Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas flicks

It never fails.

I always cry when Clarence gets his wings. I know the bell on the Christmas tree is going to jingle; I know Jimmy Stewart (as George Bailey) is going to be saved by his friends; I know all of this stuff is going to happen because I've seen It's A Wonderful Life just shy of a thousand times and I weep anyway.

I think I actually want to cry. I look forward to it, just like I do when I watch that scene in A Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner (as Ray Kinsella) has a catch with his dead father. Go figure.

The first time I ever saw It's A Wonderful Life must have been almost 40 years ago, and it grabbed me by the throat even then. I don't know what it is about that flick, but it makes me incredibly nostalgic for an era that I never even lived in.

Anyway, to my mind, the movie's denouement may be one of the best movie endings ever, Christmas or not. I'm tearing up just watching this clip even now.

I just missed living in that era, in fact. The movie came out in 1946, and I was born in 1951. It was Stewart's first movie since coming home as a decorated B-24 bomber pilot (he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross) for flying 20 perilous missions over flak-infested Europe in World War II.

Stewart, incidentally, made a short propaganda war film at the time to promote enlistments in the Army Airs Corps titled, ironically enough, Winning Your Wings. You can't make this stuff up. I suspect Clarence may have been Stewart's guardian angel even then.

Another Christmas favorite of mine is Miracle on 34th Street, and this is the 1947 version with Edmund Gwenn as an unforgettable Kris Kringle dealing with contemporary issues (along with Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara). I love a good courtroom drama and the scene where lawyer Fred Gaily proves the existence of Santa Claus by submitting as evidence bags full of children's letters to Santa is priceless — and brilliant.

Then there's A Christmas Story, a very humorous movie that to me is losing some of its resonance because it's repeated endlessly on a continuous Christmas day loop on TBS.

But I can relate to this flick. This is nostalgia that I actually lived. I, too, wanted a Red Ryder BB gun but was told by my parents that I would shoot my eye out. I can relate to department store Santas, to bullies in the schoolyard and to families gathered around the Christmas tree opening their presents.

I never stuck my tongue on an ice-cold flagpole, though. In a way, I'm kind of amazed there isn't a nation-wide rash of tongue-stickings (as far as I know) on Christmas day, but I have to admit, there is a temptation to try that just because it's stupid and some of us humans just can't resist stupidity. I just don't know if it's possible for a 63-year-old man to explain himself getting in that situation.

There are tons of other worthy holiday movies, most notably A Christmas Carol in almost any of its versions. I must profess a fondness for Alistair Sim's Scrooge, although George C. Scott makes me believe there actually was a Scrooge who really did live and learn. In any case, Charles Dickens gave us a great storyline.

There are others, of course. I'm not sure that Home Alone really qualifies as a Christmas movie, even though the action takes place over the holidays. I still like it, though. Christmas Vacation has its moments, but most of it is just plain silly. The same can be said for Scrooged. And don't even talk to me about Grinches or whatnot...

I guess the classics are classic for a reason.

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