykroyd’s snooty employers, played magnificently by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy.

Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Eddie Murphy and Denholm Elliott

It is Christmas time, and the story includes an elaborate holiday party where Aykroyd dresses in a Santa disguise trying to get back at Murphy. Hilarity ensues as the two young men join forces with Jamie Lee Curtis and Denholm Elliott and take revenge on the employers during a New Year’s Eve train ride full of holiday revelers, including Jim Belushi and Al Franken.

If you have favorite Christmas movies that have changed your life I’d love to hear from you.