Top Five Classic Christmas Movies
Spirit of Christmas
Some might say that the Spirit of Christmas is "as dead as a door-nail," to quote Charles Dickens. I say, "Bah! Humbug!" (to quote Scrooge!). The Spirit of Christmas is not dead! At this time of year, it is customary to gather the family and watch the timeless Christmas movies we all love.
I decided to share my top five favorite classic Christmas movies out of the many I enjoy during the holidays. These movies take place at Christmas time and they capture themes that reflect the true Spirit of Christmas. My hope is that we can live out these themes and remember them throughout the year.
Top Five Classic Christmas Films
Top Five Christmas Movies
It’s A Wonderful Life
Miracle on 34th Street
The Bishop's Wife
1. It’s A Wonderful Life by Frank Capra
I did not come across this amazing movie until I was in my mid-20s. (It was a half-box-of-tissue movie for me.) The all-star cast includes Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore. The movie has many shifts in mood. Lighthearted moments, outright comedy, drama, intrigue—it exhibits all the elements of a great movie. Released in 1946, the movie was produced and directed by Frank Capra. The drama is based on the short story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern.
George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) has big plans, which include leaving his hometown, Bedford Falls, to see the world. He is on the eve of leaving for good, getting ready to pack his suitcase. There is a family crisis; George gets stuck in this little town. Life intervened, so George didn't get to see the world. Instead, he discovered how big one person can be in a small world.
George and Mary
He falls in love with Mary (Donna Reed) and begins a family. He takes over his father's savings and loan, coveted by greedy Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore). He schemes to take over the family business. A series of events occur that leaves George in serious trouble.
He decides the only thing to do is to take his own life, so his family can get his insurance money. He concludes that "he is worth more dead than alive". The angel is named Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers) who appears in response to George's prayer for help (as it also happens in The Bishop's Wife). Clarence takes him on a journey and shows him what a world without George Bailey would be like.
Many surprises are in store for George and he learns much about himself. He discovers "It's A Wonderful Life"! After viewing this film, we can learn much about ourselves, too. The movie captures the Christmas Spirit by displaying the joy of self-sacrifice, redemption, friendship, love, family, loyalty and commitment.
2. White Christmas
White Christmas (1954) is a feast of entertainment from start to finish. War buddies Bing Crosby (Bob Wallace) and Danny Kaye (Phil Davis) sing, dance and act their way into your heart. Joining forces with sister act Rosemary Clooney (Betty Haynes) and Vera-Ellen (Judy Haynes), they take their show to a Vermont inn. The inn is owned by a general they served under during World War II which has hit hard times. When they attempt to help him save the inn, mad-cap escapades ensue.
The song, " White Christmas " is featured and was written by Irving Berlin. (First sung in the movie "Holiday Inn" released in 1942—another great seasonal movie.) Who doesn't know the words to this song and who doesn't reminisce about a family Christmas when they hear it?
The movie is filmed in such beautiful colors. If you enjoy singing and acting by Bing Crosby and humor and dancing performed by Danny Kaye, this film won't disappoint! The whole cast adds to the development of suspense that leads up to Christmas Eve. The rich red of the Santa costumes in the final number adds greatly to the film.
We learn the importance of telling the truth, not listening to busybodies and the danger of jumping to conclusions. The Spirit of Christmas is revealed in this movie by showing friendship, forgiveness, loyalty, commitment and love.
3. A Christmas Carol
I have enjoyed all of the many movie versions of the book written by Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, (written in 1843). Every Christmas, I look forward to sitting down with the book and reading it, uninterrupted, from start to finish.
Of all the movies based on this timeless story, I enjoy Scrooge the most (a version starring Albert Finney, which is a musical made in 1970). Two songs that I particularly enjoy from this movie are "Father Christmas" and "Thank You Very Much". There is much singing and dancing as the characters, dressed in Victorian winter garb, entertain us. Even though there is much humor, the movie manages to present the darker moments that are true to Dickens' story. This amusing musical tops my favorite version of A Christmas Carol.
