Film Stocking Fillers

A wild west Christmas tree from LES PETROLEUSES.

I hate lists, generally — too much film writing is based on the list structure, and at this time of year, “best of” lists proliferate horribly. But if I’m honest, the reason I never participate in them is I can never remember whether I saw something in the last year or the year previous. Or the year before that.

However, the idea of a list of neglected Christmas movies did seem potentially worthwhile — if you have access to nay of the below, or they turn up on TV, they might plug an otherwise unproductive gap in your schedule as you lie replete with turkey and pudding, or might even unite homicidal family members in yuletide bliss for ninety minutes. Anyhow, they’re all films I like, and many of them can be explored further on this site or elsewhere — links will be provided.

REMEMBER THE NIGHT — the first Christmas edition of The Forgotten focussed on this lovely genre-twisting 1939 charmer from screenwriter Preston Sturges and director Mitchell Leisen. What begins as a contrived screwball comedy, with assistant DA Fred MacMurray saddled with jewel thief Barbara Stanwyck over the holidays, dips a toe into rustic tragedy, settles into bucolic sentiment, then takes a side-swerve into near-tragedy. While Sturges typically pulled tonal shifts out of a seemingly bottomless hat and shuffled them like playing cards, here the film sticks to each emotion long enough to settle, which makes the mood swings all the more surprising, but also effective. And it captures some of the authentic family experience — good and bad.

L’ASSASSINAT DU PERE NOEL — not as iconoclastic as it sounds. Christian-Jacque directs this snow-bound murder mystery, with Harry Baur as a definitive Santa. The opening titles, where he lumbers, Frankenstein-like, out of darkness, sets a disquieting tone otherwise eschewed in favour of the peculiar cosiness a good whodunnit so often generates. An air of magic fringes on Cocteau territory, the feelgood fuzziness of the ending is accompanied by the funniest wrap-up to a mystery I ever saw.

LYDIA — Julien Duvivier’s not-exactly-remake of his own CARNET DU BAL doesn’t come on strong as a Xmas flick, but there’s enough studio-bound sleigh-ride romance to make it qualify. You may NEED to shed those tears, this time of year — otherwise you’ll be lugging them around in your ducts like ballast for another twelve months. No movie with Merle Oberon and three suitors sitting around with great wads of latex all over their heads should have any claim on our emotions, but this one does.

THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG — I like it when the Christmas spirit ambushes you, leaping from behind an Esso station and slugging you across the skull with a sack of presents when you’re least expecting it. And said spirit includes a fair share of melancholy, right? Of course, not every film with snow at the end is a Xmas film — I wouldn’t make that claim for FAHRENHEIT 451, although come to think of it, that red fire engine is kind of festive.

THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE — the concentration is on New Year’s, an even more tragic and melancholy time than Xmas, but this still counts. The Sjostrom version is a true classic, but the Duvivier remake deserves more love too — it has Louis Jouvet, and amazing constructed snowscapes, and the same morbid, redemptive storyline: it’s a little like Scrooge, only he has to die.

Stuff I saw on TV as a kid which I haven’t revisited recently enough — Chuck Jones’ A Cricket in Times Square and its sequels, the Harry Alan Towers production of CALL OF THE WILD (with an epic, emotive Mario Nascimbene score), and the Richard Williams animation of A Christmas Carol.

Your own suggestions, please!

29 Responses to “Film Stocking Fillers”

  1. Someone has just pointed out to me that John Carpenter’s The Thing could well be a Christmas movie (well, it’s snowing all the time, and I don’t recall anyone saying it ISN’T Christmas, so….)

  2. rosemurasaki Says:

    Nice try, Paul, but someone (I think it’s MacReady after the helicopter blows up at the beginning) says: “First goddamm week of winter.” Though I’m not entirely sure how the seasons are demarcated down in Antarctica, so I guess winter could start in mid-December.

  3. Psycho is a Christmas movie. Check the date given at the start of the film, then calculate the amount of time that passes in the story…

  4. http://thispigsalley.blogspot.com/2009/12/people-dont-always-like-to-admit-this.html

    Leo McCarey’s GOOD SAM, is a very underrated Christmas movie and actually it has more to do with that film than ITS A WONDERFUL LIFE!(which is about middle-class frustration essentially).

  5. Excellent choice! i enjoyed that one. I’ve still to steel myself for Make Way for Tomorrow though…

  6. Christmas Holiday, Brazil, Eyes Wide Shut, The Apartment, Gremlins, Ma Nuit Chez Maud, The Night of the Hunter

  7. Ford’s “3 Godfathers” is really explicitly a Christmas film, but rarely ever gets talked about in that context…

  8. Great suggestions, DE!

    I’ve only seen the Wyler version of Three Godfathers, which I don’t recall having a big Xmas theme, though the plot has nativity overtones. But Tokyo Godfathers would definitely count, and will undoubtedly make you feel good.

