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Master James Is Home For Christmas!
Some of the best moments in hundreds of movies took place at Christmastime. And the author may have seen every one of them.
December 1983 | Volume 35, Issue 1
You recall all those lonely soldiers dreaming of Christmas. But in what war movie? All of them?
It was Capra who was responsible for It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart, the small-town boy facing disgrace and prison, turns on his family, rushes off into the night on Christmas Eve, and after wishing that he had never been born, jumps off a bridge. He is saved by his guardian angel, who shows him what would have happened if his wish had come true and he had never been born. Returning to the present to face the music, he comes home to find that the whole town of Capra types has come to his aid.
That is surely the definitive Christmas movie. But how many memorable moments there are: Myrna Loy in her Christmas mink, calmly watching William Powell taking potshots at the Christmas-tree ornaments (The Thin Man); first-graders putting on their own Nativity play (The Bells of St. Mary’s); Gary Grant and Irene Dunne proudly watching their little girl in her Christmas play (Penny Serenade); Preston Sturges spoofing Christmas conventions as Betty Hutton gives birth to holiday quintuplets (The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek); Monty Woolley, an out-of-work actor in a Santa Claus job, snarling at a woman startled by his tremendous alcoholic burp, “What did you expect, Madam—chimes?” (Life Begins at 8:30); and Woolley, in The Man Who Came to Dinner, interrupting his devastation of a suburban household for a cozy Christmas radio chat; Parley Granger and Jeanne Grain in the “Gift of the Magi” episode of O. Henry’s Full House; Hepburn in Little Women, sharing Christmas dinner with a poor family; Lillian Gish and the children in the momentary respite from pursuit by the mad Robert Mitchum (The Night of the Hunter); Cary Grant as an elegant angel who makes everything right for David Niven and Loretta Young in The Bishop’s Wife; Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum in Holiday Affair; the love story of two lonely department store clerks (Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart) during the holiday sales in Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner; Vivien Leigh giving Leslie Howard a homemade sash in Gone With the Wind.
And they don’t stop. Christmas was important in the plots of so many more: Three Comrades, Four Daughters, A Tale of Two Cities, The Goose Hangs High and its remake, This Reckless Age, Things to Come, Bachelor Mother, Beyond Tomorrow, Mother Wore Tights, In the Good Old Summertime, Junior Miss, The Victors, The Cheaters, Giant, Heidi, The Lemon Drop Kid, Caged, Stalag 17, This Happy Breed, The Christmas Tree, Imitation of Life, Peyton Place, The Three Caballeros, and many more…
So perhaps it doesn’t much matter if today’s moviemakers tend to regard Christmas as Walpurgisnacht: we have plenty of alternatives to fall back on.