Friday, December 07, 2012

It's Not Really Christmas Until I See...

... fill in the blank.

What we're talking about here are movies or TV shows; the visual presentation of some aspect or another of Christmas that you have to see every year in order to get into that "just right" mood for the holidays.

I have my favorites. I'll tell you about them. Then I hope you'll tell me about yours, either in the comments or over at your place.


It's A Wonderful Life

With this one, I don't suppose I'll be turning anybody on to something they don't already know about. This one is deeply engrained in the American psyche. And you either love it or hate it.

(If you love it, you probably find it hard to believe that anyone would hate it. And, personally, I have a little bit of me that says anybody who hates this movie is probably a few twists short of having his screws tight. I do, however, know of at least one family member of mine who is far from fond of it, and he's a right guy in most other ways, so... well, anyway, it does tend to engender strong feelings.)

What some people don't know is that the movie was a flop when it was first released. It was so much of one, as a matter of fact, that the original copyright holders let the copyright expire rather than renewing it. And that's the main reason it became so popular. After the copyright had expired, every TV station with time to fill  (and no storehouse of money with which to buy something else to fill it) dragged it out of the mothballs and put it on the air. As it turned out, it had aged well. People enjoyed it. The showings increased as program directors saw that it pulled good ratings.

Finally, after many years of saturation showings which built an enormous base of rabid fans, the original copyright holders filed to regain their copyright. They won, then sold the rights to NBC. Ever since, it has aired ONCE a year (which somehow doesn't seem in the spirit of the film, but if it was my story, and I wasn't getting a penny for it, maybe I'd feel differently.)

(No, I wouldn't.)

It's a warm slice of Americana, but with almost universal appeal. How can you not root for George Bailey? He's a moral, loving, intelligent guy who gets into hot water through no fault of his own. His main nemesis in the film is a rotter (who, by the way, against all motion picture codes of that day, gets away with theft. Next time you watch the movie, note that he never does return the cash.) There is good comic relief here and there, the other characters are mostly loveable types (except for those who aren't intended to be), and I always, without fail, cry during the final scene (and I'm not in any way ashamed to admit it, either.)

If you've somehow missed seeing it? I'd recommend that you buy it or rent it, so you can enjoy it without commercial interruptions. The film is somewhat long, but the story will carry you along without you noticing because you aren't annoyed every ten minutes or so by ads for the sorts of commercial concerns Potter (the rotter) might have had a hand in.

A Christmas Story

While Wonderful Life is my favorite drama, here we have what I consider to be the funniest Christmas-themed movie ever made. And, as with Wonderful Life, it was pretty much a bomb when first released.

I would have supposed this one had been seen on TV by everybody, too, but I've come across comments on various blogs that would indicate some folks still haven't had the pleasure. By all means, if you haven't seen it, see it. If you don't have at least one huge belly laugh, I'll personally come to your house and do you the favor of killing you (because your life couldn't possibly be worth living without a sense of humor.)

This is Jean Shepherd's masterpiece (Trivia: He has a cameo, as the man with the beard who is waiting in line to see Santa.)

"You'll shoot your eye out, kid."

Enough said.

The Great Rupert

Now here's one it's quite possible none of you have seen.

First off, it stars Jimmy Durante. That in itself makes it worth seeing. In addition, there is one of my favorite character actors - Jimmy Conlin - in a small role.

And if the above isn't enough, there's a dancing squirrel.

Very cute story about down-on-his-luck Durante and his family becoming recipients of the squirrel's misdirected largesse around the holidays.

I know. That's not telling you much that makes sense. But it will if you see it. So see it.


A Charlie Brown Christmas

The only television Christmas show, outside of the obviously religious (shows about The Nativity, The Three Kings, etc.), that specifically mentions Jesus Christ by name.

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

For that alone, it has a spot in my heart. Aside from that, my nephew Michael can replicate, in real life, every single one of the dances in the scene depicted below. The first time I saw him do it, I thought I was going to die from a busted gut. I laughed so hard, I couldn't breathe.

