It’s Christmastime again, which of course means It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and the Grinch, Die Hard and all the Shane Black movies, but last year I compiled a list of Christmas-themed filmed entertainment that were lesser known or at least lesser exposed. That list is here, and included: The Shop Around The Corner, Holiday Inn, The Bishop’s Wife, The Holly and the Ivy, White Christmas, the MST3K episode “Santa Claus Conquers The Martians”, the Rifftrax Live! episode “Santa Claus”, “The Tick Loves Santa”, Joyeux Noel, In Bruges, Rare Exports and Krampus. A little something for everyone in that list.
But can I come up with another quality list this year? I think I can, especially after stealing all your ideas from the last movie thread. Before getting to the lesser known items, I wanted to take a little time to re-appreciate some of the classics which grinchier hearts in the past may have dismissed:
A Miracle On 34th Street (1947, Comedy, Drama): It’s easy to misremember this as treacly plum pudding, but its every major plot point and the behavior of most of its characters is shockingly cynical. The underlying premise is that due to the self-serving interests of everyone involved, a crazy man is going to be authenticated as Santa Claus.
Elf (2003, Comedy): Yeah, I know, and I agree. The man-child schtick gets old fast and Will Ferrell is the King-Prince of Man-Children but under the sure hand of Jon Favreau and a relentlessly good-hearted core—well, if you’re ever gonna like anything Will Ferrell, this is probably it. Terrific holiday soundtrack. Pre-saturation Deschanel.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945, Romantic Comedy): Some of us like our Christmas movies to start with U-boat attacks, is all I’m saying. Peak Barbara Stanwyck with great support from Sydney Greenstreet and S.Z. Sakall in this screwball comedy that would form the basis of about 9,000 sitcom plots in the TV age. Remade in 1992 by director Arnold Schwarzenegger and starring Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson and Tony Curtis. ISYN.
Now, on to the lesser known gems.
The Three Godfathers (1936/1948, Western): This came up a lot in last year’s thread. There are half-a-dozen versions of this tale (including 2003’s Tokyo Godfathers) about three desperados who find themselves in charge of a baby on Christmas, basically having to decide how bad of a badman each wants to be. The 1936 Boleslawski version features Chester Morris, Lewis Stone and Walter Brennan, and is largely superior to the version that John Ford made in 1948 to honor Harey Carey, which boasts John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz, Harey Carey, Jr. and Ward Bond, but lacks the edge of the earlier film perhaps due to Wayne not being convincingly “bad” enough to provide the tension.
La grande illusion (1937, War, France): It’s just not Christmas for me without a WWI story, and this (the greatest of Jean Renoir films) is the story of French soldiers escaping from a German POW camp. A big Christmas party is involved. The title is a wry reference to a 1909 book The Great Illusion, which argued that war made no economic or social sense, and which was used by the experts to “prove” that there would be no World War I. The author then won a Nobel Peace Prize for his book…in 1933.
Remember The Night (1940, Romantic Comedy): Before Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray teamed up for murder and love in Double Indemnity they teamed up for laughs and love in this Preston Sturges penned offering from Mitchell Leisen, director of “the dregs of 1939” classic Midnight, the most excellent 1924 Thief of Baghdad, and that episode of “The Twilight Zone” where Roddy MacDowell crashes on Mars.
Susan Slept Here (1954, Comedy): In Who The Devil Made It, Peter Bogdanovich interviews the great Hollywood directors and also Frank Tashlin, a brilliant cartoon director who moved on to live features like Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and The Girl Can’t Help It, and this. As a premise, “35-year old screenwriter takes in a 17-year-old runaway in the days leading up to Christmas” is a sketchy one, but the movie has some charm if you can get past the fact that 22-year-old Debbie Reynolds plays 17 way more convincingly than 50-year-old Dick Powell plays a 35 year-old for whom the 24-year-old Anne Francis is aging out. Actually, Reynolds is so good…I don’t know, maybe fast-forward past the Powell parts.
