Christmastime Is Here With These Classics
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
This Frank Capra holiday classic stars James Stewart as frustrated businessman George Bailey; Donna Reed as Mary Hatch, George’s wife; and Henry Travers as Clarence, an angel who needs his wings.
George, plagued by responsibilities to his family and community, never realized his dreams of traveling and escaping the town of Bedford Falls. With his business going under and the threat of jail time due to a dirty trick by the evil Mr. Potter, George wonders if he wouldn’t be better off dead. That’s where Clarence comes in. On Christmas Eve, he saves George and shows him exactly what life would have been like if he had never been born. George comes home on Christmas with a new appreciation for his wonderful life. It does make you think about your own impact and, of course, brings up the nostalgia of the holiday season.
This movie is available to stream on Amazon Prime or you can buy it for $9.99. If you’re not a Prime member, you can rent it from iTunes for $3.99.
- Frank Capra often said this was his favorite of all his films.
- Jimmy Stewart was nervous about the phone scene kiss with Reed, as it was his first since returning from WWII. Capra gave him such assurance that they filmed it in one unrehearsed take. The kiss was actually so passionate, they had to cut parts to get past censors of the time.
- The gymnasium floor that opens up to a swimming pool is real. It’s at Beverly Hills High School where they shot the famous dance scene.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Judy Garland stars as Esther Smith in this story about a lovesick girl with her family a year before the World’s Fair. Margaret O’Brien stars as Esther’s spunky little sister, Tootie, and Tom Drake is John Truett, the object of Esther’s affections. Vincente Minelli directed, and married Garland the following year.
Based on the book of the same name, Meet Me in St. Louis is about the Smith family, beginning in the summer of 1903. In St. Louis, everyone is already excited about the coming of the World’s Fair in the spring. Esther is pining for her new neighbor, her older sister is expecting a proposal, their brother is on his way to college, and the two little sisters are just being kids. Their father, Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames), is a lawyer who learns that he will take his practice to New York. The family is, of course, devastated. This may not seem like a Christmas movie, but the climax takes place on Christmas Eve. Tootie, realizing everything she will have to leave behind, runs outside crying and destroys all the snowmen in the yard. Esther, though equally heartbroken, comforts her and reminds her that they will still be a family. This is where we get the beloved song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The scene really gets you in the holiday mood.
It’s available to rent on Amazon, YouTube, and iTunes for $3.99, although I recommend purchasing this film. It’s one you’ll watch again and again.
- Judy Garland recorded “The Trolley Song” in a single take.
- “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was originally much darker. Instead of “let your heart be light,” it went “it may be your last.” Garland refused to sing something that sad to young O’Brien, so they changed the lyrics.
- This film was a box office smash. The only film to exceed it in revenue is Gone With the Wind.
Holiday Inn (1942)
Two legends, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, star in this musical comedy directed by Mark Sandrich. Crosby plays crooner Jim Hardy and Astaire plays dancer Ted Hanover. Fitting, eh? Marjorie Reynolds stars as Linda Mason, the unknowing love interest of both men.
Jim Hardy is tired of performing and plans to marry his show partner Lila Dixon (Virginia Dale) and retire to a farm in Connecticut. But on Christmas Eve, she calls it off, as she is not ready to quit performing and will remain Ted’s dance partner. A year later, Jim reunites with Ted and their manager Danny, and tells them of his plan to open the farm up as Holiday Inn, an entertainment venue open on holidays. Danny is later seen meeting Linda, who is eager for a start in show business. He sends her to Holiday Inn. She meets Jim there and he plays his new song, “White Christmas”, for her. The film carries on through several more holidays, and Ted comes along to try to swipe Linda as his new dance partner. Yes, this is the film we get “White Christmas” from. If Bing Crosby’s voice doesn’t make you want to cozy up by the fire I don’t know what will.
This movie is available on Amazon Prime or you can rent it for $2.99 if you’re not a Prime member. You can also rent it from YouTube and iTunes for $3.99. The 2016 production of Holiday Inn starring Bryce Pinkham, Corbin Bleu, and Lora Lee Gayer is also available on BroadwayHD with a subscription.