Even if you don't have a nephew who can imitate Shermy, the show is a gem. If you've somehow managed to live on this planet without having watched it yet, I... well, heck, I don't even have a punch line. Just watch it. And listen to it, for that matter. The musical score is phenomenal. I highly recommend buying the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack album.

(One other irrational thought: Every year, when it gets to the scene where Linus gives his soliloquy, I expect the network to bleep out the mention of Christ. So far, it remains intact. I suppose it has to, really, being integral to the change of attitude Charlie Brown has, but since it IS the only overt mention of Christ in any of the traditional CHRISTMAS specials on TV, I think I'm entitled to a small bit of paranoia.)

(Actually, I found out, while reading the Wikipedia article on the show, that my paranoia isn't all that irrational. Before it aired the first time, in 1965, network executives wanted to excise that scene. Charles Schulz and Bill Melendez took a stand and insisted it remain. And, so far, it has. But I still get scared every year when it comes time for Linus to recite from The Gospel of Luke. Now that both men are dead, you never know what idiotic idea from a network "brain" might wreak havoc upon perfection.)

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer

The entire show is about being a misfit but finding the courage to go on. I can't think of another show that teaches such solid lessons to children concerning the pain that bullying causes or how miserable it feels to be unloved because of one major fault (or what someone else sees as a fault, but may actually be a strength.)

Rudolph and an elf named Hermie are the main protagonists, but the scene for which I always found myself on the verge of tears when I was a child was the Island Of Misfit Toys. And it appears quite a few children felt the same. Kids across the country were saddened by a lack of denouement when the first showing of the special, in 1964, didn't show Santa keeping his promise to Rudolph to rescue the toys and give them to children. Parents lit up the CBS switchboard. From the second showing, until the present day, a new scene was added at the end showing Santa landing on the island and picking up the toys for Christmas Eve delivery.


I could have added a couple more in each category, and gone on (as is my wont), but I think this is a good place to cut out and let YOU have your say. What are your favorite Christmas/Holiday movies or TV shows? What makes them so special to you? What do you have to see before you really feel like it's the holiday season?

Soon, with your better stuff in the comments.


Tabor said...

My favorite is the Charlie Brown Christmas..always. I loved Jimmy Durante! I must find that movie somewhere.

Suldog said...

Tabor - "The Great Rupert" is in the public domain now, so is available on any number of holiday DVDs containing multiple old shows and movies. I found this one, for instance, at Amazon...

Sueann said...

Christmas Vacation with Chevy this movie

messymimi said...

While i do love many of these shows, and a few others, to me it's not really Christmas until i see one particular decoration out. Maybe i'll get a pic of it on my blog (if all my technology cooperates).

Suldog said...

SueAnn - That IS a very funny movie.

Mimi - I thought about talking of decorations, too, but decided to limit myself. I do have one favorite, though. It's a small silver bell, had it since I was a little kid, and it is the one ornament that MUST be on every Christmas tree.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

I listen for certain Christmas songs.
I don't hear to many because I limit my listening pretty much to NPR and the few CDs we have.
It won't really be Christmas until I hear Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer by Elmo and Patsy.

Pearl said...

Would you be surprised to find out I've never seen It's a Wonderful Life? :-)


OldAFSarge said...

Your list is excellent Suldog. I need to get a hold of "The Great Rupert". After all it's a squirrel wearing what appears to be a kilt. How can a good Scotsman such as I pass THAT up? The only show I would add is "A Christmas Carol", whichever version floats your boat, my favorite is the one with George C. Scott. YMMV

The Christmas decoration. Yes, there are one or two particular decorations/ornaments at my home and at my Mom's which I have to see. Then it's Christmas. (Thanks for reminding me Mimi!)

One last thing. The Island of Misfit Toys ALWAYS gets me to tear up. Heck, most of Rudolph gets the waterworks going, mostly because of the many fond Christmas memories I have. But The Island, that scene just induces intense melancholy and sadness. The "new" scene (added I think when I was 12), did and does make me feel better. I tell ya, for a retired military guy, I am such an old softie!

Suldog said...

