By Anne Brodie
Turns out, What She Said host Candace Sampson and I have big feels for Christmas movies, like just about everyone else. No matter what your faith, religion, lack of, whatever, Christmas movies put timestamps on the year and holiday. They’re appealingly familiar, generally filled with joy, colour, anticipation and sparkly things, they are easy to take, teachable, entertaining and brightening. Old classic Christmas films are pure entertainment, that’s their sole goal. In the last thirty years or so Christmas films have pivoted to commercialism and product placement, star power and other non-Christmassy stuff. I do want to shout out National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, Elf, Die Hard, and the silly, safe genre films, but the richer experiences are to be had in early films. Here are my top three Christmas movies and Candace’ follow. Please let us know YOUR favourite holiday films!
Love the 1942 screwball comedy The Man Who Came to Dinner. A renowned New York critic, whose biting wit reminds me of Truman Capote, decides to spend a Christmas with a “normal family” (read “rubes”) and report on it. He invades the home of the unassuming Midwesterners The Stanleys, breaks his hip and is laid up there to recover. He exasperates everyone and everyone is scared of him, the cowardly father, the ditzy mother, the no-nonsense maid, the kids. He brings in a flock of penguins, an Egyptian sarcophagus, invites his famous Hollywood friends, to the dismay of his secretary played by Bette Davis. The zingers fly all over the place so pay attention. It’s oh so jolly. Stars Monty Wolley, Ann Sheridan, Jimmy Durante and Mary Wickes and is a perennial on TV, based on the true story of what happened to one of the screenwriters when famous wit Alexander Woollcott came to visit.
The 1952 drama The Holly and the Ivy isn’t played that much on TV because of the subject matter, it is promoted as heartwarming- it gets there but it’s radical. It concerns an English country priest cared for by his youngest daughter, awaiting the return home for the holidays of his eldest girl. Thing is, she is likely a prostitute. Her homecoming is a mixed bag of emotions and secrecy, her sister knows but the priest doesn’t. The truth reveals itself ever so subtly, in deference to 1952 audiences. The family rifts and mends and the stunning outcome is where the “heartwarming” part comes in. An incredibly brave feat for the filmmakers at the time. Stars Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson and Margaret Leighton.
And my tops is Christmas in Connecticut, made in 1945 starring Barbara Stanwyck as a Martha Stewart type celebrity home and cooking newspaper column. Her boss, the publisher doesn’t know that in reality, she doesn’t cook, doesn’t know how! He decides to stage a publicity stunt, to have her serve Christmas dinner to a sailor just home from WWII. She convinces her beloved chef friend to come to her boyfriend’s Christmassy luxury cabin in the woods and pass it all off as hers, oh and there’s a baby to “borrow”. Well, it’s the perfect setup for satire and comedy and it’s loaded with Christmassy touches. Dennis Morgan who plays the sailor is powerfully attracted to Stanwyck but they are both engaged, and she’s getting married to her that day. I can’t count the number of times I’ve watched and still love its cosy, seasonal comedy.
Candace tops her mostly modern list with the 2001 Jim Carrey version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas which is a family tradition in her house. She cites Carrey’s expressions and wildly Carrey-esque persona, the wacky Dr. Suess story and the feelings it evokes. She and her daughters can recite it line for line!
Candace says that watching Love Actually (2003) every year is a new and different experience because she relates to different parts of it depending on her stage in life. She says there’s a bittersweet nostalgia to it now because it shows us how we celebrated Christmas before the pandemic, being together, being out and oh so free. And that Mariah Carey song!
Candace loves the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol, the good one, starring Alastair Sim. He goes through a dark journey visiting his misdeeds in his personal and business life, past present and future. He sees the opportunities for love and friendship he missed. But in the end, Candace loves his glee when he realizes he can undo the damage. It’s infectious!