Ten Christmas Movies That Don’t Feature the Grinch, Tiny Tim, Bing Crosby Singing “White Christmas,” Lassoing the Moon, or a Dog Eating the Turkey

Posted on December 15, 2013 at 8:00 am

It is wonderful to share holiday classics like “A Christmas Carol,” “White Christmas,” “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” “A Christmas Story,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and family favorites should be a family tradition.  But make some time for some new ones, too.  I recommend these lesser-known gems.

Christmas in Connecticut  Holiday chaos ensues when a Martha Stewart-style columnist has to host a WWII soldier for Christmas.  It turns out that the columnist (Barbara Stanwyck), who writes about her farmhouse in Connecticut, her husband and baby, and the wonderful meals she prepares, is a single woman living in Manhattan and has no kitchen skills of any kind.  And when the handsome GI arrives just as she is about to marry the real owner of the farm, things get delightfully complicated.

Love Affair It’s the first version of “An Affair to Remember,” the Christmas classic all the women cry over in “Sleepless in Seattle,” starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer.  It doesn’t have Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, but it is witty, sophisticated, romantic, and endearing.  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nt7YYFuryQs

Come To The Stable  Loretta Young and Celeste Holm play nuns who are trying to get the money to build a hospital for children.  This is a very sweet, understated film and the two actresses are positively radiant in their habits.

Remember the Night Stanwyck again — this time as a shoplifter about to be sentenced just before Christmas.  Her “Double Indemnity” co-star, Fred MacMurray, plays the prosecutor who wants to delay the sentencing so that the judge won’t be lenient due to Christmas spirit.  So, he ends up taking the defendant home with him for the holidays and everyone learns something important.

Period Of Adjustment Tennessee Williams’ only comedy is this story of two young couples, newlyweds Jim Hutton and Jane Fonda and newly separated Anthony Franciosa and Louise Nettleton. A lot of misunderstandings and hurt feelings — and interfering in-laws, tipsy carolers, a hearse, and a trip to the police station — lead up to the happiest of happy endings on Christmas Eve.

This Christmas A welcome addition to the Christmas movie tradition is this warm, funny story of a mother (Loretta Devine) and her six children, with an all-star cast that includes Delroy Lindo, Regina King, Idris Elba, Columbus Short, and Chris Brown. Be sure to watch the wonderful dance number over the closing credits.

Desk Set Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn star in this sparkling romantic comedy about a woman who heads up the research department at a television network and the man who is in charge of installing a computer that could replace her. Today’s audiences will smile at the old-fashioned punch-card computer that fills the room. But the issues it raises are still timely.

Die Hard A cop visiting his estranged wife at her office on Christmas eve finds himself defending the building against a supervillain. Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman became stars and the movie led to a whole series of “Die Hard in a ship/train/school” movies as well as four sequels.

The Gathering Ed Asner plays an industrialist who asks his long-estranged wife (Maureen Stapleton) to gather his long-estranged adult children for Christmas. Yes, it’s another accusation/revelation holiday drama but it is one of the best.

Bells of St. Mary’s We can all agree that the twist revelation at the end makes no sense at all, but the chemistry between Bing Crosby (never more comfortable on screen than when he was playing a priest) and Ingrid Bergman (as a nun) and the wonderfully natural nativity play put on by the children make this a holiday treat.

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The Uninvited: Now on Criterion

Posted on October 25, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Just in time for Halloween, one of my very favorite ghost stories has been released in a beautifully restored edition from the wonderful folks at Criterion. It is The Uninvited, starring Ray Milland (“Love Story”) and Ruth Hussey (“The Philadelphia Story”), as a brother and sister who move into a beautiful but spooky house on the cliffs of Cornwall. Made in 1944, this was one of the first Hollywood films to treat a ghost story seriously and it is wonderfully eerie and romantic, with a very satisfying conclusion and a gorgeous score that includes the classic song, “Stella by Starlight.” By today’s standards, the scares are rather tame but the psychological horror and suspense are well handled. Both Martin Scorsese and Guillermo Del Toro have named it as among their favorite thrillers. Highly recommended. (No connection to the 2009 film of the same name.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfRSZ2kYvXs

For a delectably spooky Criterion double feature, add I Married a Witch with Veronica Lake and Fredric March.

