When it comes to celluloid celebrations of reindeer,holly and mistletoe,old is definitely gold. There is nothing to beat the warmth and spirit of Frank Capras Its A Wonderful Life (1946),which came out just after World War II. A town called Bedford Falls is the snow-covered place where the action happens,and in the tradition of the best films,its shot through with magic.
The floppy eared James Stewart perfectly fills the role of Everyman George Bailey,who,when the film opens,is at the lowest point in his life. Oh I wish I wasnt ever born,he groans,and is about to plunge off a bridge into the dark waters below. God in Heaven takes one look at this foolish mortal about to throw away his most precious gift,and sends him an angel.
It is a film unafraid of bleakness. When George is stumbling through the snow,you get unparalleled despair. It makes what follows stand out in relief: George comes to his senses,the villain is bested,and everyone is merry. And,oh yes,Clarence the angel gets his wings.
What stands out is the absence of melodrama,and a wonderful cast. Even the bit parts,including a couple of cops who can sing,and a cabbie who knows everyone in town,are sketched just so.
White Christmas,another classic Yuletide movie,takes the musical route. Twinkle-toed hoofers Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye take up the twin challenges of getting on the right side of a pair of dancing sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen),and saving the bacon of a much-loved general whom they used to serve under. In a musical,everybody dances,so it gets tough to tell one character from another. Irving Berlins White Christmas has no such problems: each part is distinct,and the foursome waltz their way past lovers skirmishes and gruff old soldiers. They end up in an empty motel,which (coincidence!) is owned by their former boss,but no one ever checks in,so hes slowly and nobly going broke. The ex-soldiers plot to get guests (with the help of other good old army boys) and the grand finale is truly grand: a lovely song-and-dance number which ends in snow,snow,snow.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas is a much more recent exploration of the spirit of Christmas. Based on the book by Dr Seuss (the first time his work has been translated into live animation),it has Jim Carrey in the role of the nasty,green-haired,ugly Grinch who absolutely hates Christmas. He lives in a cave,overlooking the town of Whoville,where the snub-nosed Whos are getting ready to celebrate: the trees are sparkly and the goodies are wrapped. But theres something else in the air heavy commercialism that has taken over the loving and giving,the caring and sharing.
As the unprepossessing Grinch,Jim Carrey brings into play every mobile muscle in his face and body. A cute little girl plays his personal angel,and helps him overcome his old resentment issues. The Grinch sheds his anger,goes ho-ho-ho,and joins in the Whobilation.
Five-year-olds will enjoy this flick. People older than that will do well to stick to the older,jollier ones.