Looking for the ideal festive gift? These DVDs might fit the bill.

by Martin Hafer

A few Christmas films on DVD that you might want to give as presents to others…or yourself!  And, a few you might wish to avoid.

Like most folks, I am a sucker for Christmas movies.  The problem is that so many of them have been shown and shown and shown on television–so much that they lose their specialness and almost become annoying.  Years ago this happened with It’s a Wonderful Life and often here in the States you would literally see it on television ten to fifteen times a week…and no film is that good!  Fortunately, the US courts re-instituted the movie’s copyright and now it’s shown once a year on network TV…as it should be.  A few other Christmas films, though wonderful classics, have also been shown to death on television, such as A Christmas Story (each year TBS or TNT shows it non-stop for 24 hours).  It’s a fantastic film…but not one to give away as a gift since it’s almost always on the tube!  The purpose of this article is to make a few suggestions for family films you might want to buy for yourself or for your loved ones…films which haven’t yet driven us crazy due to over-saturation.

A Holiday Affair (1949 version)

Get the original version, not the unnecessary remake.  After all, Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum and young Gordon Gebert are simply perfect in this well written and heart-warming tale.  It all begins with a mother buying a toy train…and the rest is simply wonderful.  You can’t help but love this film but you might not need to buy the DVD to see it, as Turner Classic Movies usually shows it at least two or three times each holiday season.  Overexposed?  Yes, a bit…but still a film to see and one which hasn’t been widely discovered.

A House Without  a Christmas Tree

Back in the 1970s when networks cared about quality, CBS brought out this amazing film that is never shown on television any more.  However, it is available on DVD and Amazon has an option of buying it alone (for a measly $5) or bundled with the follow-up film, A THANKSGIVING TREASURE (for about $10).  My advice is get both, as they have incredibly good acting (starring Jason Robards Jr. and Mildred Natwick) and are exceptionally well written.  Each story is set in the post-war Midwest and are among the best made for  TV movies you can find.

A Christmas Carol (1984 version)

There have been approximately 572,031 versions of this story, so instead of forcing you to watch a mediocre (or worse) version, I recommend you buy the 1984 version starring George C. Scott.  Like the movie above, this quality product was made for television and is a classic…and is seen far less often than versions starring Reginald Owen, Alistair Simm, Patrick Stewart or voiced by Jim Carrey.  Why is this one superior?  Well, first off it stars Scott…and he was an amazing actor.  Plus most movie versions of the Dickens story deliberately downplay the actual meaning…about poverty and mankind’s obligation to each other.  This one is a bit darker and hits a bulls eye in every respect.  If you want something less dark and more little kid-friendly, the Muppet Christmas Carol is surprisingly good!

Christmas in Connecticut

Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan star in this sweet Christmas story.  Stanwyck plays a journalist who writes about having the perfect home and perfect Christmas with her family.  However, she’s a phony who can barely boil water, let alone make a Christmas feast.  But, when a famous man invites himself over to her house for the holidays, she’s forced to invent a family and arrange to have someone cook a delicious gourmet meal.  What makes this one so good is not only the script and stars, but the amazing cast of supporting character actors who give the film life.

Remember the Night

This one also stars Barbara Stanwyck as well as Fred MacMurray.  The plot is very far-fetched, as you’re expected to believe that the prosecutor would feel sorry for a shoplifter who is in jail over the holiday and take her home!  But, despite this silly premise, both actors are at their best and the film is a fine romantic comedy.

The Bishop’s Wife

Loretta Young, David Niven and Cary Grant star in this sweet film.  In addition, Monty Woolley co-stars and he’s simply marvelous.  It’s the story about a reverend whose heart is set on building his church…and he sadly neglects his loving wife.  So it’s up to an incredibly debonair angel to set things right.  Despite its religious theme, it never comes off as preachy or schmaltzy.

All of these films I mentioned are available on DVD and are lovely films.  However, and I am sure I might get a bit of coal in my stocking, but I also want to warn you against several holiday films that are just plain awful.  I’m sure a few of you would disagree, but I’d only buy these films if I was obliged to buy a gift for someone I really didn’t like!!

Jack Frost

The only good thing about the film are the songs Michael Keaton wrote and sung for the picture.  This is one of the creepiest holiday movies ever and it might just cause small children (and even a few adults) to have nightmares.  Keaton plays a neglectful father who is killed on an icy road.  He then returns in the form of a snowman which is hellishly scary to see!!  I think Christmas ninjas or even the Devil himself can’t be any scarier!  And, soon he fortunately melts and that’s the end of the story!  Nothing family-friendly or fun about this awful film…nothing at all!  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Grinch

Although the film made a lot of money, I have no idea why.  The story completely changes the entire message of the classic Seuss story.  In the original story and the delightful cartoon, the Grinch hates Christmas and learns to love it thanks to the Whos–a group of folks who know that Christmas is more than gifts and decorations.  In the film, the reason the Grinch hates Christmas is because the Whos are all idiotic and all they love is the glitz and commercialism of the holidays and ultimately it’s up to the Grinch to teach them all the true meaning of Christmas.  Dr. Seuss’ widow said that the good Doc himself would have loved the film, though I seriously doubt that.  He would have loved the money, I’m sure but nothing about the movie is fun in the least.

The Christmas Wife

Julie Harris and Jason Robards Jr. star in this film that might just provoke you to stick your head in the oven!  Here’s the plot: a widower is lonely so he pays a woman to spend Christmas with him and pretends she cares about him.  Need I say any more?!

One Magic Christmas

Mary Steenburgen stars in this film which is very similar to It’s a Wonderful Life.  Through the course of the film, all sorts of horrible things happen to this woman—enough that you can’t help but become thoroughly depressed.  It culminates with a near-drowning before an angel comes down to show this lady that, heck, life is wonderful after all!!  Despite some nice scenery and acting, like the movie above, watching it might just lead to suicide!  Who wants to be thoroughly depressed for the holidays?!