Classic Hollywood Christmas Movies You’ve Never Seen

You’re tired of White Christmas. You’re sick of Christmas in Connecticut. Holiday Inn is boring you, it’s no longer a Wonderful Life, and Miracle of 34th Street is no longer miraculous. May we recommend some fresh films?

First of all, if you’ve never seen Remember the Night, order it on Amazon right this instant. The last film Preston Sturges wrote before he began directing, it stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray as a shoplifter and an assistant D.A. prosecuting her. MacMurray asks for a stay in her trial to avoid her being acquitted in the spirit of Christmas, and somehow she ends up accompanying him home to Indiana for the holidays (long story). It’s very funny, very moving, and deserving of a far wider audience than the silly, generic Holiday Affair, starring Janet Leigh and Robert Mitchum and inevitably trotted out each December. The line I quote the most? Stanwyck saying, “One of these days one of you boys is going to start one of these scenes differently. And one of us girls is going to drop dead from surprise.”

Christmas Holiday is a dirty little noir starring Gene Kelly (!) and Deanna Durbin (!!!), based on a W. Somerset Maugham novel. She’s a prostitute driven to self-destruction by her love for murder Kelly, languishing in prison. Or is her? Set in a steamy New Orleans and introducing the song “Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year,” the whole thing doesn’t quite work, but it’s a riveting exercise in style over substance. This one is difficult to come by, but bootlegs are available on eBay.

And finally, forget Woman of the Year. Who needs that final scene, in which Katharine Hepburn’s titular character proves her incompetence at being a woman by failing to make Spencer Tracy breakfast. (Oh! That smug look on Tracy’s face as he watches her!) Instead, check out the duo’s Desk Set. Hepburn plays the head of research at a TV network, and Tracy is an efficiency expert. They battle, of course, because the entire department is convinced they’ll all be replaced by a computer nicknamed Miss Emmy. (Hepburn is so articulate and whip smart that when I first saw the film I instantly told my mother I wanted to have her job, which left my mother to explain that that particular battle had already been fought and that the research department had lost.) The whole thing culminates in a boozy holiday party that involves Hepburn singing “Night and Day.”

As for my own Christmas viewing, well, I’ll be watching the greatest Christmas film ever made. Batman Returns. “Mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it. A kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it.”

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