Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holiday Films for the Vintage Enthusiast

I have a pet peeve. It's when, on December 26, people decide Christmas is over and start taking down the decorations and packing up the holiday cheer until next year. To me, the season is twelve days long--and we're only at the very beginning! To celebrate, some of my favorite old holiday movies that you may not have seen 500 times already.

If you like White Christmas, you'll love Holiday Inn. If you can ignore the blatantly racist blackface number. Some film channels cut it, for obvious reasons, but here's the thing--it's actually somewhat integral to the plot to know that the number is in blackface, and I've contended that since Bing's black housekeeper sings in the number, the producers probably thought they were being progressive. Muscle through it, call it a history lesson, and be glad that we've learned a few things since 1942.

In all seriousness, it's a charming film about a hairbrained business scheme--an inn and nightclub that's only open on holidays. Between Bing's chocolate-smooth singing voice and Fred Astaire cutting a rug (and providing one of the best-choreographed inebriated scenes in film), it's pure Golden Age entertainment from the first frame to the last. Watch for the straight-up WWII propaganda midfilm.

You know what's fun at Christmas? Nuns, that's what. The Bells of Saint Mary's was released as a Christmas film. I don't know if Come to the Stable was or not, but the live nativity scene opener would indicate so. Regardless. Nuns having fun. Enjoy.

OK, here's one I thought I'd never see. Yes, Santa and Satan, together at last.

It's a truly horrible low-budget production from late 1950s Mexico, entitled Santa Claus. Why does it make my list? Because it's hilarious. The gist--Santa's magical child labor-fueled sweatshop (not kidding) gears up for Christmas, but Satan has other plans--sending his best minion Pitch to Earth to turn children away from the jolly old elf and to a life of paltry crime. Christmas Eve is a battle from the moment Santa winds up the mechanical reindeer (still not kidding) to the moment he drugs some parents in a restaurant with his "Cocktail of Remembrance" (also not kidding, and sounds like something that's illegal in 67 countries) to the climax where has to call on (no, still not kidding) his buddy Merlin for help. For extra hilarity, cue up the Mystery Science Theater 3000 take on the film.

I was wondering while watching the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol if Dickens' holiday tale might just be the most oft-recreated story in film and on stage. Anyone know?

I recommend the 1938 version for two reasons. First, it's short. At an hour and a half, it gets the whole story out without spinning its wheels (much like Dickens' original novella). Second, it spend more time on Fred, who's a larger character in the book than most films portray, and in doing so, creates a much more cohesive storyline with an element of emotional family drama that's usually missing.

Oh, and a third reason. This particular Tiny Tim is less obnoxious than most. Seriously, Tiny Tim is usually so saccharine-sentimental that I'm rooting for him to bite it and leave that empty stool in the corner.

Costume aficionados--no, I also can't tell when this version is supposed to be taking place. Vaguely 1820s, perhaps?

So leave the holly out a few more days, and curl up with a new old movie!


Connie Keller said...

One Christmas movie I like that a lot of people haven't seen is Christmas in Connecticut. You might like it.

Butterfly said...

Where can you get the "Santa Clause" film? It sounds like a LOT of fun.

Rowenna said...

I'll watch for that one, Connie!

Butterfly, I know you can find both the original and the MST3K on Netflix, even streaming :)