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Christmas-based movies are a big part of the holidays and like you I have my favorites.
My following recommendations are all on DVD and shown during this month on television.
“White Christmas” – This 1954 musical starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney isn’t a very good film if you really look at it with a critical eye and I don’t watch it during the rest of the year. But it wouldn’t be Christmas without seeing it.
The plot is as thin as the meat sliced at the local grocery deli, but I don’t care. Phil Davis (Kaye) saves Bob Wallace’s (Bing Crosby) life in a combat zone in Europe during World War II. They become friends and later big Broadway producers.
While checking out a new act at a ski lodge (Clooney and Vera-Ellen), the two discover it is run by their former commanding officer, General Tom Waverly (Dean Jagger), and it’s not doing well.
How Kaye and Crosby help Jagger is completely implausible. And I will never buy that Jagger was completely in the dark about the surprise at the end. Jagger doesn’t seem too happy in the role. It might have been a fulfill the contract type of role. You can see him at his best in his Oscar-winning performance in 12 O’Clock High that came out in 1949.
The great music is from the legendary Irving Berlin and from the first time I saw it, I have forgiven its sins and just enjoyed it like a cup of egg nog and drink in its Christmas spirit.
“It’s A Wonderful Life” – Jimmy Stewart hit a home run with this 1946 film that needed to age first before it was appreciated. George Bailey is down on his luck and tries to commit suicide, but a guardian angel saves him and shows him what it would be like if he hadn’t been born. It’s not good and neither are the people whose lives he touched. In the end, Bailey wants his life back and realizes that yes, it’s a wonderful life. If I understand correctly, the movie used to be in the public domain and that’s why we could practically see it 24/7. That is no longer the case and now NBC shows it only once or twice every December. I haven’t seen it in a while. I sort of OD on it when it was on so many times. But I will see this uplifting and not even close to being sappy movie again.
“A Christmas Carol” – There is more than one electronic version of Dickens’ classic. I prefer the 1938 movie with Reginald Owen as Scrooge. I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps it was the first version I saw. But I really think it’s because Owen seems the most human in the role. He’s an actual person that had to change his ways.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” – Released in 1989, it’s probably the most twisted take on Christmas or at least one of them and I loved every minute of it. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) is trying to give his family an old-fashioned family Christmas and it blows up in his face with hysterical results. When I saw it the first time, I lost it when the SWAT team raided the Griswold home to the sounds of “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
• I have known Ted Slowik as a friend and colleague for about 15 years. He’s been a fixture on the local music scene and has his first CD out entitled “Comfort Zone.” I got a copy this week and I highly recommend it. Ted is an amazing storyteller with his music. I especially liked “Hinsdale” and “Springfield.” Visit TedSlowikMusic.com for details on how to buy the CD or download it.
• This movie is on Turner Classic Movies every so often and I turned the TV on this afternoon to find it and I consider it the best movie about auto racing ever. It’s called “Grand Prix” and was released in 1966. The main stars are James Garner and Eva Marie Saint. It depicts life on the Grand Prix racing circuit and was directed by John Frankenheimer, who directed such films as “The Birdman of Alcatraz”, “The Manchurian Candidate” and “The French Connection II.” If you are looking for characters with substance, there are none. But the racing portions of the movie and the scenes that deal directly with racing are outstanding. Frankenheimer puts you in the car. He puts you in pit row. You can practically feel the grease on yours hands and your foot on the gas pedal. The movie received well-deserved Oscars for best sound, best sounds effects and best film editing. Watching it on DVD gives you a better viewing experience.