Magic in the movies: films and specials for the holiday season

muppets christmas

Courtesy photo

The holiday season is upon us in full force. Whole neighborhoods will soon be strung with twinkling lights, hordes of shoppers will flood the stores looking for holiday bargains and seasonal music and movies will take over the airwaves. However, if you are trying to avoid the Hallmark channel’s “Countdown to Christmas” and you feel you may have seen A Christmas Story or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer one too many times, then here is a short list of some films and specials that you may find refreshing.

White Christmas (1954) If you love classic Hollywood films but have no tears left to shed during It’s a Wonderful Life, this year you should try a technicolor comedy that is set in your own backyard! Doing his best to escape the bustle of the big city, crooner Bing Crosby finds himself in a Vermont ski resort that is lacking for nothing…except snow. In an attempt to bring seasonal cheer (and business) to the suffering ski lodge, Crosby moves the entire cast of a Broadway production north to use the property as a rustic rehearsal space. With a supporting cast of Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen, this film is peppered with richly-choreographed musical numbers including Crosby’s famous rendition of the title song. Lovers of classic film will appreciate the smart directing by Michael Curtiz (“Casablanca,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy”), and you may still have wet eyes by the time the curtain falls and the credits roll.

A Muppet Family Christmas (1987) Characters from the Jim Henson universe are all brought together for the holidays when Fozzie Bear invites the cast of “The Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street” to his mother’s farmhouse for Christmas, the only problem is Ma Bear has already rented it out for the season! Between the Swedish Chef trying to turn Big Bird into a turkey dinner and Miss Piggy fighting a Nor’easter to join the rest of the cast, few holiday specials capture the chaos that comes naturally when you gather together friends, family, and Fraggles for the holidays. While more viewers are probably familiar with the feature-length, “A Muppet Christmas Carol,” the pacing and humor pale next to this cinematic achievement shot while Jim Henson was still alive.

Bob Hope Comedy Christmas Specials While you are on Youtube and already waxing nostalgic, take the time to search for classic Bob Hope specials. Ranging from radio programs in the 1940s, to live shows for the troops filmed in Vietnam in the 1970s, to television variety shows lasting into the 1990s, Bob Hope returned year after year with slapstick humor and guest stars galore; and if Bob Hope isn’t your style, there are plenty of other specials to find from this era hosted by Judy Garland, Dean Martin and Lawrence Welk. These shows are all chock full of humorous skits and iconic music performances by artists ranging from Glen Campbell to David Bowie, and once again you may find yourself treated to some classic commercials!

A Christmas Carol (Scrooge) Even if you decide to skip the Muppet adaptation, you still should treat yourself to this classic tale of redemption from Charles Dickens. This year, rather than limiting yourself to the most replayed versions with Alastair Sim or George C. Scott in the role of the famous miser, expand your Ebenezer experience with some help from Youtube. With very little searching, a viewer can be treated to a plethora of public domain and oddball productions going back as far as a silent short filmed in 1910. If you are not sure where to start, try the 1954 television special starring Frederic Marsh and Basil Rathbone, with music written by Bernard Herrmann (“Citizen Kane,” “Psycho”). It even has the Chrysler car ads that appear to have been shot live during the original broadcast!

Rare Exports (2010) Lastly, if you are looking for a clean break from traditional fare, how about some holiday horror? Although many films in this niche genre are nothing more than low-budget slashers like “Black Christmas” or “Silent Night, Deadly Night,” there are some genuinely creepy gems to be found out there. Set amongst the reindeer farms of Lapland, Rare Exports is a deliciously dark Finnish film that begins with the kidnapping of Santa Claus, who is anything but the jolly old elf one would expect. The eerie tone of the film is enriched by stunning visuals and some tongue-in-cheek humor, but make no mistake that this film is not for younger viewers.

This story brought to you with support from: