Mistletoe and Movies

by | December 13, 2021 | General | 1 comment

Every year at this time, we are bombarded by holiday-themed romance flicks on TV. Christmas and romance go together like cookies and hot chocolate, but some cable networks take it to the extreme. Last year, the Hallmark Channel broadcast a record 39 new movies in December alone. They began running this year’s lineup before Halloween, and Lifetime followed shortly thereafter with their seasonal soapers. I try to catch a few, but some of them threaten to push my blood sugar level into the diabetic danger zone.

To that end, I submit my own list of favorite holiday movies, the ones that are part of my yuletide tradition. Some of them focus on romance, but most are just good holiday cheer, designed to help you enjoy the season and take your mind off of shopping. How many of these have you seen?

“Holiday Inn” (1942) – The first onscreen pairing of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire introduced “White Christmas,” “Happy Holiday” and “Easter Parade,” among other holiday-themed songs by Irving Berlin. The concept was cliched even then (two show biz partners break up the act, they fight over the same girl, etc.) but it’s still fun to watch for the music, laughs, and some of the best dancing Astaire ever did in a film. A highlight is the Valentine’s Day ballad “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.”

“White Christmas” (1954) – This was originally intended as a reworking of “Holiday Inn,” again featuring Crosby and Astaire, along with some new Irving Berlin music. The plan changed after Astaire read the script and turned it down. Donald O’Connor was then chosen to be the dancing partner but he became ill, and was replaced by Danny Kaye. Kaye let it be known that he wasn’t happy about being third choice, and wouldn’t be taking a back seat to Crosby. Despite all the backstage drama, it was the most successful movie that year and has remained a beloved holiday favorite. The songs are good, the dance numbers are top-notch, and the chemistry between Crosby and Rosemary Clooney reflects their off-screen friendship.

“The Man Who Came to Dinner” (1942) – This film version of the Broadway comedy hit came along when America was in the thick of WWII, and the country needed something to lift its spirits. Monty Woolley is a snobbish radio personality who becomes injured while visiting an Ohio family during a lecture tour. He remains in their home through Christmas, imposing his eccentric lifestyle and pompous demands on his unwilling hosts. The whole thing is performed at a fast pace with dialogue and situations that are still funny. This was updated for TV in the ‘70s with Orson Welles in the title role.

“Grumpy Old Men” (1993) – The reunion of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau turned out to be a surprise hit. Two childhood friends who have been feuding for years live next door to each other, but barely get along. When carefree spirit Ann-Margret moves in across the street, the competition for her attention gets intense. This movie is a delight, with hearty laughs and on-target observations about relationships, aging, and holidays with estranged families. Burgess Meredith is a hoot as Lemmon’s father. After the ending, stick around for the outtakes over the closing credits.

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1988) – Here we have Chevy Chase doing his hapless family guy persona, Beverly D’Angelo as his long-suffering wife, and a situation where anything that can go wrong probably will. While you’re watching this, think “How many of these things have happened to me?” I can always come up with a few.

“A Christmas Story” (1982) – “I triple-dog-dare ya!” This one brings back many of my own childhood Christmas memories, especially Darren McGavin’s hilarious portrayal of The Old Man. And how many of us lusted after that one special gift we just had to have, like Ralphie with his Red Ryder BB gun? I was guilty of the “F-dash-dash-dash word” thing when I was his age, too. If you can’t catch this one at least once over the holidays, you’re probably living on Mars.

“When Harry Met Sally” (1989) – Rob Reiner’s ode to contemporary romance makes the list because the big finish takes place on New Year’s Eve. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are besties who avoid a romantic relationship because they think two friends who become emotionally involved can’t possibly make it work—or can they? Nora Ephron’s script contains her usual insightful prose, and the music by Harry Connick, Jr. sets the right mood. And let us not forget “I’ll have what she’s having.”

“The Bishop’s Wife” (1947) – This overlooked Christmas gem stars Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. A church Bishop (Niven) neglects his wife, family and congregation because of his single-minded pursuit of building a new cathedral. Along comes Grant as a suave angel named Dudley to remind him of what’s really important in life. There are laughs, charm, and some genuinely touching moments. Remade as “The Preacher’s Wife” with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington.

“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987) – This John Hughes road movie for grownups is a lot of fun. Steve Martin is an uptight businessman trying to get home to Chicago for Thanksgiving, but one delay after another pops up to aggravate him. The main distraction is John Candy as a well-meaning but overbearing salesman whom Martin ends up traveling with. Lots of laughs abound as Martin makes getting home to his family his personal crusade, in spite of the albatross around his neck. Watch for the “Those aren’t pillows!” scene about a half-hour in.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965) – Not technically a movie, but a sentimental favorite nonetheless. I’ve been watching this since it premiered in 1965 (when I first saw it in glorious black-and-white—talk about dating myself!). The simplistic animation adds to the charm, as does Vince Guaraldi’s jazzy soundtrack. This was the first attempt at animating Charles Schulz’s beloved Peanuts characters. The message about the real meaning of Christmas still resonates, and hopefully influences a new batch of kids each year.

Tim Smith

Tim Smith is an award-winning bestselling author. His books range from romantic mystery/thriller to contemporary erotic romance. He is also a freelance photographer. When he isn't pursuing those two careers he can often be found in The Florida Keys, indulging his passion for parasailing between research and seeking out the perfect Pina Colada.

1 Comment

  1. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, Tim,

    It’s amazing to me how few of these I’ve seen. Thanks for the recommendations. (The Bishop’s Wife sounds particularly good…. Cary Grant as an angel!)

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