Five Classic Holiday Films

By classic, I mean going back to the days of black & white.

Some of these you’ve no doubt heard of, others may be new to you. If you’re a classic movie fan, you’ve seen each one a dozen times or more, watching and re-watching every holiday season.

I’ve reviewed each of these on my other blog, Classic for a Reason, and I’ve conveniently linked to those reviews (click on the title).

Miracle on 34th Street
Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood
Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood bond in Miracle on 34th Street

This classic stands out as one of the best holiday films ever. The cast is clearly as charmed by the story as the audience, and it reminds us that maybe–just maybe–there really is a Santa Claus.

Macy’s employee Doris Walker, a single mother who doesn’t believe in fairy tales, is in charge of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. Much to her chagrin, the man playing Santa Claus shows up drunk. She enlists a reluctant bystander to replace him, a man who turns her whole life upside down, for he claims–with utter sincerity–to be the real Kris Kringle.

Maureen O’Hara and John Payne remained proud of their connection to this film for the rest of their lives, with Payne going so far as to write a never-published sequel. Their pride was justified.

Holiday Affair
Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh in Holiday Affair
Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh surprise us in this sweet story.

This one will catch some of you off guard. Not because of a remarkable storyline–rather, it’s pretty formula–but because of the cast. Robert Mitchum stars in (as far as I know) his only romantic comedy, with a very young Janet Leigh as the object of his affection. Despite the predictable nature of this film, it’s a pleasure to watch, in large part because of the performances of Mitchum and Leigh.

She’s a secret shopper scoping out the competition; he’s the salesperson who recognizes what she’s up to, but doesn’t report it as required. When he loses his job because of his inaction, the two meet up and start getting closer in a manner that soon disrupts the comfortable relationship she has with her would-be fiancé. They’re not the only ones with a stake in what happens — she has a son from her previous marriage to a soldier who died in combat.

As I said, a formula plot, but a charming movie. Mitchum’s brooding loner persona translates well to this light romantic comedy, and Leigh’s youth and gentle spirit is a welcome contrast.

Christmas in Connecticut
Dennis Morgan, Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut
Dennis Morgan and Barbara Stanwyck are falling for each other, but a tiny lie stands in their way.

A movie for the times it was made. War hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) longs for a home-cooked meal. In a publicity stunt, magazine publisher Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) arranges for such a meal, a holiday meal, no less, with his popular writer, Martha Stewart-like Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck). Elizabeth exemplifies the perfect wife of her time with her culinary and creative skills in the home. Problem is, she is lying with every word she writes. She not only isn’t a wife and mother, she can’t cook, sew or change a diaper.

The world was changing when this film was released. With so many men off to war, women were joining the work force in larger numbers than ever before. There are some who say Elizabeth’s career exemplifies one of the few socially acceptable options for a working woman at the time–make a good living as a housewife.

The rest of us say, phooey.  Don’t analyze it.  This is a fun movie with a creative twist on the standard comedy formula of confused identity. If it reflects the standards of the times, then consider how films of today might be viewed in fifty years, and enjoy the fun.

The Bishop’s Wife
Cary Grant, Loretta Young in The Bishop's Wife
Cary Grant helps David Niven and Loretta Young find joy together again.

Cary Grant is Dudley, the debonair angel who visits Bishop David Niven and his wife, Loretta Young. Sent to set the floundering couple’s marriage right and steer the Bishop back on course with his life’s work, Dudley starts up a romance of sorts (but not quite) between himself and the lonely woman.

How the Bishop comes to see the truth about his life, as well as the poignant struggle his wife faces with her lot, makes for a heartwarming tale. This film moves a little slower, and includes some beautiful performances by a boy’s choir, as well as a moving sermon near the end of the story. But it’s not a religious tale — it’s a love story.

The Shop Around the Corner
The Shop Around the Corner starring Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart
Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart discuss why they could never fall in love.

A perfect blend of sentiment and sophistication, director Ernst Lubitsch later called this “the best movie he ever made,” which is saying a tremendous amount given his legacy. It’s no exaggeration, either, for this is one of the finest romantic comedies ever made.

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan are sparring co-workers with one thing in common: each is corresponding with someone they believe to be their ideal mate, even though they’ve never met. It’s Stewart who realizes the truth first, and the gentle way he handles first hiding, then revealing, the truth to Sullavan is immensely satisfying.

It’s a simple story with so much more going on than what you see at first glance, and one you don’t have to wait until December to enjoy. But it is December.

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Five Classic Films with Six (or Seven) Classic Moms

Here are some memorable–although not always admirable–moms in honor of Mother’s Day this Sunday.

Most of these women are flawed, but doing their best, which is all we can ask from anyone, right? And admittedly, perfect moms often (but not always) make boring characters on screen. Still, for the most part, these women have their redeeming qualities. And a few are down-right saints.

So if you can’t be with your mom this weekend, or even if you can, check one of these movies out.

Some of these films have been reviewed on my other blog, Classic for a Reason, and I’ve conveniently linked to those posts.

Mildred Pierce

Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth
Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) does her daughter no favors, but which one gets what she deserves?

A single mom who will sacrifice anything for her ungrateful daughter, Mildred Pierce will have you screaming, “Are you kidding me?” at various points throughout the film. Each of the characters has his or her own flaws, and several of them aren’t ashamed to use them against the others. Joan Crawford won an Academy Award for her performance, and it’s one of her best roles, ever. The film was remade for HBO several years ago, and I hear good things about that version as well, although it is decidedly different.


Bachelor Mother

David Niven, Ginger Rogers starring in Bachelor Mother
David Niven gives his best advice for feeding a baby–but Mama Ginger Rogers knows best.

Ginger Rogers’ seasonal job is about to end when she discovers an abandoned baby during her lunch hour. A series of misunderstandings lands that baby in her apartment, and to keep her job, she has to “admit” the baby is hers. David Niven plays opposite her in this charming comedy about getting what you want while going after what you think you need.


Stella Dallas 

Barbara Stanwyck, Anne Shirley in Stella Dallas
Barbara Stanwyck and Anne Shirley star as a devoted mother and daughter whose ways must part for their dreams to come true.

Stella is coarse and uncouth, and lucky enough to marry a society catch while he’s on the rebound. She’s not a particularly good wife, but her dedication to her only daughter is unparalleled. Barbara Stanwyck gives a wonderful performance in this tearjerker, one that raises more questions than it answers.


The World of Henry OrientTippy Walker, Merrie Spaeth in The World of Henry Orient

Tippy Walter, Merrie Spaeth–no, they’re not playing moms, but their mothers are memorable characters in this marvelous film.

Okay, this one isn’t about moms–nor is about Henry Orient, played by Peter Sellers. It’s about two young teen girls, played by Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth in their first film roles. The girls, Val and Marian, are, to use one of their own words, fantabolous in this heartwarming story. But adding to the charm are Phyllis Thaxter, as the compassionate, generous mom of Marian, Bibi Osterwald as her live-in best friend (by some accounts, Marian has two moms), and Angela Lansbury as Val’s self-absorbed, socially-conscious mother. Tom Bosley plays Lansbury’s long-suffering husband and father of Val. This is a wonderful film you will want to watch again and again.


The Best Years of Our LivesMyrna Loy, Teresa Wright in The Best Years of Our Lives

Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright–the women who held the men, and each other, together

Myrna Loy took a step down to a supporting character role in this post-war classic, but her portrayal of the long-suffering wife of alcoholic husband Fredric March and mother of love-struck daughter Teresa Wright makes her one of the most beloved moms of classic films. This movie shines in every aspect, and Myrna Loy is one of the brightest spots.