Skip - You're jumping the gun. NEXT WEEK I'll be doing the "It's Not Really Christmas Until I HEAR..." post (and if you really, truly like that song, you may not like my post. Sorry in advance.)

Pearl - Really? You have such a good sense of humor, and that usually goes along with a decent sense of humanity, so I bet you'd well up with tears. It's good for an emotional cleanse!

Sarge - I think I mentioned at your place that the George C. Scott "Christmas Carol" was my favorite, also. The only reason I didn't mention it (and other movies and TV) was so I could leave room for you guys to have a say!

Craig said...

I've never seen The Great Rupert, or A Christmas Story. So, thanks for the recommendations!

I've always loved that Potter's little pre-fab subdivision was called 'Potter's Field'; I wonder how many people get the biblical reference anymore. . .

I was so incredibly proud of myself when I could finally get my left hand and right hand to work together for the cool syncopation to play the Charlie Brown Theme Song on the piano. . .

And is that 'Rudolph' the one with Yukon Cornelius and the Bumble?

lime said...

i agree with a christmas story and charlie brown christmas. i'd also have to add the original grinch who stole christmas. i was thoroughly angered when ted turner bought it and removed it from network tv. it was very grinchlike and materialistic of him. i torment my entire family with it because i also worry about poor max and with each act of abuse he suffers i wince, "poor max!"

Anonymous said...

lol I was just talking about A Christmas Story with my husband. Haven't seen it for a few years and thought it's about time I do again. So that one is on my list.
I have a card holder my Mom made me. I don't think of Christmas until I see it hanging up.

Suldog said...

Craig - It is, indeed, that Rudolph. By the way, the main reason I became a bass player was because I never could get my two hands to do stuff like that on the piano.

Lime - Yeah, I love The Grinch. As a voice-over guy, the entirely uncredited singing by Thurl Ravenscroft (also the voice of Tony The Tiger, by the way) who dubbed those parts for Boris Karloff (who apparently couldn't carry a tune) delights me.

Joan - No matter how many times I've seen that movie, it always cracks me up.

Michelle H. said...

There's also the other Burl Ives narrated Christmas movie: Santa Clause is Coming To Town. Combine that one with Rudolph, and every kid in America should see be happy to see both.

I admit, I'm not a fan of "It's A Wonderful Life." That title always threw me from watching it, although I have and it's a good movie.

They already showed Charlie Brown and Rudolph. And there's another Rudolph movie that combines Frosty the Snowman where they have Christmas in July or something.

Suldog said...

Michelle - Yeah, I've seen the other Rudolph thing. It always impressed me as trying to cash in on the success of the original; not as much heart, you know? If somebody else likes it, I'm happy, but not my cup of tea.

Unknown said...

Charlie Brown Christmas is a must! I think I've watched it every year since it aired. I even unplug my phone so there's no interruptions. Christmas Story is sure to become a classic as in It's a Wonderful Life.

We have this Elf we've had in our family for about 50 years. An original Elf on a Shelf thing I guess, we never had Elf on Shelves back in my day, but this creepy pointing Elf comes out ever year. He's 8-12 inches tall with one arm extended as if pointing at us. and we think we're happy to see him. I guess as kids we were happy to see him because it meant Christmas was right around the corner, at the same time that menacing stare from atop the mantle kept us in check. To this day, counsins who are now 60 still mention that creepy guy.

The Broad said...

I love It's a Wonderful Life and also Miracle on 34th Street (the original with John Payne and Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood). What really makes it feel like Christmas for me is when the tree is up and decorated -- the first night when just before I go to bed only the tree lights are on -- that's when I really feel the magic. We put our tree up later than most in the U.S. or U.K. -- on the 21st. There are certain foods that also bring it on -- especially my Mom's Wheat Chex party mix -- which I can't make here :-( . I just found The Great Rupert on Amazon UK, but not The Christmas Story, which is too bad.

Lowandslow said...

Christmas without "Wonderful Life" just wouldn't feel right. And i'm surprised...happily...that the network hasn't yet taken Christ out of Charlie Brown's Christmas. I just take it one year at a time.


Buck said...