- When Irving Berlin won the Oscar for the song “White Christmas,” he became the first person ever to present himself an Academy Award.
- The firecracker scene was not in the original script, but was added for patriotism after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, which took place during production. Astaire did the number in 38 takes, and later auctioned off the shoes he wore for $116,000 worth of war bonds.
- The Holiday Inn hotels, founded in 1952, are, in fact, named for the film.
White Christmas (1954)
Another Bing Crosby classic! He, of course, sings the old favorite “White Christmas” for this one as well. Crosby plays Bob Wallace, with Danny Kaye as Phil Davis, and the pair are performers who are friends from WWII. Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen star as the Haynes sisters, romantic interests for Bob and Phil.
Phil and Bob find out their general from the war runs an inn in Vermont, but business is slow because there isn’t any snow. With the help of the sisters, they bring their show to the inn to draw people in. They also bring all their old company members from the war to come and salute the general once again. And of course, it all takes place at Christmas. The music, costumes, and sentiment in this film really make you want to sing some carols.
It’s available to stream on Netflix. You can also rent it on YouTube for $2.99, or Amazon and iTunes for $3.99. This is another one I recommend buying.
- Rosemary Clooney admitted she took the role for the opportunity to perform with Bing Crosby, whom she went on to make many records with.
- Danny Kaye was cast last-minute, as Fred Astaire was temporarily retired and Donald O’Connor (who you might know from Singin’ in the Rain) was ill. However, Kaye quickly earned everyone’s favor by making people laugh to the point of having to do many, many takes.
- The scene of Crosby and Kaye performing the girls’ number “Sisters” was an outtake the director chose to include. Crosby’s laughter in the scene is genuine, as Kaye really got into it.
- It was the most successful movie of 1954.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
This one stars Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven.
Niven plays Bishop Henry Brougham, who at the beginning of the movie, prays for guidance to get funding for his new cathedral. Young plays Julia, Henry’s wife, who is feeling neglected by the bishop’s obsession with the new cathedral. Grant plays Dudley, the angel sent to answer their prayers. Everyone is charmed by Dudley, save the bishop. Dudley persuades the wealthy to donate, not to the cathedral, but to the needy. He spends time with Julia and her young daughter, taking them out and even ice skating. In one particularly magical scene, he decorates the Christmas tree. He writes Henry’s Christmas Eve sermon. Henry feels threatened and finally, his friend Professor Wutheridge (Monty Woolley) encourages him to fight for his wife. Everything is put into perspective for him when Dudley reminds him that his prayer was for spiritual guidance, not material things. Henry finally remembers his love for his wife and parishioners. This movie is touching and sweet, with a lot of Christmas imagery surrounding an important message about what really matters during the season.
It’s available to stream on the Roku Channel, or for rent from YouTube and iTunes for $2.99. It’s available for purchase on Amazon for $9.99.
- Originally, Grant and Niven played opposite roles. When the first director left and Henry Koster came on, he saw what they had already filmed and suggested the switch. Grant initially protested, wanting to play the bishop, but finally agreed to play the angel instead. It became one of his most praised performances.
- One of the children throwing snowballs in the park is Robert J. Anderson, who played young George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
This story is a classic. James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan star as Alfred Kralik and Klara Novak, respectively. Each has been writing letters to a mysterious pen pal, whom they have fallen a little bit in love with. They work in the same shop, and despise each other. Little do they know, they are the mystery pen pals and should be in love! The movie starts around the beginning of the Christmas season, which naturally gets busy. The snowy setting and romance are sure to get you feeling cozy this holiday. You’ll also laugh a lot.
This movie is available for rent on Amazon, YouTube, and iTunes for $3.99.
- Five versions of this story exist: The original 1937 play; the 1940 film; the musical 1949 re-make, In The Good Old Summertime, starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson; the 1963 Broadway musical, She Loves Me, recently produced in 2016 starring Zachary Levi, Laura Benanti, and Jane Krakowski; and the 1998 movie You’ve Got Mail, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.
