I know it isn’t cool, but I absolutely love Christmas movies. Even better, it is the one time of year when the rest of the world seems to join me in enjoying cheesy old films from the 50s (the rest of the time, my Doris Day addiction looks seriously passé). I have done EXTENSIVE research in this matter, and bring you my all time favourite vintage Christmas films (modern films to follow in another post shortly). There are still some classics I’ve never seen and can’t comment on (either version of Miracle on 34th Street being the most glaring omission), but also quite a few hidden gems that always seem to be missing from these kinds of lists. Happy watching!
Holiday Inn (1942)
Holiday Inn starts and ends with Christmas, but the rest of the movie is centered around just what the title suggests – a hotel run by ex-singer Bing Crosby which caters to people only on major holidays, allowing him to spend the rest of his time taking it easy. Things get complicated when the gorgeous Marjorie Reynolds shows up to help him, and Fred Astaire comes along to try and steal her away. Shenanigans ensue! Every dress Marjorie Reynolds wears in this movie is totally stunning, and it also features Bing singing ‘White Christmas’ for the first time on film.
White Christmas (1954)
When Bing first sang White Christmas in 1942, it became something of an anthem for American troops stationed overseas. The movie White Christmas plays on this, with the film opening with Bing singing the song to his fellow soldiers. Cut to the post-war years, and he is back in entertainment, this time with Danny Kaye. A chance meeting with Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, and next thing they are all in Vermont helping to save the failing hotel owned by their former major. It is cheesy and silly and some of the songs are repeated rather too many times, but it is still thoroughly enjoyable and will have you singing along in no time.
All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Why doesn’t this ever appear on Christmas movie lists? Or any other classic movie lists for that matter? I watched it for the first time this year and absolutely loved it. Jane Wyman plays a respectable doctor’s widow who falls in love with working class nurseryman Rock Hudson. To the disapproval of her children and social circle, she has to decide whether to follow her head or her heart. Lots of snow and Christmas scenes, and the story is just plain sweet.
An Affair to Remember (1957)
Another wonderful film that isn’t regarded as a Christmas movie – yet it ends at Christmas with some beautiful scenes. I have seen this film so often, but still cry every time. In fact, I am such a wuss I well up even when I hear the song. Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant meet on a cruise ship and fall in love, despite both being engaged to other people. They agree to take care of their affairs and meet again in one year… and I won’t say anything more. But really, if you haven’t seen it, you should watch it. Cary Grant’s best romantic pairing in any of his films.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1947)
Can you believe I hadn’t seen this until last week? I know this is just about on permanent repeat in the US at Christmas, but I don’t ever recall seeing it on Australian TV when I was growing up. You all know the deal – James Stewart (one of my all-time favourites) is feeling ‘discouraged’, and we get to see how his decisions have shaped his life and what would have happened to the people around him if he’d never existed. I was worried it would be corny but it is just beautiful and heart-warming. And, you know, JIMMY STEWART. ‘Nuff said.
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Lady and the Tramp begins and ends at Christmas, and is way up there with best cartoons ever made in my book. If Peggy Lee as a shaggy mutt singing ‘He’s a Tramp’ isn’t enough for you (and why not?), you also have evil Siamese cats, romance, drama, action, and the famous ‘meatball scene’ (famously parodied in Hot Shots! Part Deux).
Meet me in St Louis (1944)
It has Judy Garland and snow and Christmas trees. Difficult not to like. However, I do want to shake some sense into Judy when she sings a soulful ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ to her deeply upset young sister. It is one of the saddest renditions of a Christmas song you will ever hear, why would you sing this to an already sad person?!
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
Loretta Young is the wife, David Niven is the bishop, and Cary Grant is the angel. The bishop is doing his best to get a new cathedral built, while his wife, family and friends become less and less of a priority to him. Cary Grant, as the most dashing angel you will ever see (just check out his debonair way of wearing a scarf) comes down to whip things into shape. In the same vein as A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life, this is a sweet little film of redemption. And don’t miss Loretta Young’s rather marvellous hat.
Holiday Affair (1949)
A young Janet Leigh (and looking very different from her role in Psycho) plays opposite Robert Mitchum . I usually don’t much like Mitchum, but these two have fantastic chemistry and I almost fell in love with him myself. The two meet in a department store, then keep coming into contact with each other by accident. She is already involved with someone else and has a young son, but despite this is drawn to him. An unexpected gift further confuses things, and over the course of the few days around Christmas they both have to decide where this is going. Very, very sweet.
Until Michael Caine came along and harassed his long-suffering clerk Kermit, Alastair Sim held the title for best Ebenezer Scrooge. And really, the film is all about Sim being a brilliantly mean, bad-toothed old sod, which is probably why this was called Scrooge rather than A Christmas Carol. His transition into a jolly old soul is a delight to watch, and (Muppets aside), this is the best version of the classic tale you will see.