Top Ten Christmas films from Hollywood's Golden Age

Even in 2012, Golden Age black and white classics are still the best.

FORT WORTH, Tx. December 2, 2012 — Thanksgiving is over. It’s holiday movie time again!

But wait.

Before you snuggle up on the couch in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn in one hand and loved ones close by the other, you first have to decide just what films to watch.

These days, there seem to be about a zillion channels residing in your set top box and almost as many holiday movies to choose from. This is where I can help.

Below is my personal top-ten list of favorite Christmas movies; or at least movies that take place at some point during the holiday season.

I know. There are plenty of other lists of holiday films out there. But my exclusive 2012 roster of classics contains a liberal dose of the kind of cine-magic that seems to have been exclusive to the Golden Age of Hollywood. 

Truth be told, there have been some really good holiday movies made in recent years. But the old black and white ones are still my real favorites. Frank Capra, one of my very favorite directors, made a couple of these which also helps the B&W cause considerably.

In any event, here’s my 2012 Top 10 list of favorite Christmas films. But feel free to add your own holiday choices to this list down in the Comments section below. I’d love to hear what additional films you can come up with.

So let’s get going: 

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — This seems to be everybody’s favorite, and for good reason. In a world of conflict and cynicism it’s refreshing to see the nice guy (Jimmy Stewart) win in the end and good triumph over evil. Plus, he gets to marry Donna Reed. 

Other trivia: Character actor Ward Bond had a part in this film. He later earned TV popularity as Major Adams in the late 1950s hit Western, “Wagon Train.” Also: “Little Rascals” crooner Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, now a young adult, had a small uncredited role in this film as “Freddie Othello.” Watch for his evildoing in the film’s big dance scene.

Believe it or not, this movie bombed at the box office when first released. Here’s the trailer:

2. The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) — Character actor Monty Woolley and legend Bette Davis star in this funny movie inspired by critic and commentator Alexander Woollcott.  I admire Bette Davis for taking a secondary role at a time when she was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Jimmy Durante’s character Banjo was inspired by Harpo Marx.

Still from ‘The Man Who Came to Dinner,’ starring Bette Davis and Monty Woolley.

3. A Christmas Carol (1938) — This is my favorite version of this story by far. Lionel Barrymore recommended British character actor Reginald Owens to play Scrooge in it when he himself had to turn down the part. Also, starring as Bob Cratchit, Mrs. Cratchit and one of their daughters is actress June Lockhart (the mom of TV’s “Lost in Space” fame) and her parents Gene and Kathleen Lockhart.

4. The Bishop’s Wife (1947) — Starring David Niven and Loretta Young as the Bishop and his wife. Cary Grant plays the angel sent in answer to a prayer that’s been offered by the Bishop. An interesting side note: Grant was originally supposed to play the Bishop and Niven the angel. I just can’t see how that would have worked. Thankfully, due to whoever actually changed the roles, things turned out just right.

Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past from the 1938 film A Christmas Carol.

5. The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) — Only part of this movie takes place at Christmas but it gets lots of play during the holidays. The basic message behind this movie is peace and goodwill, so it certainly fits.

Plus, it stars Bing Crosby and Ingrid Berman. Der Bingle’s Father Charles “Chuck” O’Malley launches into an “impromptu” verse of the classic Church Latin hymn “O Sanctissima” in the clip below:

6. Christmas in Connecticut (1945) — Barbara Stanwyck stars along with Dennis Morgan in this charming Christmas classic set during World War II.

Character actor S.Z. Sakall plays Stanwyck’s Uncle Felix who is a master at behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the effort to make everything turn out right in the end.

7. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) —“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and “The Trolley Song” debuted in this one and became Judy Garland standards in the processes.

The latter continues to be a favorite Christmas tune. The film takes us back to the very beginning of the 20th century when electricity and long distance phone calls were still marvels to behold.

8. The Shop Around the Corner (1940) — This has been re-made at least two other times; “In the Good Old Summer Time” (1949) starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson; and “You’ve Got Mail” (1998) starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

This original one is set in Budapest, Hungary and stars Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. Of all three I think this one is by far the best.

9. Holiday Inn (1942) — This movie starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire inspired Kemmons Wilson to name his hotel chain the same. It was also the film in which Irving Berlin’s classic “White Christmas” debuted.

Look for an amazing tap-dancing scene where Fred Astaire incorporated real firecrackers into his dance.

10. The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) — This is a quintessential Bob Hope movie that also stars Marilyn Maxwell.

In it, the two sing “Silver Bells” on screen for the first time as they stroll down a snow covered city street complete with a Santa ringing a bell on each corner they pass.

Does that gruff, bell-ringing Santa Claus in the opening moments of the clip below ring a bell with you?

It should. It’s William Frawley who won wider fame in that TV classic, “I Love Lucy.”

Honorable Mentions:

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) — I wish I could have fit this in the list above but there wasn’t room. Edmund Gwenn will always be my ideal of Santa Claus.

Frank Capra standard starring Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. The end of the movie takes place at Christmas, but the film’s message is the same.

Come to the Stable (1949) — This lesser known Loretta Young film is about nuns who set out to build a children’s hospital aided only by faith with the help of several colorful characters.

It’s a great film but not shown on TV very often.

Production still from ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’ L-R: Edmund Gwenn (Kriss Kringle), Natalie Wood (Susan Walker) and Maureen O’Hara (Doris Walker). (Twentieth Century Fox.)

Meet John Doe (1944) — Another 

Heidi (1937) — Who can forget Shirley Temple’s cries of, “Grandfather! Grandfather!”
as Jean Hersholt attempts to rescue her from the wicked governess trying to sell her to gypsies. This one never gets to old for me.

White Christmas (1954) — Another Christmas favorite; I love the chemistry between Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.


I want to wish each and every one of my readers the message of Christmas: Peace and Good Will.  No matter what celebration you take part in, or even if you don’t — I wish you all the very the best for you and yours.


Read more of Claire’s work at Feed The Mind, Nourish The Soul in the Communities at The Washington Times, her blog Sustenance For The Mind, and the writing group she belongs to at Greater Fort Worth Writers Group.

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Claire Hickey

Claire has held a Texas Cosmetology License, Certification in Surgical Technology and has decorated cakes professionally. She believes that life is a banquet to be experienced and wants to learn and do as much as possible while she’s here. This Stay @ Home Mom has always loved to write and thanks to the Communities @ The Washington Times has got her chance. Her curiosity and writing lead her to create her column based on “garbage in garbage out” theory to provide interesting and thought provoking pieces that enrich her readers. A proud member and Treasurer for the Greater Fort Worth Writer’s Group she is currently working on her first novel.  


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