Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Friday, December 04, 2009

Five golden Christmas movies

In the spirit of the holiday season,I thought it would be fun to take a gander at some of the movies,TV specials and songs that get constant replay on the airwaves to figure out why their appeal hasn't faded over time. Is it merely tradition to put these films into holiday viewing rotation or a real need to renew your Yuletide love?

Let's start with the movies-while there are tons of flicks that celebrate Christmas,I narrowed it down to five generally agreed upon standard films that have stood the test of time for at least a decade or so. Also kept this strictly focused on movies that have had a theatrical release(nothing against the made for TV features,I might want to go over those later)before becoming commercial/cable TV fare.


This fanciful fable about the "real" Santa Claus going to work for Macy's and making a difference in lives of several folks connected there has been remade more than once,but I prefer the original version the best.

Part of the charm of the 1947 film was in the cast which included a hearty mix of big names like Maureen O'Hara and John Payne,future starlet Natalie Wood and even actors destined for TV greatness in minor roles like William Frawley(aka Fred Murtz of I Love Lucy).

Of course,the best cast role of them all was Edmund Gwenn,who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year for his portrayal of Kris Kringle. Gwenn's innate warmth and whimsy really came out in full force,making his character's claims to be Santa seem very reasonable indeed. The main appeal of the movie is wrapped up in just how much you'd want to have this nice old man be the real deal-with so much of the holiday fixated on consumerism that brings out the worst in some people,it would be nice to have a true champion of what Christmas is supposed to mean in our corner:


Hundreds of stage and screen(both silver and small)adaptations have been made from Charles Dickens' tale of Scrooge and how he got his soul back,thanks to the ghosts who show him the horror show that his life has become. My favorite one is the 1951 film starring Alastair Sim as the lead and that's a good one to go with for the purposes of this discussion.

My father introduced me to this film,loving just how mean and nasty Sim is at the start of the story and how his emotional transformation builds up over the course of the story in a truly moving and meaningful way. Scrooge is the Anti-Santa,if you think about,a man who is just as determined to spread misery and despair as St. Nick is in handing out presents and good cheer.

Seeing Scrooge's redemption gives us hope that even at our worst,we can still reach out to others and be loved and accepted. Everyone has their own particular Ebenezer that they love to hate and mine will always be Alastair Sim,but no matter who you like to see save Tiny Tim from his premature fate,he's as welcome as that fellow with the eight reindeer on Christmas Eve:


You couldn't have a complete overview of holiday movies without this Frank Capra classic and interestingly enough,it owes it's status as a pop culture icon due to television rather than the movie going audiences that the film was intended for.

When IAWL was first released in 1946,it received a batch of mixed reviews which lead to a rather dismal box office take. However,after numerous replays on TV and many reevaluations by film critics over the years,It's a Wonderful Life has become the ultimate Christmas movie.

Not only does it have the aura of "small town boy makes good" and grassroots support by devoted fans who watch it once a year,IAWL's strength of story is in it's saga approach to the plot. It's sort of a male soap opera,with George Bailey as the spunky yet low on the social ladder lead who struggles against the odds and the oppression of the evil overlord in the area.Mr. Potter,who would love to take him down a peg. Not implying anything slash fiction wise,folks,but in some ways,this movie goes along the lines of such female centric films such as Gone With The Wind or even Titanic:


Another film that wilted in theaters and blossomed on TV,A Christmas Story brings both the old school and new style take on the nostalgia of the season by blending some home truths with the starry eyed glow of the good old days.

Jean Shepard's humorous look back at his small town childhood(taken from two of his books) was well served here by of all directors,Bob Clark,who was best known for the teen sex romp Porky's at the time.

Turns out that Clark's bold brand of humor was a perfect match for this material that ultimately connected with audiences later rather than sooner. Young people can easily relate to Ralphie's plight for the Christmas gift of his dreams while the older generations fondly remember a time when having Chinese food as your holiday feast would be considered exotic and everyone gets to have a goodnatured laugh at the whole hullabaloo together:


This movie may seem to be nothing more than a live action Looney Tunes cartoon at times,but it did hold sway over a generation of young people who grew up with this film as their starting point for Christmas movies. Macaulay Culkin made his major film debut here,for better or worse,as Kevin,the left behind little kid with the smart mouth and appealing adaptability of many a sitcom character.

Actually,the whole plot of the film has a very sitcom feel to it. Kevin not only survives an assault on his household by (fortunately for him)inept burglars but also learns to appreciate his raucous family,make friends with the cranky old man of the neighborhood and not burn the house down. It's fitting that such a fantasy approach to child abandonment is set in the sparkly suburbs;in a more urban environment,the ending might not have been as happy.

Don't get me wrong,I do like Home Alone. It's just meant to be a fun family flick and it does deliver the goods. The inevitable sequels never truly captured the goofy slapstick joy of the original,with it's delight in Kevin's discovering that he can handle life's challenges by himself ,thanks to what his family taught him and some ingenious inventions of his own:

So,as you and your loved ones gather around the tree on Christmas Eve,no doubt one of these movies will be on your TV as a great excuse to share some quality time together. No matter how many times you've seen this one or that,it's an easy way to share the joy of the season without too much effort and a lot less messier than baking cookies or reading Christmas essays out loud to each other. A bowl of popcorn and a comfy place to sit is all that you need to make this movie night memorable and right:


Ladytink_534 said...

Can you believe that I've never seen Miracle on 34th Street or A Christmas Story? I've always meant to but somehow December flys by too fast for me to watch and read everything I want to. It's a Wonderful Life is a must-watch here. I don't think I've ever missed one year of watching it.

Ladytink_534 said...

Have you seen this yet?


lady t said...

Thanks for the GG reading challenge,Lady Tink-didn't know about it and it does sound tempting.

A Christmas Story usually gets an all day marathon on stations like TBS and TNT on Christmas Eve/Day,so it should be available where you live.

You might have to rent the original Miracle,since the recent remake with Mara Hobel gets a bit more play these days,but don't despair of catching it while channel surfing!

It's a Wonderful Life is one of my mother's favorites and we do get to watch once a year as well:)