By Paula Hendrickson
At this time of year, Lifetime, Hallmark and ABC Family are littered with hokey made-for-TV holiday movies. They’re not the only channels where you can find syrupy concoctions about pleasant people stuck in sad, stressful or dire straits during the holiday season. The characters and situations may vary ever so slightly, but one trait these TV movies always provide is a happy ending.
It’s good that new Christmas TV movies are made every year since that keeps a lot of people employed. I just wish they’d produce movies with more innovative storylines and fewer one-dimensional characters. Personally, I’d rather watch a few hours worth of TBS’s back-to-back Christmas Eve and Christmas Day repeats of A Christmas Story. Why repeat a lot of mediocre movies from Thanksgiving through Christmas when you can show one great movie over and over for 24 hours?
Along with A Christmas Story and umpteen different takes on A Christmas Carol, here are few seasonal classics you might want to check out this year:
• Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) — Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to a distraught Margaret O’Brien is the highlight of the entire film. Airs Christmas Eve at 5 p.m. on TCM.
• National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) — Enjoy the holidays the Griswold way — from power-draining Christmas lights and a squirrel in the tree, to, well … cousin Eddie. Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. on ABC Family.
• Elf (2003) — I normally find Will Ferrell’s man-boy shtick incredibly annoying, but it works here, especially in scenes between Buddy and his elfin dad, played by Bob Newhart, and in Buddy’s sweet romance with Jovie (Zooey Deschanel). The movie repeats multiple times on USA between now and Christmas.
• The Bishop’s Wife (1947) — Cary Grant plays Dudley, one of the most charming angels you’d ever want to meet in this holiday classic. Dudley’s sent to help the Bishop (David Niven), who fears his often overlooked wife (Loretta Young) might fall for Dudley. Airs Dec. 16 at 7 p.m. on TCM, and again at 1:30 a.m. on Christmas.
• Miracle on 34th Street (1947) — Although Santa goes to court in this Oscar-winning Christmas classic, it’s young Natalie Wood’s performance as a little girl who’s been raised not to believe in Santa that steals the show. It airs back-to-back Dec. 15 on AMC (7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.), and again at 7 p.m. On Christmas Eve.
• It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — This is perhaps the classic Christmas tale (next to A Christmas Carol), because almost everyone can relate to something about George Bailey’s put-upon family man. He feels insignificant until angel-in-training Clarence shows him what the world would be like if he’d never existed. Airs Christmas Eve at 7 p.m. on NBC.
• The Thin Man (1934) — If you want a murder mystery mixed in with your Christmas flick, check out Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nick and Nora Charles in the first installment of the classic detective series. Airs Dec. 22 at 7 p.m. on TCM.
• Holiday (1938) — This screwball comedy starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant is another classic film I look forward to this time of year. Hepburn’s the odd duck sister of Grant’s fiancée, but guess who gets the guy? Airs Dec. 17 at 11 p.m. on TCM.
• Holiday Inn (1942) — My favorite scene is Fred Astaire’s drunken New Year’s Eve dance, but others like Bing Crosby’s rendition of “White Christmas.” (Despite the high points, be forewarned, there are some very un-PC bits in this old movie, including an insufferable blackface number.) Airs on AMC Dec. 23 at 8 a.m.
• White Christmas (1954) — A new take on Holiday Inn, this time Bing Crosby co-stars with Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Instead of running an inn that’s open only on holidays, this time Bing’s ex-GI-turned-song-and-dance man mounts a Christmas show to help his former general save his old Vermont inn. Airs several times between now and Dec. 23 at 10:15 a.m. on AMC.
Please note, AMC is airing Holiday Inn and White Christmas back-to-back. It might be fun to compare Bing’s two musical holiday movies. Which do you prefer? More to the point: What are some of your favorite holiday classics?
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Dec. 14-20, 2011, issue