What do you have to see before you really feel like it's the holiday season?

My kids, the grandbabies, and the greatgrandbabies. There have been years when Christmas didn't actually happen for me.

I'm not a movie sorta person, so shoot me. ;-)

Buck said...

...for a retired military guy, I am such an old softie!

You are NOT alone.

Suldog said...

Bear - I just recently heard about that elf on the shelf thing. I thought it was cute when I first had it told to me, but then my mind started working in all sorts of perverted ways. I kept thinking that if I was a kid again, I'd have to take it and put it on my parent's bureau or something and hope they didn't notice it until they were in the middle of what parents do to make babies. I expect it might break the mood :-)

Broad - Might not make a difference, but it's "A" Christmas Story, as opposed to "The". Anyway, I'm ashamed to say I forgot all about "Miracle On 34th Street". Wonderful movie.

Lowandslow - Good to hear I'm not the only one who thinks about such things!

Buck - Nah, I won't shoot YOU. I know you have a sense of humor. And you're probably armed, too, so I'm not going to take any chances on you getting the drop on me first.

Suldog said...

Personally, as a non-military guy, I've found that some of the most sentimental folks around are the military guys. But it's the good sort of sentiment, for real things and good values, not the syrupy guilt trip sort that some folks think is sentiment but is just soft brains.

Kat said...

Huh. I don't know anyone that doesn't love It's A Wonderful Life. That seems odd.

I have so many favorites it is ridiculous.
Little Women is WAY up there on the list of must see holiday movies.
The Grinch
A Christmas Story
Love Actually
Christmas Vacation
The Family Stone
White Christmas

Oh boy, the list could go on and on.

Kat said...

Oh yes! And Miracle of 34th Street. The original, of course. That may be my favorite of ALL TIME. I fell in love with Natalie Woods at a young age. ;)

OldAFSarge said...

That is so you Suldog, always looking out for your readers!

OldAFSarge said...

Thurl Ravenscroft. What a totally awesome name!

Babs said...

I haven't heard of the the Rupert movie, maybe I saw it but didn't know. I don't care for the the kid with the bee bee gun movie, Miracle on 34th st. I like it but have watched it to death, I give it a break every now and then. I love White Christmas, Charlie Brown and you're right on all counts of what you said. Have you seen Home for the Holidays. Typical nutty family and I love's set more for Thanksgiving than Christmas but still. I love Elf. Stupidly funny the whole family can watch it. Bob Newhart is in it-- love him.
I could go on too. Thanks for the memories.
I noticed I'm missing my copy of The Santa Clause...oh and don't forget The Bishops Wife, the original one with Cary Grant, David Niven, and Loretta ? I was going to say Loretta Lynn, that would have changed things up a bit.. put a little country in it lol.
Merry Christmas :)

Jackie said...

Sleepless in Seattle
...the Christmas Eve scene at the top of the Empire State building is a sappy (happy) and wonderful moment to me. :)))
Merry Christmas, my friend.

Reena said...

Fave all time is Love Actually.

Ruby said...

Lovely post Suldog! I love It's a wonderful life and cry every time I watch it too. Thanks for your visit and kind comment. I'm fine but somehow haven't drawn anything or thought of posting either. I hope soon rectify that. Cheers, Ruby

Marilyn said...

The sweet Charlie Brown Christmas story still gets me every year. It gets my adult kids,too. We watched it together over and over when they were small so that alone makes it a special memory. My late husband used to get all verklempt over the tree scene. When he was a kid, his family tradition was to get a scraggly tree on Christmas Eve and spend the evening decorating it. He thought of it as an innocent family tradition but later realized his house-painter Dad, who was often out of work, waited until then because that's when the prices dropped precipitously.

As you said, the music score is wonderful and the dancing scene always makes me smile!

Suldog said...

Kat - Long list! "White Christmas" is a good one. MY WIFE and I like to watch that again and again. I've never seen "Love Actually". Since others have also mentioned it as a favorite, I suppose I should. Maybe by writing this I will have found another great one to add to my list?

Babs - Yeah, "Elf" is fun. Was it Loretta Young in "The Bishop's Wife"?

