There is no shortage of great Christmas films that were made in the classic era, which is why cable networks air them nearly round the clock during the holiday season. Whether dealing with ghosts visiting a miserly Scrooge, an angel trying to show what life would be like without a small town banker, or a nine-year old boy who will risk shooting his eye out for a BB gun, there are plenty of great Christmas movies for everyone. Here are seven the entire family can enjoy.
Thanks to the exceptional performance from Barbara Stanwyck as a magazine housekeeping expert who has no kitchen skills, Christmas in Connecticut is elevated beyond the average screwball comedy to become something of a minor classic. While not in the same ballpark as It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol, Peter Godfrey’s film still has its charms. Christmas in Connecticut focuses on a war hero (Dennis Morgan) becomes the unwitting victim of a publicity stunt that wins him dinner at Stanwyck’s home despite her not living in Connecticut or being much of a housekeeping expert in real life. More farce than Christmas movie, the film has nonetheless become a must-see during the holidays.
Before Frank Capra’s heartwarming fantasy became a Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life was a box office dud that became a holiday hit decades after release thanks to reruns on television. The film starred James Stewart as down-and-out George Bailey, an small town banker in serious financial trouble who attempts to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. Enter bumbling angel Clarence Oddbody (Henry Travers), who looks to get his wings while trying to prove to George that suicide is no way out. But when George declares that he wishes he were never born, Clarence shows what his town and all the people he loved would have been like without him, leading George to realize just how many lives he has touched. It took almost four decades and the film falling into the public domain for It’s a Wonderful Life to become the one movie everyone must watch during the holidays, making one wonder just what our lives would have been like without it.
An all-time classic that remains relevant even in our post-modern world, Miracle on 34th Street starred Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, a jolly old soul who takes over for a drunken department store Santa and begins transforming the lives of everyone around him. He has a particular effect on a distraught young girl (Natalie Wood), who has lost the Christmas spirit ever since her parents’ divorce. But complications ensue when the department store’s in-house psychologist -- when malls actually had such a thing – arranges for Kringle to be institutionalized in Bellvue and deemed clinically insane. It’s only during his sanity hearing that Kringle reveals that he is indeed the real Santa Claus. An faith-affirming movie that should warm the coldest of hearts, Miracle on 34th Street has been remade stage and screen several times, but it’s this 1947 version that has long remained one of the best Christmas films ever made.
A delightful film containing charming performances from Cary Grant and Loretta Young, The Bishop’s Wife has been a Christmas favorite for generations. Grant starred as a guardian angel named Dudley who ingratiates himself into the home of a bishop (David Niven) seeking divine guidance in raising money for a new cathedral. The bishop has no clue Dudley has come down to Earth from above and even thinks he intends to steal away his wife (Young). But Dudley turns out to be both an affable friend and a force for change, showing the bishop how to deal with others while reminding his wife of the love for her husband. While not in steady rotation on the small screen during the holiday season, The Bishop’s Wife is worth tracking down.
There have been many adaptations on stage and screen of Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic, but none surpass the mastery of Brian Desmond Hurst’s version, particularly in light of Alistair Sim’s iconic performance as Ebeneezer Scrooge. Sim delivered a richly textured turn as the tight-fisted Scrooge, who learns the error of his selfish ways following visits from the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Despite the well-known plot, this version of A Christmas Carol remains surprisingly fresh which is in large part due to Sim’s ability to make audiences both revile and feel sympathy towards his Scrooge. Flawless from start to finish, the 1951 adaptation of Dickens’ novel remains the definitive version.
Directed by Michael Curtiz and featuring the songs of Irving Berlin, White Christmas was a huge box office hit that has since fallen off the holiday radar. Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney, the heartwarming musical had something of a thin plot that involved the four stars trying to put on a show in order to save an elderly general (Dean Jagger) and his rustic inn from financial despair. While Berlin’s classic title song remains in heavy rotation on the radio, the film has lost ground on television in more recent years thanks to movies like A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life receiving more play. Still, it’s a heartwarming classic that’s worth watching every once in a while.
A modern classic that surpasses It’s a Wonderful Life and every other Christmas movie in terms of how many times it’s aired on television, A Christmas Story is both hilarious and heartwarming in its tale of Ralphie Parker who wants nothing more than a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. But whether he’s asking his harried mother (Melinda Dillon), a bored department store Santa (Jeff Gillen) or his less-than-impressed teacher (Tedde Moore), Ralphie hears the same refrain: “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Meanwhile, Ralphie contends with the pains of growing up, including a pair of neighborhood bullies, his gruff father (Darren McGavin) who becomes obsessed with a not-too-sexy lamp, and a distant aunt whose idea of a good gift is a pink bunny suit. Directed by Bob Clark of Porky’s fame, A Christmas Story has the right amount of contemporary humor and 1940s nostalgia that makes it appealing to audiences of any age.