Blood Beat (1983, Horror): I’m a sucker for Vinegar Syndrome’s archaeological expeditions into lost ’80s horror, and this year they made quite a splash with New York Ninja—an unfinished film they edited together and ADRed with era-appropriate actors like Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Linnea Quigley. A few months ago I “discovered” this very odd VS offering from rural Wisconsin, about a guy who brings his girlfriend home for Christmas only to discover she has a psychic link with the samurai ghost that’s murdering the neighbors. Apparently, Jay of Red Letter Media watches this every Christmas, and he and Josh did a “re:View” of it this past week.
The Lemon Drop Kid (1951, Comedy): Based on the title of a Damon Runyon story, Bob Hope plays a swindler who needs to raise $10 Gs or a gangster will axe him on Christmas. Bob Hope in movies mostly irritates me but if you don’t suffer from that limitation, this one is not bad. Partly directed by Frank Tashlin.
I’m not a big TV watcher as you may or may not know, but last year I managed to come up with some TV show episodes, and you guys brought up some forgotten classics:
“A Muppet Family Christmas” (1987, Children): Of course none of us nearly 29-year olds can appreciate it, but our parents might enjoy this crossover of Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies. The story involves the Muppets going to Fozzie’s mom’s house for Christmas where they encounter their Sesame Street ancestors and Fraggle Rock offshoots, with Jim Henson doing a cameo as a dishwasher. The Swedish Chef plots to cook Big Bird for dinner while Kermit frets over Miss Piggy fighting a snowstorm. Features third-act mega-Christmas Carol medley. Available all over YouTube but completely unobtainable legally due to licensing. (My youngest recommended this one.)
“The Homecoming: A Walton’s Christmas” (1971, Drama): Did I say parents? Our grandparents might enjoy this pilot for “The Waltons”. Loaded with charm, if somewhat hampered by pedestrian editing (a consequence, I believe, of a show meant to be frequently interrupted by commercials), featuring Patricia Neal and Edgar Bergen in a rustic Great Depression story. Directed by Fielder Cook whose film Patterns (teleplay by Rod Serling) was mentioned back in the February movie thread, and who was kind of a TV movie titan, managing to pull off well-respected TV versions of Brigadoon and Harvey, as well as a less respected Miracle on 34th Street.
“The Bear Who Slept Through Christmas” (1973, Children): Based and red-pilled worker bear (Tommy Smothers) is canceled when he challenges the Cathedral bear-narrative by searching for the conspiracy known as “Christmas”, said to happen when all blue-pilled bears are hibernating. He ends up living in the alien world of New York City away from all he ever knew and loved. Complete with organic foods, mini-dresses and astrology, this actually made me laugh-out-loud with some remarkably au courant observations.
“Santa and the Three Bears” (1970, Children): Similarly themed but not as woke, this concerns a ranger and bears in Yellowstone, totally not meant to be confused with Jellystone, with the kiddie bears wanting to stay awake to experience Christmas and a mother wanting them to sleep. Tubi has an unending stream of Christmas cartoons from this era which I think are short enough to avoid being interrupted by commercials.
“Mr. Monk and the Miracle” (2008, Mystery): I like this episode not for the (frankly absurd) plot but for putting Monk’s correctness against his complete inability to comprehend faith and consequent misery and neuroses.
“Joe Bob Ruins Christmas” (2021, Horror): Every year people bitch about the movies shown (for EVERY holiday) on “The Last Drive-In” so this year, Joe Bob and Darcy ruin Christmas by exchanging movies as gifts, each picking one that the other has been wanting to host for years. One of them gets his wish and the other gets the cinematic equivalent of a pair of argyle socks. Opening with a dissertation on the 90-mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem that winds up as a screed against cancel culture, the interstitials are used to auction off various odd memorabilia to raise money for four separate charities that relate (very roughly) to the Nativity story. (The auction and merch selling for charity runs until Tuesday here.)
You guys mentioned a ton of other things, and I actually ended up finding a ton of stuff in building this post up, so I’m already good for next year. Keep the recommendations coming and maybe we’ll do Christmas in July!