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Favorite Christmas movies. December 12, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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At Silence Dogood’s suggestion, our friend Ben has spent the past few days Googling “best Christmas movies” lists of all types and stripes to make sure there aren’t gaping holes in our collection. This has turned up some really bizarre results (one reviewer listed “Die Hard” as his favorite Christmas movie). It’s also resulted in more predictable choices, from “A Christmas Story” to “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Naturally, some version of Charles Dickens’s enduring classic, A Christmas Carol, typically turns up on every “best of” list. Typically, the definitive 1951 version starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge is cited, though our friend Ben was delighted to find that the Albert Finney musical version, “Scrooge,” made several lists. George C. Scott’s interpretation was also on several lists.

Other classics, like “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Holiday Inn,” “White Christmas,” and “The Bishop’s Wife” made most lists. (Silence and I have two versions of “Miracle,” but have ordered both Bing Crosby vehicles, “Holiday Inn” and “White Christmas,” since we can’t tell them apart offhand and need to see them again, as well as “The Bishop’s Wife,” which we can’t recall ever seeing.)

Then there are the Christmas downers. Every list gives the obligatory nod to “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a movie that’s so relentlessly depressing we can’t bear to watch it. There’s nothing wonderful about watching a man ground down for the length of a film in order to see a two-minute happy ending. It reminds us of Will Smith’s “The Pursuit of Happyness.” No, thank you. At least O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi,” which is at least as depressing and distressing, didn’t make the lists; perhaps there’s not yet been a movie adaptation. Thank God for small blessings.

All this looking at lists gave me and Silence lots to talk about, especially after we’d looked at our Christmas movie collection and compared it to the lists. Finally, Silence asked what my favorite Christmas movie was. “Is it that Blackadder Christmas Carol?!” she asked suspiciously, referring to one of my favorites, a British comedic version in which the kindest man in London, Ebenezer Blackadder, is tranformed on Christmas Eve through the visit of a ghost into Scrooge.

I do love that, but no. And fond as I am of the original version of “Miracle on 34th Street,” my all-time favorite Christmas movie would have to be a Scrooge. We have many versions, from the original 1934 interpretation through Patrick Stewart’s. Like so many, I remain impressed with Alastair Sim’s defining performance. And I love the Albert Finney musical. But, I must confess, if I could only have one Christmas movie, it would be “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.”

Our friend Ben grew up with Mr. Magoo. As both a fan of slapstick and a very nearsighted child, I loved Magoo and his antics. In my childhood home, reading the entire Christmas Carol aloud on Christmas Eve was a tradition (we all took turns). To combine this beloved tradition with the humor of Magoo was irresistible to the youthful Ben, and the movie, also a musical, had surprisingly good songs.

I still watch the Magoo version of “A Christmas Carol” every year, and I still laugh and sing along. Okay, it’s hardly the best Christmas film ever made, but it certainly spreads a big dollop of Christmas cheer every year here at this house. What’s your favorite Christmas movie?

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The forgotten Christmas movie. December 12, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are, as always, in the midst of our annual Scroogefest, in which we play every version of Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” that we know of. But last night, we had supper at our friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders’ apartment, and discovered a very different kind of Christmas film.

After the meal, as Richard’s girlfriend Bridget served wine, cheese, and fruit in the living room, Richard asked if we had ever seen one of his favorite Christmas films, “Prancer.”

“Kidding, right, Richard?” OFB tactfully replied. “What’s that, a twisted remake of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?”

“It’s not a cartoon, is it?” Silence, who hates cartoons, was quick to ask.

“It’s not sicky-sweet, with lots of kids shrieking in ear-splitting falsetto, is it?” OFB helpfully added. “After all, I just ate.”

“No, it’s not a cartoon, no, it’s not ‘sicky-sweet’, and no, I’m not kidding,” said Richard, who for some reason remains friends with us. He suggested that we watch it and judge for ourselves. 

Well, we’d just been presented with a luscious-looking assortment of fruit and cheese, not to mention large glasses of wine. Silence and I figured that, if the film was really atrocious, we could just keep discreetly requesting more wine throughout the showing to dull the pain.

And guess what? Richard was right, the film (ca. 1989) was delightful. It stars Sam Elliott, one of our favorites, as a crusty single parent whose eight-year-old daughter bonds with a wounded reindeer. The story follows the little girl, played by Rebecca Harrell, as she plots, wheedles, works, and schemes to secretly nurse the reindeer back to health by Christmas Eve.

Now, you’d have every reason from that plot summary to think that this could be just another nauseatingly sweet greeting card of a film. But it isn’t. The little girl is feisty and resourceful, and refreshingly homely. Her beautiful best friend is actually delightful, recognizing her friend’s leadership qualities and eager to please her rather than pursuing her own popularity based on looks and status. The heroine’s older brother engages in a totally realistic antagonistic relationship with her. And the supporting cast is excellent, especially Sam Elliott as the beleaguered father trying with scant success to support his shattered family. Even the reindeer is endeering, uh, engaging.

Our friend Ben and Silence now agree with Richard that “Prancer” should hold a place as a Christmas classic, especially for families, with its excellent plot and performances (especially by the heroine) and its message that a kind heart and a determination to do what’s right together can overcome all obstacles.

Admittedly, we found the film’s ending disturbing, quite a far remove from Richard’s enthusiastic description and the DVD back blurb’s “The magical final scene is sure to make your heart soar!” Well, it made our hearts plummet. I guess it all depends on whether you believe, as the film intended you to, that [spoiler alert!] the rescued reindeer flew off to join the other reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh just in time to deliver the Christmas presents, or, as Silence and I did, plunged off a cliff to its certain death on the rocks far below. But hopefully nobody but us would draw such a conclusion from a feel-good film!

Anyway, we enthusiastically recommend “Prancer” for your Christmas viewing. It will almost certainly become a beloved tradition in your house. We’ve already ordered our copy. It deserves to take its place with such classics as Alastair Sims’ version of  “A Christmas Carol” and the original “Miracle on 34th Street.”