When you ask people to name their favorite holiday movies, the same answers crop up everywhere: It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, and perhaps some version of A Christmas Carol (Muppet Christmas Carol and Scrooged seem most popular these days). A few people might try to be different and name Die Hard or Bad Santa, and a few traditionalists might reminisce about Meet Me in St. Louis. And of course there's the Silent Night, Deadly Night crowd. Personally, I would have to bring up Auntie Mame.
But the movies I'm about to mention have only a few fans these days. Most are widely available on DVD, and are not shown very often during the holiday season. Some are forgotten treasures, some date badly. One is a well-known Oscar winner that may be too depressing for some New Year's Eve viewers. But if you are tired of watching Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, or have had enough of the leg lamp and the Red Ryder BB gun, consider some of these films for your holiday viewing ... if you can find them.
Remember the Night
I accidentally caught this movie on TV while wrapping presents at my parents' house one Christmas Eve, and have been unable to find it since. This charming film was written by Preston Sturges and directed by Mitchell Leisen, and I wish it were available on DVD. Shoplifter and general bad girl Barbara Stanwyck faces Christmas in the slammer, but assistant DA Fred MacMurray takes pity on her and not only bails her out, but insists on driving her to her mother's house in Indiana to spend the holidays. (Why are all so many heroines in Thirties and early Forties movies from Indiana? Hmm.)
Little Women (1978)
I have been dying to see this version of Little Women for years, ever since I read the cast list on IMDb, and it's finally available on DVD this year. Strictly speaking, it shouldn't be on this list -- it's a made-for-TV miniseries. Greer Garson and Robert Young try to class up the joint as Aunt March and Grandpa Lawrence, but the rest of the cast is eye-poppingly Seventies-ish: Meg, Jo and Beth are played by Meredith Baxter, Susan Dey and Eve Plumb. And the icing on the cake: William Shatner is Professor Bhaer. Dear God. Louisa May Alcott fans everywhere are doing spit-takes right now. I think this might best be watched as part of a group, with lots of alcoholic refreshments.
You knew we wouldn't get through this list without my mentioning Holiday, didn't you? It's one of my favorite movies. Christmas is a great time to enjoy the scene during Christmas church where rich-girl Julia (Doris Nolan), wanting to avoid a scene with her father, tells him that she's engaged to working-class Johnny Case (Cary Grant). Once Johnny meets Julia's sister Linda (Katharine Hepburn) and confides his secret holiday plans to her, you know that the engagement won't be as smooth as planned. Lovely sequence on New Year's Eve, too, with Edward Everett Horton. My special wish to Santa this year is to be able to watch the 1930 version of this film, which I bet no one reading this has seen, but I suspect even Santa may not be able to arrange that.
The Lemon Drop Kid
I haven't seen this movie since I was a little girl, although it's on DVD now and I have no excuse. It's one of those movies I liked as a child and now am reluctant to see, because maybe I won't like it as much, especially since I'm not so fond of Bob Hope as an actor. It's based on a Damon Runyon story, about a gambler stuck with an enormous debt who invents a Christmas charity to raise the funds. His gang all dresses up in Santa suits to help with the ruse. Jane Darwell (veteran actress from The Grapes of Wrath and Mary Poppins) also has a minor role. Fun in a Guys and Dolls kind of way.
The Horn Blows at Midnight
An earlier generation might remember the title The Horn Blows at Midnight as one of Jack Benny's running jokes -- he starred in the 1945 movie and claimed it was a real stinker. Benny plays a musician who falls asleep and dreams he's an angel who has to blow the trumpet that ends the world, but then he loses the trumpet. I think. I don't know if time has been kind to the movie or if it's mellowed sweetly into kitsch over the years, and since it's not on DVD I might not be able to find out anytime soon.
Filmmaker Robert Siodmak was responsible for some truly dark dramas in the 1940s, so even a movie entitled Christmas Holiday could be bleak if he were involved. Plus, the script for this 1944 film is adapted by Herman J. Mankiewicz (Citizen Kane) from a W. Somerset Maugham novel. But noir that stars musical-comedy star Deanna Durbin and a young Gene Kelly? Wow. It's not on DVD in this country, but it might be worth tracking down an import.
Yes, you've seen this Billy Wilder movie, but have you ever watched it alone on New Year's Eve? For extra masochism and depression, make sure you're doing your laundry, preferably in a crummy apartment laundry room, while watching this story about lonely people during the holidays. If that's not enough, follow it up with Sunset Blvd, which has a great New Year's scene. Alternatively, if you want a little more action in your NYE movie watching, you could try The Poseidon Adventure.