- The bookstore in You’ve Got Mail is called The Shop Around the Corner as a nod to this film.
- Sullavan was known in Hollywood for being moody and difficult on set, but Stewart considered working with her a joy. The two knew each other for a long time, and he had little trouble shooting with her. They were also close with Henry Fonda.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Maureen O’Hara stars as skeptic Doris Walker in this inspiring film. Natalie Wood plays her daughter, Susan, and John Payne plays her suitor, Fred Gailey. Edmund Gwenn plays the man we all know as Kris Kringle. Between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas in New York City, a department-store Santa claims to be the real thing. Doris represents the department store, Macy’s, and has raised her daughter not to believe in fairy tales. The movie follows Kris’s impact on their lives and the holiday spirit. This movie might make you believe in Santa Claus.
It’s available for rent on Amazon, YouTube, and iTunes for $3.99.
- Natalie Wood thought Gwenn was the real Santa due to his nature on set. It wasn’t until the wrap party when she saw him out of costume that she realized he wasn’t. However, he charmed the adults so much, they kind of started to believe it too. O’Hara even said children would ask if she knew Santa, and she would say yes and offer to talk to him for them.
- Gwenn actually portrayed Santa Claus in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1946.
- Gwenn won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role, and when he accepted, he said: “Now I know there’s a Santa Claus.”
- I think Edmund Gwenn might be Santa Claus.
A Christmas Carol (1938)
This is perhaps the most famous Christmas story of all time. The miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Reginald Owen) is cruel and unfeeling. On Christmas Eve, he is haunted by the ghost of his old business partner, who warns him of the three coming spirits. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future show Scrooge the error of his ways, and what will befall if he doesn’t change his heart. It sends a clear message about the importance of keeping a generous, Christmas-like spirit all year long. There are a ton of versions of this film, and no matter which one you watch, you’ll get the Christmas feelings. I personally like this one because of the vintage aesthetic it brings.
It’s available to stream on Hoopla. Other versions are available on Amazon Prime if you want to try those too. Or you can rent this one on YouTube for $2.99, and Amazon and iTunes for $3.99.
- Lionel Barrymore was originally set to play Scrooge, but had to back out due to illness. He suggested his friend, Reginald Owen, to replace him.
- The voiceover at the start of the film says the story takes place over one hundred years ago. Dickens published the novel in 1843, and they released the movie in 1938, so it’s actually just 95 years.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
This screwball comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck is a great addition to your holiday movie night.
Stanwyck plays Elizabeth Lane, a writer based in New York, whose entire career is a farce. She writes recipes she claims are her own, but they are really her Uncle Felix’s (S.Z. Sakall). She also claims she serves them to her nonexistent husband and child on their made-up farm in Connecticut. Her publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet), is unaware of her lies, and insists that she host Christmas dinner for war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan), who became a fan of hers while he was recovering in the hospital. Desperate to cover up her lies, she enlists her uncle and a friend, John Sloane (Reginald Gardiner), who owns a farm, to help her. She agrees to marry John, as well. However, when Jefferson arrives, he immediately falls in love with her. Hijinks and twists occur, of course, and Elizabeth is eventually figured out, and she falls for Jefferson in return. It’s a sweet, funny story that you will enjoy after your own Christmas dinner (hopefully made by someone who knows what they’re doing).
It’s available to rent on Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube for $2.99.
- Sydney Greenstreet and the director Peter Godfrey knew each other from years of doing theater in London. They apparently kept up morale on set with lots of jokes and antics.
- They actually released the film in August instead of a more traditional holiday release. It did well due to “post-war euphoria.”
- They shot the entire runaway sleigh ride scene on Warner Brothers backlot soundstages, using soap flakes as snow drifts.
If you’re not sure about paying for these movies, check Turner Classic Movies, as most of them will be playing at some point before Christmas. Set up your DVR or whatever you need to catch them. These films are all a great way to feel a bit of Christmas magic.
And if your tastes run more to scary movies for Christmas, check out this list instead!