The power of the holidays to thaw chilly hearts and help the lost find their way is an enduring theme in classic Christmas movies -- along with terrific love stories, silly comedies and entertaining musicals. Here are nine of the most memorable Christmas films.
Frank Capra's magical tale of a man who's allowed to see what his family, his friends and his community would have been like if he had never been born. A flop when it came out, repeated television airings built its following over the years and it became one of the most-loved holiday films. With Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore as a despicable villain, it's a little dark, but always moving, even when you’ve seen it dozens of times.
The charming tale of a department-store Santa who believes he really is Kris Kringle - and he just may be. Jolly Edmund Gwenn helps thaw the practical hearts of a young Natalie Wood and her single mom, Maureen O'Hara, in a tale that kicks off with the Macy's Day parade, just like the actual holiday season. And the courtroom battle to establish Kris' sanity and the real identity of Santa Claus is a treat.
The song "White Christmas" was a long-established holiday hit by the time they built this fluffy, sweet-natured holiday movie around it. A light romantic comedy, the film is an excuse to show off Bing Crosby's pipes, Danny Kaye's comic chops, Rosemary Clooney's lovely voice and Vera-Ellen's dancing, along with a series of great sets and costumes. The rest of the tunes are hummable, and the whole enterprise is sweet and peppy as a candy cane.
The diverting tale of Cary Grant come to earth as an angel, to help a beleaguered bishop who's trying to build a cathedral and has lost his true vision. With lovely Loretta Young as the bishop's wife and David Niven as her harried husband, Grant makes for an urbane, well-dressed heavenly visitor who finds himself tempted by earthly joys, and the bishop's wife. Don't miss the hilarious figure skating scene where the skating doubles look nothing like the actors.
Dickens' classic moral fable has been adapted an animated for stage, screen, radio and television, and the story of the miserable miser has been played by everyone from Mr. Magoo to the Jetsons. This black-and-white British version where Alastair Sim's Scrooge is visited by the Christmas Eve ghosts is generally considered among the best.
This is my personal favorite of all the film versions. With George C. Scott, the movie was lushly produced for TV, faithful to the book, utterly sumptuous, and sometimes chilling in its depictions of the ghosts. Scott is masterful in the role, with a sympathetic David Warner as Bob Cratchit and Susannah York as his fetching missus. It's an evocation of the glories and the miseries of Victorian England that spurred Dickens to write the tale.
Hilarious and sweet, this picture of Christmas and family life in 1950s small-town America is hard to beat. The infamous "leg lamp," the kid who sticks his tongue to a frozen lamppost, the pink bunny pajamas, the terrifying trip to a department store Santa and Ralphie's vivid imagination will make anybody but a true Grinch remember the fun of the holidays. Jean Shepherd's storytelling at its best, with a terrific cast.
Barbara Stanwyck as a Martha-Stewart type who writes a column about her idyllic life with her husband and baby in perfect Connecticut, always with a lip-smacking recipe. Trouble is, there's no husband, no baby, and she can't cook. Of course, circumstance requires her to mount an elaborate hoax, and romantic comedy ensues. A frothy bit of harmless holiday fun.
A somewhat cheesy Disney rendering that nods only faintly to the Herbert operetta, Babes in Toyland is nevertheless a fond childhood memory for millions. Annette Funicello (!) plays the storybook heroine whose plans for a wedding are thwarted by villain Ray Bolger. The film is soaked in color, and the march of the wooden soldiers is always fun. A happy trip down memory lane for many, it probably won't engage you if you didn't love the movie (or at least Funicello) when you were a kid.