(Some of) My Classic Favorites: Holiday Edition – Part 1

It’s that time of year when movie fans indulge in watching some of their favorite holiday films and I’m no different. A few people have asked me about my favorite Christmas movies and I thought I might share those with you as well.

As I started making my list, I realized that I have both classic and modern films on the list and decided to split the list between those two categories. Upon further reflection, I then determined that, although I may have some absolute favorites, there was no possible way that I could arrange them in any particular order. So, I’ve tried to be a bit creative in how I am choosing to unveil these two catalogs.

Some of these, you might not consider a holiday film. Some of these, you might not care for while others you might not have even heard of. I just hope that you might find something new or different in these posts to help you enjoy your holiday season.

Here we go….

Now, I’m sure that you have heard of the theory regarding six degrees of separation or even the game based on that theory, The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. I formulated my own version of that game which I like to play but my version is all about movies. I randomly select two actors/actresses from any era and figure out how many movies it takes to connect them.

For example, let’s take Katherine Hepburn and Tom Hanks. This is all solely on my movie knowledge and memory since I often play it at night when I’m having a hard time getting to sleep. It would go something like this:

  • Katherine Hepburn was in On Golden Pond with Jane Fonda
  • Jane Fonda was in Nine to Five with Dabney Coleman
  • Dabney Coleman was in You’ve Got Mail with Tom Hanks

Got the idea?

So, the 5 classic films I have listed here in (Some of) My Classic Favorites: Holiday Edition – Part I, are all connected to each other through the method shown above.

The Apartment (1960)

C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a lonely office drone for an insurance company in New York City. Four different company managers take turns commandeering Baxter’s apartment, which is located on West 67th Street on the Upper West Side, for their various extramarital liaisons. Unhappy with the situation, but unwilling to challenge them directly, he juggles their conflicting demands while hoping to catch the eye of fetching elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).

Why this choice? First of all, it has a stellar cast! In addition to Lemmon and MacLaine, the film also stars Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston and Joan Shawlee and was written & directed by the one-and-only Billy Wilder. There isn’t a better actor/director duo that Lemmon & Wilder. Although the setting for the film might not instantly make you think about the holidays, both Christmas and New Year’s Eve play an important role in the characters choices throughout the film.

My favorite scene…The exact moment when Baxter (Lemmon) discovers that the broken compact mirror he found in his apartment, after having lent it out to his boss Sheldrake (MacMurray), belongs to elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley McClaine). The film takes a dramatic turn after this realization and changes Baxter’s entire motivation.

CONNECTION: Jack Lemmon also had another unforgettable role in Bell Book and Candle starring alongside James Stewart.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

In 1950s Greenwich Village, Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novack) is the owner of a rare African art store, and secretly a witch. Bored with her routine life, she takes an interest in her new neighbor, publisher Shep Henderson (James Stewart). On Christmas Eve, Gillian discovers that Shep is engaged to her old college enemy and decides to puts her witchcraft to work. Using her cat, Pyewacket, she casts a love spell on Shep who becomes immediately enamored of her.

Why this choice? Like many of you, based on the title and cast of character portraying witches and warlocks, I first thought of this as more of a Halloween film. I could not have been more wrong! The re-teaming of James Stewart and Kim Novack from the Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo (1958), alone makes watching this film worthwhile but when you add in all of the amazing supporting cast including Jack Lemmon, Hermione Gingold, Elsa Lanchester and Ernie Kovacks it becomes a must watch. Then, don’t forget the most important character to the story, a beautiful Siamese cat named Pywacket. Filled with magic, romance and laughter, it might be a more unconventional holiday film but it is certainly isn’t short on the Christmas spirit.

My favorite scene…The first scene in The Zodiac Club when Shep (Stewart) and his fiancé, the pretentious and bad-mannered, Merle Kittridge (Janice Rule), meet Gillian (Novack) and Queenie (Lanchester) for a drink. Once Gillian lays her eyes upon her old college rival, Merle, you can see her plot coming to a boil in Gillian’s mind. The plot to win the love of Shep away from Merle by any means at her disposal, including magic.

