Christmas in the movies
0 comment Monday, June 30, 2014 |

I hope my readers don't mind if I take a brief break from posting about the usual subjects until after Christmas. It seems only appropriate to have a Christmas cessation of hostilities, though our adversaries don't take a break from their relentless warfare.
My fondness for old movies is something that I blog about occasionally here, and I've mentioned Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and the movies based on that story as favorites. Among all the versions of the familiar Dickens story, I like the old black-and-white versions, such as the one with Alistair Sim and the one with Reginald Owen, but my real favorite is the 1970 musical version, Scrooge with Albert Finney as the title character.
I love the way the film seems to capture the feel of the time and place, and I enjoy the songs. Many people these days dislike movie musicals, and the musical seems to be a dead genre, but I think this one works well, and the tunes are memorable. It seems it isn't Christmas until I see this movie.
Everybody has seen the Frank Capra Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life. For a while, in the 1980s, that movie was so frequently shown on so many channels that I think many of us became weary of it but despite its overexposure, it endures as a favorite for many of us. By today's cynical standards, Capra tugs at the heart-strings a little too obviously but nonetheless, it works, and I am usually misty-eyed by the time the final scene plays out. Capra's movies are by today's lights probably too sentimental and 'corny' but that only tells us how jaded we've become. Many conservatives are suspicious of populism, which was usually at the heart of Capra's messages, but there is the populist streak in me which is cheering for the 'little guy', the everyman, like George Bailey.
Likewise, the Capra movie 'Meet John Doe', which I've written about here before, shows how the underdog everyman, 'John Doe' (Gary Cooper) can prevail against the seemingly invincible 'elites' who are attempting to use and manipulate him from behind the scenes.
I mention this as a Christmas movie, although it is not that specifically, because of the memorable climactic scene on a snowy Christmas Eve, with Gary Cooper planning to jump to his death from a tall building.
There are other movies which are not necessarily about Christmas but which have Christmas scenes, movies which I always think of at Christmastime. Meet John Doe is one of them; another is 'The Man Who Came to Dinner', a comedy with Monte Woolley as the title character. It's not exactly a movie with a Capraesque sentimental quality, but it has its moments.
Another movie with a Christmas background is a rather obscure one called Remember the Night, with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.
It's a movie which I only discovered about five or six years ago, and it's become a favorite of mine. In the movie, MacMurray is a young assistant district attorney in New York, who prosecutes a young woman (Stanwyck) who is accused of shoplifting a diamond bracelet.
In a rather complicated set of events, MacMurray, feeling sorry for the young woman as Christmas finds her in jail, has her bailed out, and ends up offering her a ride to her family's home, which is not far from his hometown in Indiana. Implausible, but it's a nice, heartwarming story, as both rather hard-bitten characters soften as they interact in the idyllic setting of MacMurray's hometown and family hearth.
There's one scene, with the family singing 'When You Come to the End of a Perfect Day' around the piano, by the fire; it's classic Americana, in a Norman Rockwell kind of way.
Another rather quirky movie I often think of at Christmas is The World of Henry Orient, a movie from 1964. Again, not a well-known movie, and I don't actually like many movies from that era, because it was on the cusp of all the change that was about to overtake society. But it is a film about two very naïve young girls with an innocent crush on a celebrity, an avant-garde pianist, a very inept pianist actually, played by Peter Sellers.
Such a movie couldn't be made today; first, there are few 13 or 14-year-old girls with such naivete and innocence, and their behavior in following their unlikely idol would be called 'stalking' today. But in the context, it was perfectly innocent.
It's really about adolescence and friendship, as well as family ties, and again, there are Christmas scenes. It's very interesting to see New York City as it was half a century ago.
One more film in which the opening scene is on Christmas Eve is an oddity called Beyond Tomorrow' or alternatively, Beyond Christmas.The plot is hard to sum up, but it involves three wealthy old gents who invite a couple of young strangers into their shared home for Christmas dinner. The plot has the three old gentlemen dying in a plane crash, and coming back as ghosts to help the young couple. The theology is questionable, but still, it's possible to suspend disbelief and enjoy it. The message is uplifting, as was the case with so many of the old movies.
Today, the world has forgotten how to envision happy endings or even personal redemption, as so many of these old movies did. Now these movies may be derided as childish or fatuous but it's good, if only at Christmas, to take off the jaundiced spectacles with which we see this world (and heaven knows, the world in itself is corrupt enough) and try to remember a time when things were not as dark as they are today.
Most of us have some favorite Christmas-themed movie which has many associations of Christmases past, or which causes us to think beyond the limitations of this present darkness, and it's well worth it to put aside 'the world' for these brief moments of Christmas each year.

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