Our Favorite Theatrical Christmas Films By Dr. Fred & Carolyn Eichelman

These films range from the thirties to recent years. These are personal preferences and we try to explain why each means something to us. We highly recommend them all for good story telling during the Christmas season. If films from TV could have been added then definiely I would have had to incliude A Charlie Brown Christmas, Christmas for a Dollar and a number of Hallmark features.

1. White Christmas

Considered as number one on many Christmas lists this is certainly one of the most uplifting. Singers Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) join sister act Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen) to perform a Christmas show in rural Vermont. There, they run into Gen. Waverly (Dean Jagger), the boys’ commander in World War II, who, they learn, is having financial difficulties; his quaint country inn is failing. So the foursome plans a yuletide miracle. It is a fun-filled musical and the climactic song is of course White Christmas.

2. Christmas in Connecticut

This is one of those films we discovered years after it came out when it was run on television. It is cleverly funny. While recovering in a hospital, war hero Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan) grows familiar with the “Diary of a Housewife” a column written by Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck). Jeff’s nurse arranges with Elizabeth’s publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet), for Jeff to spend the holiday at Elizabeth’s bucolic Connecticut farm with her husband and child. But the column is a sham, so Yardley hastens to arrange a publicity ploy by setting up single, non domestic Elizabeth on a country farm. Barbara Stanwyck showa a real talent for humor.

3. It’s A Wonderful Life

For many this is the number one Christmas film and it is one that we have seen run off season because of the joy it brings. George Bailey (James Stewart) wishes he had never been born, and an angel (Henry Travers) is sent to earth to make George’s wish come true. George begins to realize how many lives he has changed and impacted, and how they would be different if he was never there. This theme has been borrowed in a number of TV films, however no one has done it better. We have had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Karolyn Grimes who played Zuzu Bailey. She is the one held by George at the end who comments that when you hear a bell an angel gets its wings.

4. Miracle on 34th Street

In this Christmas classic, an old man going by the name of Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) fills in for an intoxicated Santa in Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade. Kringle proves to be such a hit that he is soon appearing regularly at the chain’s main store in midtown Manhattan. When Kringle surprises customers and employees alike by claiming that he really is Santa Claus, it leads to a court case to determine his mental health and, more importantly, his authenticity. It is a film we are especially fond of as the star playing the attorney for Kris is John Payne noted for musicals, mysteries and Westerns. John is from Salem, Virginia and his home place is a stones throw from where this is being written.

5. Holiday Inn

Many have claimed that White Christmas is a remake of Holiday Inn however the plot is very different. It is an Irving Berlin musical. Jim (Bing Crosby) and Lila are members of a performing trio who plan to quit and run a country hotel. When Lila says she has fallen in love with the dancer in the act, Ted (Fred Astaire), Jim leaves town with a broken heart. After turning the inn into a holidays-only live entertainment venue, Jim winds up booking – and falling for – Linda (Marjorie Reynolds). The theme is featuring songs for each holiday. It is the film in which the song White Christmas was introduced and became a well loved classic.

6. The Bishop’s Wife

This is a very different kind of Christmas story as it centers around a bishop who is dejected by his efforts to raise money to build a cathedral. Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) beseeches heaven for guidance, and is visited immediately by Dudley (Cary Grant), who is an angel. Henry is skeptical, then annoyed when Dudley ingratiates himself into the household as his assistant – and worse, wins the attentions of Henry’s long-suffering and kindly wife (Loretta Young). A lot of moral decision making is done here just in time for Christmas.

7. A Christmas Story

At the very least this is a favorite of TV networks as it is shown countless times around Christmas. Fred is partial to this beloved holiday movie as he can relate to so many things. The story follows the wintry exploits of Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), who spends most of his time dodging a bully (Zack Ward) and dreaming of his ideal Christmas gift, a “Red Ryder air rifle.” Yes, Fred wanted one of those also and finally received one. Never shot his eye out. Ralphie is frequently at odds with his cranky dad (Darren McGavin) but comforted by his doting mother (Melinda Dillon). The story is supposed to take place in Indiana, but much of it was filmed in the place of Fred’s birth, Cleveland, Ohio. So there is much that is familiar.

8. The Santa Clause

There have been three in this series, however the first one is for us the best. Divorced dad Scott (Tim Allen) has custody of his son (Eric Lloyd) on Christmas Eve. After he accidentally kills a man in a Santa suit, father and son are magically transported to the North Pole, where an elf explains that Scott must take Santa’s place before the next Christmas arrives. Scott thinks he’s dreaming, but over the next several months he gains weight and grows an inexplicably white beard. A cute story in which Tim Allen is definitely Tim Allen.

9. Jingle All The Way

What appeals to us the most is the Christmas music played for background to various scenes. Workaholic Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) wants to make things up to his son, Jamie (Jake Lloyd), and wife, Liz (Rita Wilson). He promises to get Jamie the hottest toy of the season, Turbo-Man – even though it’s Christmas Eve and the toy is practically sold out. As Langston hunts down the elusive gift, he runs into mailman Myron (Sinbad), another father on the same quest. There is a real twist ending and a moral lesson to be learned as long as you can overlook Arnold knocking out a reindeer. He does make up for it.

10. Scrooge the Musical

There have been countless films going back to silents based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, some excellent and some poor. In addition to the original story that is so well known the theme has been used countless times, especially by Hallmark. We were first drawn to the musical version of Scrooge when our New Century Church in Roanoke, VA performed the musical version for nearly two decades. That drew us to the film version of the musical. The film came out in 1970 starring Albert Finney as Ebenezer Scrooge. It has won numerous awards for its music with a British air while staying faithful in retelling the original story. Among our favorite songs were I Love Life and Thank You Very Much.

We realize we have not covered films which dealt directly with the birth of Jesus Christ which is what Christmas is all about. We have dealt here mainly with films considered as representing how this special day has influenced the lives of others.

Dr. Fred Eichelman

Dr. Fred Eichelman is a retired teacher and a director for Point North Outreach, a Christian media organization. He recently had a book published, Faith, Family, Film-A Teacher's Trek. Fred is a former local Republican Committee chairman and has attended hundreds of conventions from political to science fiction. He sees the two as compatible. Fred also tells us he values very much a title we gave him since he could not be a PolitiChick. PolitiDude.

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