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Fred Astaire Dances on the Ceiling — And Glee Pays Tribute

Posted on March 9, 2013 at 4:47 pm

I held out longer than most but am now among the many whose enthusiasm for “Glee” has wavered.  But you know I loved this week’s tribute to classic songs from movies.  The “Top Gun”/”Risky Business” mash-up was fabulous.  And I got a special kick out of Will and Emma paying tribute to Fred Astaire’s classic dancing on the ceiling number from “Royal Wedding.”

That was filmed by creating a room that rotated.  It was also the inspiration for this video from Lionel Ritchie:

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More Christmas Movies You Might Not Know But Should

Posted on December 9, 2012 at 3:59 pm

My lists of 12 Christmas movies that don’t feature Tiny Tim, Linus, Bing Crosby, the Grinch, or Clarence the Angel, or a Leg Lamp, Twelve More Great Christmas Movies Without Santa, Tiny Tim, or a Message from Ovaltine, and Worst Christmas Movies are among my favorite and most-read.  Try some neglected gems that are fun to share with family during the holidays:

“A House Without a Christmas Tree”  Jason Robards stars in this story about a widower who finds Christmas memories too painful and his daughter, who wins a Christmas tree at school.

“A Song for the Season” Gerald McRaney plays a man who is not happy to be moving back in with his father (Andy Gfiffith) for his new job as principal of a troubled school.  Things begin to change when he meets the beautiful music teacher (Naomi Judd).

Remember the Night is a bittersweet film about a prosecutor (Fred MacMurray) who brings a woman accused of shoplifting (Barbara Stanwyck) home with him for Christmas so that she won’t get an overly lenient sentence from the judge swayed by the holiday spirit, a very different mood from the stars’ other feature, “Double Indemnity” and notable, too, as the first screenplay from Preston Sturges.

“Gift of the Magi” O. Henry’s classic tale of the poor young couple who sacrifice their most precious belongings to give to each other stars Marla Sokoloff and Mark Webber.

“Merry Sitcom” This collection of 60’s sitcom Christmas classics includes episodes from “Bewitched,” “That Girl,” “The Flying Nun,” and “The Donna Reed Show.”  For fans of 50’s television, “Holiday TV Classics” has episodes from “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” and many, many more.

“Blackadder’s A Christmas Carol” turns the classic story inside out with hilarious results as Rowan Atkinson plays a kind-hearted shopkeeper who is inspired by spirits to give meanness a try.

“Bells of St. Mary’s” has the return of Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley, this time at odds with Ingrid Bergman as a spirited nun.  The children’s depiction of the Nativity is delightfully improvised.

“Holiday Affair” Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh star in a sweet holiday story about a widow with a young son who finds love again.

 

 

 

 

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Early Alfred Hitchcock Film Discovered in New Zealand

Posted on April 17, 2012 at 10:08 pm

An Alfred Hitchcock silent film thought lost for more than half a century has been discovered and restored and I got to see it tonight at the Motion Picture Association of America with a musical score composed for the film performed live.  It was a thrill.  The movie is a wild melodrama about identical twins, one good, one evil, both played by silent star Betty Compson.   The title, “The White Shadow,” refers to the soul of the good sister.  As Susan Wloszczyna of USA Today pointed out, this was an early example of themes of duality Hitchcock would explore again in films like “Vertigo” and “Strangers on a Train.”  Hitchcock wrote the screenplay, designed and edited the film, and was its assistant director.  As New Zealand’s Ambassador Mike Moore explained to a rapt audience, a collection of some 75 British and American films was discovered in New Zealand because it cost so much to ship them back they often just kept them.  The “White Shadow” print was incomplete, but the footage they found has been restored by the National Film Preservation Foundation.  MPAA Chairman (and former Senator) Chris Dodd provided the introduction and Hitchcock specialist David Sterritt provided insightful and witty commentary and context — and told us how the movie ended.

The movie has a lot of great touches.  My favorite was the sordid cafe called “The Laughing Cat,” where the patrons greet newcomers by shouting “Get out!”

 

 

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