CONNECTION: James Stewart stars in the quintessential Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life along with the most endearing and underrated Guardian Angel, Clarence, portrayed by Henry Travers.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

On Christmas Eve 1945, in Bedford Falls, New York, 38-year-old George Bailey (James Stewart) contemplates suicide. The prayers of his family and friends reach heaven, where Angel 2nd class Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers) is assigned to save George to earn his wings. After seeing flashbacks of the events of George’s life, Clarence shows George how he has touched the lives of others and how different life would be for his wife Mary (Donna Reed) and his community if he had not been born.

Why this choice? This selection is pretty obvious. This is a film that I wait all year to watch and then can’t seem to stop. If you don’t enjoy or cherish this film in some way, you might be in need of your very own Clarence visit on Christmas Eve.

My favorite scene…Consider me a softie but I absolutely love the moment when young Mary, after having ordered a chocolate soda from a young George as he works at the drug store, leans over and whispers, “Is this the ear you can’t hear on? George Bailey, I’ll love you ’til the day I die.” Every time I watch this film, I feel exactly the same way.

CONNECTION: One year before his turn as George Bailey’s Guardian Angel, Clarence, Henry Travers starred opposite Bing Crosby in another film regarded as a holiday classic.

The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)

The unconventional Father Charles “Chuck” O’Malley (Bing Crosby) is assigned to St. Mary’s parish, which includes a run-down inner-city school building on the verge of being condemned. Father O’Malley and the dedicated but stubborn Sister Superior, Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), both wish to save the school, but their different views and methods often lead to disagreements. They put their hopes in Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers), a businessman who has constructed a modern building next door to the school which they hope he will donate to them.

Why this choice? Although not an overtly holiday film, the inclusion of some traditional Christmas songs as well as the most adorable Christmas pageant you will ever see on film are all I need for this movie to be included on my list. Bing Crosby, a staple Christmas performer for so many reasons, brings his usual humor and endearment in his role as Father O’Malley alongside the beautiful and talent Ingrid Bergman. This film will touch your heart no matter the time of year but especially during the holidays.

My favorite scene…I am always a sucker for a children’s Christmas pageant or Nativity play and this has one of the very best ever captured on film. The “improvised” dialog is so genuine (and might have been) as well as the reactions from Sister Superior (Bergman) and Father O’Malley (Crosby) which, in the end, results in the most heart-warming scene of the film. So many feels!!

CONNECTION: Bing Crosby, a perineal favorite as both a singer and actor during the Christmas season, stars in White Christmas in another film regarded as a holiday classic, with Mary Wickes.

White Christmas (1954)

On Christmas Eve in Europe in 1944, at the height of World War II, former Broadway star Captain Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and aspiring performer Private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) entertain the 151st division. The men have just received word their beloved Major General Thomas G. Waverly has been relieved of his command. After the war, the two make it big, first as performers, then as producers. They receive a letter supposedly from their old Mess Sergeant, asking them to view his sisters’, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera Ellen), act. The girls convince Phil and Bob to forego New York and spend Christmas with them in Pine Tree, Vermont, where they are booked as performers. They arrive in Vermont at the empty Columbia Inn (a result of warmer weather and no snow), and are aghast to discover that General Waverly is the landlord of the hotel and having sunk his life savings into it, is in danger of bankruptcy. Phil and Bob decide to ask Betty, Judy and some of the cast of their hit show to the Columbia Inn to help stage a production to draw in the guests. Following a series of miscommunications, misunderstandings and on-and-off again romances, the soldiers surprise General Waverly, once again on Christmas Eve, when he arrives at the show, bringing him to tears.

Why this choice? A revamped version of the earlier film, Holiday Inn which starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, White Christmas is a fantastic holiday favorite and includes Bing Crosby signing out one of his classic hits, “White Christmas”. Danny Kaye adds his trademarked brand of humor throughout the film while Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen add their amazing talent and beauty to the mix as well.

My favorite scene…When Wallace (Crosby) and Davis (Kaye), take to the stage to perform their own version of the song, “Sisters”, performed earlier by Betty (Clooney) and Judy (Ellen). According to Clooney, the scene was not originally in the script but when director Michael Curtiz saw them clowning around he decided to get it on film. Crosby’s laughter at Kaye’s comedic dancing was genuine and audiences reacted so positively that it was left in the film.

CONNECTION: To be continued….

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