So here’s the situation, having just come off a binge of moviewatching owing to the annual SEFCA (Southeastern Film Critics Association) vote being today, I took a look at what the next couple weeks are going to be like and I was struck by what I saw. Perhaps I should have ducked, but I didn’t. And here’s how it works out—it is within my grasp to take off both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The stars—and the studios—have not been in the alignment necessary for this for some considerable time. So considerable a time, in fact, that I can’t remember when it was.
Here’s how this comes into being. Owing to the way the awards season films have worked out this year, I’ve already seen most of the important films that open between now and Christmas Day—Black Swan, The King’s Speech, The Fighter, True Grit and I Love You, Phillip Morris. So long before Christmas, those will be reviewed and nestled all snug in their beds (or at least in the pages of the Xpress). Now, this week we find Black Swan opening at The Carolina and the Fine Arts, The Fighter opening most places. They’re joined by How Do You Know?, Tron Legacy and (oh dear God) Yogi Bear.
Christmas week—which is oddly split up—finds True Grit, Gulliver’s Travels and Little Fockers opening on Dec. 22, while The King’s Speech opens Dec. 25 at The Carolina and the Fine Arts, and I Love You, Phillips Morris also opens on the 25th, but only at The Carolina. That means that only two titles will need reviewing (assuming no one pulls any surprises on me) and they open on Wednesday. Now, were I to forego the delights of a “Screening Room” that week—and I think that after all this time I’m due the break—I should be free to spend Christmas like a normal person. At any rate, as normal a person as I ever am or am likely to be.
In that spirit, my notion was to accompany the days with traditional—my traditional—Christmas fare from days of yore. Now, here’s what traditional Chistmas fare means to me: A Christmas Carol (1951), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Holiday Inn (1942), The Thin Man (1934) and The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). These would be joined by Whoopee! (1930), Road to Rio (1947), The Boy Friend (1971) and High Time (1960). The first three I merely associate with Christmas in a general way—perhaps because I first saw them at Christmas. The last I know I saw at Christmas once, but I think it may also have a Christmas sequence in it. Oh, as an idea it seems so perfectly simple. Yes, well, it doesn’t work out that way.
I’d already ruled The Thin Man out because we’re running it at the Asheville Film Society on Dec. 28. Then I realized that somehow or other over all these years I’d never actually obtained copies of A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street or Holiday Inn, though I may have the last named on laserdisc (which does me no good at the moment). Ah, but surely, surely reliable TCM will be showing these, right? Oh, they’re showing a version of A Christmas Carol, but it’s that fairly lousy 1938 one that MGM knocked out very haphazardly. No sign of Holiday Inn or Miracle on 34th Street. In desperation, I sought out the Fox Movie Channel. Certainly they must be running Miracle on 34th Street. After all, they own the damned thing. Well, they’re also Fox Movie Channel, so, no, of course, they’re not running it.
Yeah, sure I’ve still got a few of the titles on my list, but I’m missing three of the cornerstone films. I suppose if I was feeling frivolous I could order them—surely the road to my house won’t be impassable with snow all the way from now until Christmas—and I may well do that very thing. Oh, what the hell, I just went ahead and did it. Of course, it was never much in doubt that I’d cave in, was it? I am not the strongest-willed person on the planet when it comes to this sort of thing. So now, if Amazon is good and the man in charge of the snow remembers how to stop it, I’m set for my traditional Christmas. I might even get hot and toss in Going My Way (1944), even if only the last little bit of it actually deals with Christmas, but, oh, that last little bit is—well, anyone who doubts Leo McCarey’s greatness as a filmmaker should watch the last seven shots of that admittedly rather treacly movie.
I’m sure many other traditionalists will cluck and tut-tut over a couple of missing titles—notably It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and White Christmas (1954). Maybe if Wonderful Life was part my childhood, I’d feel differently, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t until sometime in the 1970s when it fell into the public domain—meaning anyone with a copy of it could run it for free—that it became a TV staple. It was, in fact, the first Frank Capra picture I ever saw that I disliked when I caught up with it in 1972. And that was a surprise because I was then high on Capra, thanks to his autobiography The Name Above the Title being fairly new and such books on movies being fairly rare at the time. Here’s a case where I think the original reviewers and contemporary audiences were fully justified in panning a film and staying away from it en masse. Others will sharply disagree and that’s fine, they can have the damned thing—so long as they don’t want me to watch it.
White Christmas, on the other hand, was a childhood staple, and as a child I thought it was the bee’s knees. In the intervening years, however, it’s become virtually unwatchable to me. Why? Well, I feel there are only so many times even the staunchest Irving Berlin admirer can listen to “What Can You Do with a General?” and “We’ll Follow the Old Man” without cracking. I’ve also never been keen on Vera Ellen. And then there’s the DKF—or Danny Kaye Factor. With the possible exception of Jerry Lewis, no star of that era can make me change the channel faster. A friend of mine has come to like the film—and like it better than Holiday Inn—ever since he saw it on the big screen in a theater. I’ll take his word for it, though I probably wouldn’t pass up a big screen showing of it. Why, I do not know.
So there you are. After years of coming up with various alternatives to traditional Christmas movies, I’m going to spend this year wallowing in them. Perhaps, for me, that’s the ultimate move into the land of the non-traditional. Next year, I’ll probably resume my contrarian ways.