  9. I love “alternative Christmas movies” so great list.

    I heard that the date at the start of Psycho was only added after Hitchcock noticed X-mas decorations in the rear projection footage of Phoenix that was being used for the scenes of Marion driving. In any case, it still counts.

    Night of the Hunter is another good one.

  10. I’ll second Good Sam & Three Godfathers!

  11. Jenny Eardley Says:

    Rohmer’s A Winter’s Tale.

  12. Ford’s Donovan’s Reef is his other Christmas movie. I like that one quite a bit more than 3 Godfathers to be honest, but they’d make an excellent double bill.

    Siodmak’s Someone to Remember, which I know you also like an awful lot David, has a great Christmas scene as one of its dramatic centerpieces, and I like to consider that one a Christmas movie in a sense. I love the first segment from The Little Theatre of Jean Renoir. Godard’s Hail Mary, Ferrara’s ‘R Xmas, Huston’s The Dead, the NY City noir Blast of Silence, all get plays from me around Christmas time.

  13. How ’bout LADY IN THE LAKE? Doesn’t that take place at Christmas?

  14. So, a Christmas Siodmak double bill — Christmas Holiday and Someone to Remember. My, that’s a good evening in.

    Very tempted to try A Winter’s Tale. That, an a pair of fingerless gloves to type with would make my life complete right now.

    Thanks for the Psycho info, Michael!

  15. Jenny Eardley Says:

    The Woman in Black is somewhat Christmassy, I did it for GCSE and we saw the scary TV serial during lessons.

  16. Sylvain Chomet’s The Old Lady and the Pigeons is a seriously bent 20-minute cartoon from five years before The Triplets of Belleville with a Christmassy ending.

    A Christmas Cracker is a short on one of those Norman McLaren DVDs.

    I’ll second that segment of Renoir’s Petit Theatre.

    Is “Susan Slept Here” a Christmas movie? I know it has a scene.

    The Long Day Closes is not a Christmas movie except for one scene, but I first watched it on new year’s day and it seemed emotionally season-appropriate.

    Ruiz’s Dog’s Dialogue is definitely not a Christmas movie, but has two Christmas scenes, and I relish any opportunity to mention bring it up, since it’s one of my favorite short films.

    How about Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks?

    Not doing too well here…

  17. That’s a damn fine selection! I’d forgotten all about Dogs’ Dialogue’s seasonal component.

    I wonder if Susan Slept Here began under the influence of Remember the Night? It certainly seems to feed into Bachelor Pad.

  18. I have a hard time finding a precode era film with a whiff of a Christmas theme. Barbara Stanwyck parked in the middle of nowhere during winter in The Purchase Price is about as close as I can get, and that’s really bending the definition. Maybe the Depression has something to do with that, too. There must be one I’m forgetting. Even an anti-Christmas one will do.

  19. Well, I’m not being alternative at all … boring old me! I shall be watching Dean Spanley, The Dead and Alistair Sim’s Scrooge, and I’ll be quite happy with that little lot thank you very much! I suppose I could fit The Shining in there somewhere for sheer perversity, but you know what, I shan’t!
    Have a good time everyone, Merry Christmas x

  20. You too! You have a pretty good selection there.

    Hmm, pre-code Christmases… you’d think at least MGM would jump in there…

  21. La Faustin Says:

    Well, 24 HOURS is snowy

  22. La Faustin Says:

    Hey, so is NIGHT WORLD! Simply ignore the gangland rubouts in the drifts, and you’ve got an old-fashioned White Christmas!

  23. With red splashes. Those certainly make a beautiful matched pair…

  24. Tony Williams Says:

    On Christian-Jacque’s happy ending, you have to remember that this is a film made under the Occupation and maybe expressing a feeling for an appropriate historical ending that will happen in the next few years. Nonetheless, it is an interesting film.

  25. Alas, poor Harry Baur never lived to see it. Another reason to enjoy the film: a Jewish Santa.

  26. I hadn’t come across Someone to Remember, and it sounds absolutely great, so I’m planning that Christmas Siodmak double bill right now!

  27. Terrific! Someone to Remember is also further evidence of how strangely useful Peter Lawford could sometimes be. But don’t let that put you off!

  28. Thanks to your recommendation, the wife and I enjoyed L’ASSASSINAT DU PERE NOEL on Christmas night – very enjoyable.

  29. I’m so glad! Our Chistmas eve treat was Beyond Tomorrow, which will go on next year’s list of recommendations. Not as good as Pere Noel, but very enjoyable.

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