One Christmas topic I've never written about is Christmas movies--mostly because I just don't know very much about them. Here, however, are a few films I've rented this week and hope to watch between Christmas and New Year's. I may have made a mistake or two in the descriptions, but I thought FIRST THINGS readers might like some suggestions for their own holiday viewing:
A Christmas Carol (1951). Universally proclaimed the best version of Charles Dickens' much-filmed classic. After asking for more porridge, Oliver Twist is locked in a closet, where three ghosts visit him on Christmas Eve: Mr. Micawber, Miss Havisham, and Bob Crachit. Meanwhile, his friend Paul Dombey joins a gang of pickpockets led by a thiefmaster named Pickwick and his prostitute friend Little Nell. "It was the brat of times, it was the wurst of times," the hungry Oliver concludes. "God bless us, everyone." Rating: PG (Some violence, no nudity, no strong language except from the audience.) Three Stars.
It's A Wonderful Life (1946). Who ever made movies like Frank Capri? If the famous director had never born, what a different town Hollywood would be! It's A Wonderful Life is the essential Christmas film. Be sure to get the original, starring Jimmy Cagney, rather the 1987 remake with Al Pacino. "Top of the world, Ma!" the angel Clarence proclaims. Rating: PG-13 (Much violence, including the famous "grapefruit scene," some strong language.) Four Stars.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947). An attractive woman named Phyllis Dietrichson (played by Barbara Stanwyck) meets a smooth-talking salesman named Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) while Christmas shopping at Macy's. Drawn into a web of adultery and shoplifting, they plan to murder Phyllis' husband for his gift certificates at the famous department store. But then things start to go wrong. Be sure to watch for Edward G. Robinson as Santa Claus. Rating: R (violence, strong language.) Four Stars.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). The Dr. Seuss original, and a classic. The Whos down in Whoville throw a tantrum and toss out their rightful leaders by electing a small lizard (actually a red-spotted eastern newt) named the Grinch (voice by Boris Karloff). Not surprisingly, he tries to steal Christmas from all the poor Whos by shutting down the government in the middle of winter. But watch the heroine, Suzie Boo Hoo, who teaches him the essential rightness of socialist economics. A real tug at the heartstrings. Rating: NC-17 (violence, strong language, nudity.) Two Stars.