In the story, four ghosts appear to Ebenezer Scrooge: his old partner Jacob Marley and The Spirits of Past, Present and Future. Each visit forces Scrooge to re-evaluate the choices he has made in his life. Each ghost tries to convince Scrooge of the error of his money-loving, selfish ways and how much he has missed in life
The movie reveals the Spirit of Christmas in redemption, charity, sacrifice, commitment and love. This movie displays with tender emotion how much good one can do for one's fellow man. May it be said of us as it was about Scrooge "that he knew how to keep Christmas well".
4. Miracle on 34th Street
The Miracle on 34th Street was released in 1947. The all-star cast includes John Payne, Maureen O'Hara, a very young Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle. In this lighthearted film, a romance builds between Payne and O'Hara as he tries to defend Kris Kringle and legally prove, with the help of the US Postal Service, that Kringle is indeed the true Santa Claus. Natalie Wood is such a delight as she struggles to believe in Santa Claus.
Suzie Walker (played by the sweetest Natalie Wood) has been taught by her single mother not to believe in Santa Claus or fairy tales or even use her imagination. Suzie's mother, Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara) is event coordinator for Macy's Department Store on 34th Street. At the Thanksgiving Day parade, she hires Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) to play Santa Claus to replace a drunken Santa on a parade float. Kris believes he really is Santa Claus.
Fred Gailey (John Payne), a lawyer interested in Doris, enjoys Suzie and defends Kris Kringle as he spends a good part of the movie trying to prove he really is Santa. For the rest of the movie, we are persuaded to believe in him, too.
The movie, in black and white, takes us back to the post-war world, when the country was trying to forget the horrors of war. In the movie, we are reminded of the innocence of the struggle to believe in something; in this case, it is Santa Claus. Do you remember when you believed in Santa Claus?
This movie captures the Spirit of Christmas by love, belief, friendship and giving.
5. The Bishop’s Wife
The Bishop’s Wife, released in 1947, stars Cary Grant who plays an angel named Dudley (who doesn't yet have his wings, like Clarence, in It's a Wonderful Life). He appears in response to a prayer by an Episcopal Bishop, Henry Brougham (played by David Niven). The Bishop's wife, Julia Brougham is played by Loretta Young. In his single-minded drive to build a towering cathedral for the Lord, Henry forgets the importance of his relationship to his wife. Dudley intervenes and helps the Bishop prioritize his life, but not without a few laughs and tears.
Henry's preoccupation with the cathedral has resulted in loneliness for Julia. Dudley appears and tries to convince Henry he is an angel. Henry doesn't believe it and becomes jealous when Dudley begins to spend time with the lonely Julia. Meanwhile, Dudley (Cary Grant) exudes his usual charming, virile, sympathetic manliness that attracted most women to him! However, he plays the role with humor and respect worthy of an angel.
In one scene of this movie, there is a group of boys having a snowball battle. One of the boys is an actor that portrayed George Bailey as a child in It's a Wonderful Life named Bobby Anderson. It is a delightful surprise because in one of the scenes of that movie, he was sled riding (on a shovel) in the snow.
I wonder how we would react if an angel appeared to us in response to a prayer. Would we believe it? Have you ever had an angel appear to you in response to a prayer?
This movie reveals the Spirit of Christmas by showing the importance of prayer, love, marriage, commitment, and faith.
A Cathedral for the Lord
The Ghost of Christmas Present
The Christmas Spirit All Year Long
The top five classic Christmas movies I have selected reflect The Spirit of Christmas. These themes embody this Spirit: prayer, love, marriage, commitment, faith, belief, giving, redemption, forgiveness, loyalty, and self-sacrifice.
In the version of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim from 1951, The Spirit of Christmas Present makes a statement I'd like to include here.
He says to Scrooge: "Mortal, we spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of the year. We live the whole 365. So it is true of the child born in Bethlehem. He does not live in men's hearts only one day of the year but in all the days of the year. You have chosen not to seek him in your heart."
May we seek Him in our hearts all the year long. May we find these themes in our lives at this time of year and, if we practice these qualities for a month at Christmas, maybe we can live them throughout the year!
As Tiny Tim exclaimed: "God Bless Us, Every One!"
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© 2012 AJ Long