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Almost everyone has a favorite Christmas song, movie or story. While I enjoy the songs and stories of the Christmas season I want to take a nostalgic look at some of my all-time favorite movies to watch at this time of the year. At the Taylor house it has always been a rule that we don’t listen to Christmas songs or watch Christmas movies until Thanksgiving evening. Spending an evening with George Bailey, or Wallace & Davis and the Haynes Sisters, Kris Kringle, Father O’Malley, Elizabeth Lane and Alexander Yardley and many other cinematic characters is like an annual holiday visit with old friends. Never mind that the actors portraying most of these old friends have long departed this earthly stage. The characters they created live on in the DVD world of the 21st Century and continue to bring a warm glow to any frosty December evening.
Most of my favorite movies with story lines loosely centered around the Christmas holiday were produced in the 1940s. Among these are three classic films starring the late Bing Crosby. The 1942 Paramount picture “Holiday Inn” features Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale as song and dance performers in a storyline centered around a collection of songs by renowned tunesmith Irving Berlin. This film introduced Berlin’s classic “White Christmas” which was Crosby’s biggest-selling record and has been recorded by more artists than one can count.
Bing won his only Oscar for his portrayal of Father O’Malley in the 1944 film “Going My Way” with Barry Fitzgerald. Crosby sang “Silent Night” in this one.
The sequel, “Bells of St. Mary’s,” with Crosby reprising the role of Father O’Malley in 1945, featured Ingrid Bergman and Henry Travers with a live nativity portrayed by children.
Another Christmas comedy from 1945 was the Barbara Stanwyck vehicle “Christmas in Connecticut.” The film also features Sydney Greenstreet (“The Maltese Falcon”), Dennis Morgan and the lovable character actor S.Z.Sakall.
Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life” from 1946 features a storyline that has been mimicked many times in other films and made-for-TV movies down through the years. No one plays it better than James Stewart as George Bailey and the darling Donna Reed as his supportive wife. Henry Travers played a likeable bumbling angel and everyone loves to hate Lionel Barrymore in the role of “Old Mr. Potter,” the Scrooge/Grinch of Bedford Falls.
An obscure film seldom seen on television these days is the Warner Brothers comedy “Never Say Goodbye” from 1946. This comedy features the athletic star of such swashbluckling classics as “Robin Hood,” “Captain Blood” and “The Sea Hawk”—no less than Errol Flynn—as a womanizing magazine pin-up girl artist a la Alberto Vargas who in cahoots with his daughter (Patti Brady) tries to win back his high-maintenance wife (Eleanor Parker). S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall provides a number of laughs in this one. Also featured is a young Forrest Tucker (“F Troop”).
“The Bishop’s Wife” from 1947 features an endearing cast including Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young (in the title role) and Monty Woolley. Grant plays an angel who, in answer to a Bishop’s (Niven) prayer, is sent to help determine the future of a cathedral construction project at Christmas time. Woolley is memorable in the role of a professor.
Also from 1947, “Miracle on 34th Street” is a film that takes the characters from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade through the Christmas season. Natalie Wood, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and William Frawley (“I Love Lucy,” “My Three Sons”) in roles supporting Edmund Gwynn who plays Kris Kringle. Payne plays an attorney who wins a court case proving that Kringle is Santa Claus.
Bob Hope stars in the 1951 Paramount film “The Lemon Drop Kid.” Hope in the title role persuades every crook in New York to become sidewalk Santas who raise money to save his neck from gangsters. This screwball comedy also features Lloyd Nolan, William Frawley and Marilyn Maxwell. Hope and Maxwell introduced the holiday favorite “Silver Bells” in this one.
Crosby teamed with Irving Berlin to recycle several Berlin tunes in the holiday favorite “White Christmas” released in 1954. This time the lovable comic Danny Kaye joins with Crosby as two song and dance men who team up in the postwar entertainment world. Kentucky native Rosemary Clooney, dancing star Vera Ellen and Dean Jagger are among the supporting cast.
Jean Shepherd’s holiday comedy “A Christmas Story” from 1983 has become a classic and never ceases to take me back to my childhood and growing up in the mid-20th century. The film stars Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, Melinda Dillon as Mom and Darren McGavin as “The Old Man.”
My most recent holiday favorite is “The Nativity Story,” a 2006 film from New Line Cinema with Keisha Castle-Hughes in the role of Mary and Oscar Isaac cast as Joseph. This brings the second chapter of St. Luke’s gospel to life and gives a Biblically-faithful portrayal of the first Christmas when God sent His Son, the greatest gift to humankind in the infant form of Jesus Christ.
I hope your Christmas is a holiday of rich blessings and joy!