Every year, we are treated to showings of the same holiday films most of us can name in our sleep: It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, Home Alone, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, etc.
It’s not that I dislike these movies. Far from it. They are most definitely on my “stuff to watch” list every season.
There are, however, other holiday movie gems that either folks don’t know about or just fail to appreciate.
Bachelor Mother (1939)
To some, Ginger Rogers name is only recognized as the one that seems to follow that of Fred Astaire’s name, but few of today’s audiences know that she was more than just somebody’s dance partner. Rogers did a number of films, where there was no fancy footwork involved and was actually a good comedienne.
These comedic talents are demonstrated aptly in Bachelor Mother, in which she stars as Polly Parrish, a plucky salesclerk on the verge of being laid off from her job. When she comes across a basket containing an infant that was left on the doorstep of a local orphanage, she is mistaken for the mother and nobody seems to believe her when she tells them she isn’t the baby’s mom, so she ends up taking the kid home and taking care of it, until she can think of something to do with it.
David Niven, who plays David Merlin, the son of the owner of the department store Rogers was just laid off from, also believes Rogers is the mother of the child and gets her job back for her. In the ensuing confusion, things are compounded further when Niven’s father, played by the irascible Charles Coburn, thinks Niven is the “baby daddy” and things continue to spiral out of control.
While Christmas is merely a backdrop here, it’s still a lot of fun to watch all of the chaos escalate, but, as in all such movies, there is a happy ending.
Bachelor Mother is hard to find, because it’s rarely shown, but if you come across it in your holiday television listings, make sure you try to see it.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
This is another holiday romantic comedy I never miss, largely because I am a serious fan of Barbara Stanwyck.
In Christmas In Connecticut, Stanwyck plays Martha Stewart-like food writer Elizabeth Lane, who has been snowing both her readers and publisher with stories of living on a farm, complete with husband, baby, cows, etc. Her columns have been full of faux details of her ideal existence on the farm, including her expert recipes, really created by her friend Felix, played by the adorable, jiggly-jowled S.A. Sakall.
Everything is fine, until her magazine’s owner Alexander Yardley, portrayed by the oversized Sidney Greenstreet in all of his pompous glory, gets a “brilliant” idea. He insists that Yardley have Jeffrey Jones, a war hero spend the holidays at her farm. What’s worse is that he plans to come along as well. Elizabeth quickly scuffles to prolong the ruse by renting a Connecticut farm house, marrying her dull-as-dirt fiance, played by the effete Reginald Gardner and even getting her housekeeper to babysit an infant and pretend it’s hers.
Adding to the complication is the fact that once Elizabeth Lane meets the war hero, played by the gorgeous Dennis Morgan, she falls hook, line and sinker and it’s obvious that he’s got a things for her, too, but they can’t do anything about it, because of …well …conventions.
Finally, her deceit is discovered, but all is well, because she ends up in the arms of Jones.
Christmas In Connecticut is an enchanting holiday film that’s well worth the effort to find whenever it airs.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
David Niven plays Bishop Henry Brougham, a frustrated clergyman who wants to get a new cathedral built. The answer to his prayers comes in the form of Dudley, an angel played by the scrumptious Cary Grant.
Dudley’s mission is to help Henry get his focus back on his family and to re-ignite the passion he once had for his calling. The bishop’s wife Julia (Loretta Young), as well as everybody else, immediately connect to Dudley, causing Brougham to become intensely jealous and fear that he will somehow be replaced.
The 1996 remake The Preacher’s Wife, starring Whitney Houston, Denzel Washington and Courtney B. Vance, doesn’t even come close to matching the magic of The Bishop’s Wife.
Note to Hollywood: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Holiday Affair (1949)
Holiday Affair is not one of those big-budget holiday movies and there are probably a number of folks who have never heard of it, but this romantic comedy starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh is a real charmer.
Leigh is Connie Ennis, a comparison shopper who is also a war widow with a little boy. She is currently dating a “dependable” guy, whose numerous marriage proposals she has been turning down, since she apparently has not quite gotten over her late husband. Still,she continues to see him on a regular basis, much to the consternation of her jealous son Timmy.
What I like about Gordon Gebert, who plays Leigh’s son is that he comes across like a real child, with none of the affected acting of a more “professional” kid actor.
Wendell Corey is Carl, Connie’s fiance, who is about as exciting as a piece of walking driftwood, but it works well here because of the character he is playing.
Poor Carl can’t seem to get in good with his girlfriend’s son and it doesn’t help that some strong male competition has come on the scene.
The droopy-lidded Robert Mitchum plays Steve, a war veteran working as a salesman in the toy section of a department store during the holidays. He meets Connie when she tries to return a toy train she purchased, in the capacity of her comparison shopping job. When he agrees to take the train back, he loses his job, since the store’s policy is not to accept returns.
When Steve decides to buy the toy train for Connie’s son, it starts a minor tempest. She thinks his gift is inappropriate and goes to tell him so, but it’s apparent that there is an attraction between the two of them, though Leigh won’t admit it. and her son adores him.
Afraid of real love, Connie accepts Carl’s proposal and sends Steve on his merry way. Once Carl realizes this woman doesn’t really love him, he releases her from their engagement and, of course, she and Steve get together at the end. (Now, who’s really surprised that she chose that fine hunk-a- Mitchum?)
Yes, I know it’s a predictable plot and there are certainly no Oscar-worthy performances here, but I’m a sucker for light romantic comedies and this is a pleasant offering I always try to catch during the holiday season.
They made an updated, made-for-television version of this in 1996 with Cynthia Gibb and David James Eliot (you know, the guy on J.A.G.) Totally lacks the charm of the original.)
For relaxing, seasonal viewing fare, give this one a look this year.
A Christmas Carol (1951)
There have, of course, been numerous film versions of this Charles Dickens classic, but the very best is this particular version, made superior by the fabulous performance of Alistair Sim, as Ebenezer Scrooge. I think this particular version often gets under-appreciated, due the fact that there have been so many updated renditions of A Christmas Carol since then.
We all know the story and what’s going to happen, but still it’s enjoyable to watch Sim evolve from a cold, mean-spirited crud into a generous, humble convert with an almost childlike sense of mischievous humor. Compared to his predecessors, Sim immerses himself into the role of Scrooge and delves more deeply into the essence of the man, rather than playing him like a caricature.
The only person to steal a scene or two from Sim is Kathleen Harrison, who plays Mrs.Dilber, his Cockney housekeeper. She is a lot of fun to watch, especially in the scene after Scrooge has been transformed.
The fact that this version of A Christmas Carol was filmed in black-and-white only adds to the delicious eeriness of the story Even today, watching the scene with Jacob Marley’s ghost makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. (By the way, I hate, hate, hate the colorized version of this film, which detracts from the element of horror originally intended by the filmmaker.)
If you only want to see one film adaptation of A Christmas Carol, pick this one.
Expand Your Horizons
If you want to expand your viewing “repertoire” this season, any of the little-appreciated, but highly worthy films on this list are sure to help you get in the holiday spirit..