Jackie - MY WIFE likes "Sleepless In Seattle". Me, too, but maybe just a tad less. I should also have mentioned "The Shop Around The Corner", another favorite of MY WIFE.

Missing Moments - As I said to Kat, I've never seen that movie. I guess I should.

Ruby - So glad to hear you're OK. Thanks for stopping by and giving me the good news.

Marilyn - So many of the good feelings we get from watching some of these shows are inextricably tied in to our warm family memories of watching them in our youth, aren't they? I sometimes wonder if anything that happens in adulthood which we find pleasurable doesn't have some sort of connection to childhood.

CiCi said...

You really are an interesting person, such variety in your favorites. For me, Christmas is music more than movies.

Suldog said...

CiCi - I'll be doing a music post next week sometime.

Jackie said...

Jim...tell your Wife that I watched "Shop Around the Corner" last night...right after I finished watching "Sleepless in Seattle." They were on TV back to back!
I was amazed to see that the owner (Mr. Matuschek) also played the Great and Powerful Oz back in the day!!
Jimmy Stewart looked ever so young...or else I'm getting ever so old! :))
Give your wife a hug for me.

Jeni said...

I've only seen three of the movies you mentioned -It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer! It would be a toss-up which is my favorite of those films so just toss the dice or spin a bottle and let me know which shows up! As far as music goes though, The day -or night, as it often turns out to be, when I get on my annual cookie baking kick (if I do that this year still remains to be seen) but when I do that, I dig out all the Christmas CDs I can find and start playing them while I work away in the kitchen! But my most favorite music at Christmas is an old Swedish Carol that was my Grandpa's favorite and our choir always sings it at the onset of our midnight Christmas Eve service. The name of the song is "Lyssna, Lyssna," which means Listen, Listen -and the next line then is "Hear the Angels' song." I have it memorized and even remember a lot of the harmony parts in it too without seeing the sheet music because it's been engrained in my head now for well over 50 years! Another of my favorites in the secular line is "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and I think now every year that's where I am now -HOME -year round, of course, but especially for Christmas in my dreams as I remember other times, people I loved and bring those things back to life for myself -if only in my dreams.

Suldog said...

Jackie - Consider the message given!

Jeni - As I've said in the comments here, I'll be doing one on music next week, and I hope you'll give me more of your thoughts on the subject.

Chris said...

You pretty much nailed it again, Jim. "It's a Wonderful Life" is a Christmas Eve tradition, and my favorite bit of trivia is the bit part played by Alfalfa. And the Vince Guaraldi album is a mainstay on my iPod also . . . "Christmastime is Here" is in my top two of Christmas songs (the other being "The Christmas Song").

3GKnight said...

Good post! The Charlie Brown theme song popped right into my head when I saw the dance picture. Thanks! (sarcasm) ;) I still haven't been successful in getting my kids interested in any of these, but maybe it's about time to set them in a chair and tape their eyelids open and cram The Christmas Story into their brain. You know, get into the Christmas spirit and all that...

Maggie May said...

I haven't scene any of these things. Am I leading a very sheltered life? Or maybe we have different things....... Course I know Charlie Brown! You are getting into the spirit of Christmas, obviously!
Maggie x

Nuts in May

Ami said...

Haven't seen the Jimmy Durante movie... will look for it.

A Christmas Story is my personal favorite. Jean Sheperd's book is hysterically funny, much more there than in the movie.

And the part that always catches my attention is that the bully is SCUT Farkus, not 'Scott'.
Had I not read the book, I would not know that.

You can buy a static window cling that fills up your whole window with 'the lamp' too.

Hilary said...

The only one I've not seen is The Great Rupert. I'll have to keep an eye out for it. Of the ones you mentioned A Christmas Story is must see. As a child, I always looked forward to an airing of The Littlest Angel. It seems to me it was shown in school along with A Christmas Carol.

Anonymous said...

Except for the Great Rupert, which I don't think I've ever seen, these are all my favorites, too. I'll have to see The Great Rupert now, too, since we obviously share the same taste in Christmas movies!