Christmas Without George Bailey


Bob Hope stumbles into Damon Runyon territory as a horse tipster who ends up owing money to a gangster, enlists an army of bell-ringing Santas to raise the cash, and then decides to go straight. The classic song “Silver Bells” makes its debut. (Ed Wood aficionados should keep an eye out for his star Tor Johnson playing a Swedish wrestler.)

9 The Desk Set (1957).

Spencer Tracy is the efficiency expert sent to shape up the office that Katharine Hepburn manages; the third point of the triangle is Gig Young. Like The Apartment , it’s a time capsule of 1950s corporate culture, including a golden-age office Christmas party.

10 The Apartment (1960).

A dry martini amid eggnogs. Jack Lemmon, a young executive on the rise, lends his apartment to his married superiors for their affairs in exchange for favorable job reports. Directed and co-written by Billy Wilder, it ultimately shucks its astringent cynicism for a happy but not treacly ending. Fred MacMurray is the bad guy, Shirley MacLaine is herself, and the office Christmas party is strenuously pre-political correctness.

11 Fitzwilly (1967).

Dick Van Dyke plays the head butler in the Park Avenue home of a sweet old widow who doesn’t know she’s broke; he and his staff support her and their own high living through white-collar crime, climaxing in the robbery of Gimbels on Christmas Eve. They all turn honest at the end, but before that you get to see a great department store being knocked over at the height of the holidays.

12 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).

George Lazenby, an underrated James Bond, is joined by Telly Savalas as the evil Blofeld and Diana Rigg as Bond’s “love” interest. Agent 007's lifestyle may not incarnate the Christmas spirit for everyone, but the second half of the story is set amid snow-covered Swiss Alps full of mountain villages decorated with such earnest picturesqueness that if it fails to kindle some holiday sentiment, you belong in Bedford Falls working for Mr. Potter.