Merry Christmas, Patrollers! The DVD Patrol is here with the one and only big Christmas Extravaganza that we’ve been promising you. Santa’s extra special helper, the Toddster, has recruited some very special elves to lend a hand on this favorite day of the year. Before we get started, we have to welcome a new elf (and patroller) to our happy ranks. Glad to have you on board, Brian. Christmas means something different to everyone and one way of doing that is through the movies. So, our happy elves have decided to write about their favorite Christmas movies and what it means to them. Let’s get caroling!
“A Christmas Story” 1983
I’ll happily admit to being drawn into the 24-hour marathon showing of “A Christmas Story” on TNT every Christmas now for God only knows how long. Doesn’t matter where I start or stop, I’ve seen this holiday classic so many times I know it by heart.
For the uninitiated, “A Christmas Story” is based on a short story by raconteur Jean Shepherd, and tells the tale of Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), a typical 9-year-old growing up in 1950s Indiana. The premise is simple: All Ralphie wants for Christmas is “an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.” He’s obsessed, really, writing an essay about it for school, begging his parents, even visiting a hilariously cruel department store Santa, only to be kicked down a slide by an unruly elf -- “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”
Of course, Ralphie gets the Red Ryder. And, of course, he shoots his eye out -- well, almost. The allure of this movie isn’t necessarily the quest for Christmas bounty; it’s more nostalgia for a simpler time. I didn’t grow up in that era, but I wish I did. The narration, “Wonder Years” style, that runs throughout is at once hilarious and poignant. The classic lines and scenes here are legion – I could go on forever about how much I love the Bumpuses dogs, the Old Man’s “major award,” the secret decoder ring, the fight with Farkus, Randy’s winter wardrobe, the bunny costume, the Triple Dog Dare and subsequent flagpole tongue-sticking ... better yet, check it out for yourself on TNT on Christmas Day. You certainly can’t miss it!
“It’s A Wonderful Life” 1946
My Christmas film roundup choice was a simple one, the classic Frank Capra movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring the iconic Jimmy Stewart along with Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Henry Travers.
Based loosely on the short story “The Greatest Gift,” this holiday staple follows the life of George Bailey (played by Stewart), as he slowly watches his dreams of traveling the world fade away in the face of reality’s responsibilities.
Although gifted with a beautiful wife (played by Reed), a loving family and the house of he and his wife’s dreams, Bailey can’t shake the feeling that he missed out when he sacrificed a life of adventure to manage his father’s building and loan company.
Things come to a head when Uncle Billy loses an $8,000 deposit, found by the dastardly Henry F. Potter (played by Barrymore), and in the crisis that ensues Bailey crashes his car, contemplates suicide and eventually saves his guardian angel Clarence, who is attempting to “gain his wings” by helping George to realize the profound impact he’s had on his family and peers.
Once Bailey experiences life in Bedford Falls without his existence (his brother dies, his childhood boss goes to prison, his mother is an embittered widow and his wife is a spinster librarian), he immediately runs home to find his community has chipped in to save the Building and Loan.
A true tear-jerker, and nominated for five Academy Awards, this holiday classic is a must see for people of all ages. Its message reminds us that we all have a much greater impact on those around us than we might think, and truly brings out the Christmas spirit.
“Home Alone” 1990
While not traditional Christmas fare, “Home Alone,” like many other blockbusters of the past 25 years, was set in the holiday season.
I was perusing a recent article in which those who touched fame passed away in 2009. One of those was “Home Alone” director, John Hughes. Yes, Hughes was much more than creating celluloid images in which he paid homage to his usual leading actress, Molly Ringwald.
Kevin, a young Macaulay Culkin, cannot get a moment’s peace. Living in a large household with seven other siblings, it was easy to get lost in the shuffle. As Culkin brooded about his lot in life, his family hustles out the door on a family vacation – forgetting young Kevin.
What seems like a lifetime ago – as a young boy – I grumbled about the lack of peace and quiet in my household. With three younger sisters, I was on an island so to speak. It was fourth grade that I experienced my own home alone experience – not unintentionally. From 3 to 5 p.m., in the fourth grade, I had the run of my parents’ house during the school year. My younger sisters went to a babysitter after school, and my parents were working. I was king of the house during that time. I sipped my hot cocoa, watched cartoons, and made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if I was so inclined. Thankfully, I did not have to deal with any wet bandits, the two villains that 8-year-old Kevin outwits time and again.
Hilarity ensues as Kevin booby traps the house, and a first-time viewer cannot get enough of irons clanking off the hapless burglars’ skulls.
At last, Kevin’s worried parents make their way home to their young son, and we see the theme of this movie – and Christmas time – being with the ones you love.
