Actively looking for different Christmas movies/specials from my usual favorites was so much fun, I may try an all-new list next year (Family Stone, Love, Actually, Four Christmases for starters). But for now—
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947) was one old favorite I did catch, as Edmund Gwenn reluctantly steps in as Macy’s new Father Christmas (“I’m not in the habit of substituting for spurious Santas.”), whereupon his conviction he’s the real thing upturns the lives of struggling lawyer John Payne, rationalist store employee Maureen O’Hara, fatherless daughter Natalie Wood and even gets Macy’s and Gimbel’s department stores to team up (that must have been every bit as unbelievable back when their rivalry was legend). Always a charmer (avoid the two remakes like the plague) “Your honor, the state of New York concedes the existence of Santa Claus!”
BAH, HUMDUCK!: A Loonie Tunes Christmas (2006) on the other hand, doesn’t work at all—the story of ruthless corporate tycoon Daffy forcing his employees to work on Christmas Day spends way too much time showing his meanness (and not coincidentally, cameos of pretty much every Warner Brothers character on his staff) leaving for a very rushed redemption arc (and as Atomic Anxiety put it, what does it say that the Tasmanian devil is the least violent ghost?). Bugs has next to nothing to do but stand around kibitzing. A flop. “You look like you’ve been hit with a kitchen.”
MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (1979) is, of course, the heartwarming story of a baby born in a manger and visited by three wise men (“Sorry. Wrong manger.”) that then goes on to satirize religion (“Forsake the sandal—follow the gourd!”), the radical left (“We are the People’s Front for Judea, not the People’s Judean Front.”) and Rome before coming to a very black-humored end. One that works even if you don’t get the underlying references (and I suspect some will slide right by people). “My wife’s name is Incontinenta Buttocks.”
A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) was once again our Christmas-morning viewing, as a young boy dreams of getting a Red Ryder BB gun (“With a compass in the stock and the thing that tells time.”) for Christmas despite everyone insisting he’ll shoot his eye out. During the course of the film, Darren McGavin gets a major award, little Ralphie says fudge (“Only I didn’t say ‘fudge.’”), a tongue sticks to a lamp post and Little Orphan Annie tells Ralphie to eat his ovaltine. Delightfuly “You used up all the glue in the house—on purpose!”
While I haven’t seen the new Doctor Who season, I did catch DOCTOR WHO: The Snowmen Christmas Day to find the Doctor retreating into Victorian times to brood, only to have an adventurous governess, a Silurian detective (“You’re the one Mr. Doyle has based his short stories on.”) and a Sontaran take on a mysterious army of thinking snowmen plotting to conquer the world (guided by Ian McKellan’s voice no less). The monsters weren’t the most convincing (fanged snowmen are still just snowmen) but this worked for me, and turns out to have an unexpected tie to a past foe (I won’t say more for fear of spoilers). If nothing else, the Victorian-era characters are awesome. “I’m a reptile woman from the dawn of time and this is my wife.”
Rereading A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens for the first time in years, I was struck by Scrooge in the opening coming off more as an elemental force than a human being, one who drives off beggars and carollers by his mere presence, which makes his thawing, if anything, seem surprisingly fast (reflected, of course, in the Sim CAROL). Certainly gives me fresh appreciation for Dickens as a writer, describing Scrooge at one point as “Hard and sharp as flint from which no steel had ever struck out a generous fire.” and for why the tale has endured so many years.