“A Christmas Carol” 1984
How could any holiday movie round up be complete without the season’s classic, “A Christmas Carol.” My own personal favorite rendition of the movie was the 1984 film staring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge (also one of the most traumatic versions), a wretched old miser who counts his life successes by the dollar and not by the love of his fellow man.
As a kid, Scott’s character scared me and his treatment of the people around him nearly quashed my Christmas spirit before the plot even has a chance to develop. The sudden and petrifying appearance of Scrooge’s partner sets the stage for the arrival of three Christmas ghosts – past, present and future – in this darker Christmas tale.
The first shows Scrooge a more loving version of himself in his youth making steady steps toward capitalistic wealth and social isolationism. After seeing himself so young, Scrooge realizes he hasn’t really been happy since those long lost moments and doubt begins to creep in.
The Ghost of Christmas Present brings Scrooge’s attention to the suffering of those around him. Suffering caused indirectly by him. This is when you see Bob Cratchit and his dying and disabled son, Tiny Tim, unable to get the care he needs while his father works long hours nearly every day for Scrooge’s paltry wages.
My favorite, and the most frightening ghost comes next and shows Scrooge his own grave.
The Ghost of Christmas Future to me doesn’t represent the Grim Reaper or some wraith escorting one to damnation. Rather the dark ghost is the embodiment of how one is going to be recalled by his fellow man once he’s gone – a point foreshadowed by Scrooge’s undead and once greedy partner. Marley visits the humbugger in his den, dragging behind him the long chains of the afterlife now tied with the weight of his self -serving greed in the life he once lived. A kind of life Scrooge was still living.
The story is one of legacy and is determined by how much joy we’ve brought to others. I always liked “A Christmas Carol” not so much for the story, which is excellent, but for showing the undeniable truth found at the heart of the Christmas spirit. The tale ends on a good note with Scrooge changing his ways because it’s never to late to change.
“Miracle on 34th Street” 1947
Don’t you just love holiday movies? Oh, not those tear-jerking Lifetime specials, but all the classics. My all-time favorite, without a doubt, is Miracle on 34th Street. I believe the film has been remade at least four times, but my heart belongs to the original black and white 1947 film, starring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood.
Not only is the film a commentary on the commercialization of Christmas (which was apparently a concern even back then), but it also tackles the larger issues of faith, belief and the true meaning of Christmas. While entertaining and thought provoking, that’s not why I love it. To me, the movie is pure magic.
I always run the full gamut of emotions when I watch the movie. How can you not laugh out loud when the drunken Santa slurs, “A man’s gotta do something to keep warm.” Or at the eye-brow-twisting, nervous wreck of a company psychologist, who you just love to hate.
I always cry when Kris Kringle, is able to speak to the little Dutch girl in her native tongue. And at the parade, of course. (There is just something about parades. I just can’t help myself.)
There’s the court room drama, the emotional blackmail, the legal loopholes, of course. But what touches my heart most, is the end.
I won’t tell you about it, because I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you if by some cruel twist of fate you have never seen this classic film.
Suffice it to say, that it always leaves me with a warm glow in my heart. And a little spark of something like makes me remember what it was like to believe ...
“The Santa Clause” (1994)
Christmas has always been a special time of year for me and this one was made special when I was able to see “The Santa Clause” for the first time. Tim Allen took a break from playing on “Home Improvement” to portray toy salesman Scott Calvin. (Nice initials!) Calvin is a divorced dad who picks up his son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) so he can spend Christmas with him. Charlie is at the age when he asks important questions like “How does Santa get to fly around the world in one night and deliver gifts to everyone?” or How does Santa get into houses if they don’t have a chimney?” Not exactly easy ones to answer. Scott’s life gets turned upside down when he hears something on the roof. He surprises Santa and then he falls off the roof. Now Scott has to step in to finish the job. Charlie accompanies Scott to finish the job and they fly to the North Pole where Scott learns he has to take the mantle of the big red guy or Christmas will be gone forever.
Scott has a year to take care of his affairs before he has to come back to deliver toys again. Charlie’s belief in Santa is so strong that his mother and stepfather feel he might have a problem. Scott also has a problem believing it all really happened until he starts looking a lot like Santa. Everyone always says that Christmas is all about commercialism and making money, but to me the season really brings up a sense of wonder that really give people hope in the world and these days we can all use some. It also brings up warm memories that I have of spending Christmas with my parents and all the times we had together. This one is for them. “The Santa Clause” is a very special one that you can’t miss.
I hope everyone’s Christmas is special this year and enjoy the time you have with your family or that special someone. The season is about being together and what you can do for that person. The Patrol does that every week when we bring all these DVDs that you read about every week. It’s our way to bring a small sense of enjoyment to your life. It’s something I enjoy doing. Enjoy this great day!
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.