The Sunday Dozen: Black & White Christmas Movies

The cast of Remember The Night.

I’m doing something different today. The Sunday Dozen was launched last March as a music feature. This week, we’re taking a look at some movies with a seasonal twist.

I decided to only feature black and white movies because there are so damn many Christmas movies out there. I don’t have the patience to wade through all of them. Maybe next year. The good news is that I don’t have to ponder Chevy Chase or Will Ferrell. I like the latter as to the former, sheesh.

There may be too many Christmas movies now but there weren’t that many before World War II. Only three of the dozen predate America’s involvement and two date from 1940. There was obviously a pent-up need for frivolity and seasonality in the post-war era. That’s why It’s A Wonderful Life bombed at the box office. It didn’t become a beloved classic until it was shown on television. The public wasn’t interested in noir with an eggnog chaser.

I tend to avoid holiday fare, so many of the movies on the list, I’ve only seen in the last decade. Dr. A loves Christmas even if her elf application was rejected by Santa. She’s overqualified.

I have stuck with the Sunday Dozen format and arranged the movies in chronological order. That way, I can swat away irate complaints from fans of specific movies. Begone, George Bailey cult.

In grading the movies, I use the 4-star scale. No 5-star revisionism for this film buff. I don’t want an enraged Leonard Maltin coming after me.

We begin with the Die Hard of black and white Christmas movies. The Thin Man isn’t a Christmas film per se, but it’s set during the holidays. Besides, who doesn’t love Bill Powell, Myrna Loy, and Asta?

Grading Time: 3 1/2 stars and an Adrastos grade of B+. I prefer later entries in the series.

Remember The Night is one of the darker movies on this list. I won’t spoil the story for those who haven’t seen it but suffice it to say that Stanwyck and MacMurray are an odd couple in this Preston Sturges scripted film. It’s one of MacMurray’s strongest performances and one of Stanwyck’s most poignant and likeable.

There’s only one thing I don’t like about Remember The Night. I cringe every time Fred Toones is onscreen as MacMurray’s valet, Rufus. Toones’ stage name was Snowflake, so you can figure out what I’m driving at. Mercifully, he makes only a fleeting appearance. I blame the producers, not the actor for the minstrelsy shit. Fred Toones was just making a living.

Grading Time: 3 1/2 stars and an Adrastos grade of B+. I knock it down a half grade because of the minstrelsy.

Shop Around The Corner is one of Ernst Lubitsch’s finest films. It’s set in Budapest, but Jimmy Stewart still has his midwestern drawl. It’s Hungary in the same way it’s Poland in To Be Or Not To Be. It’s really Lubitschland.

It’s more of a character study set during the holidays than a full-tilt Christmas flick. Who cares when great performances abound, especially Frank Morgan as the boss.

Grading Time: 4 stars and an Adrastos grade of A.

Holiday Inn is a musical chock full of Irving Berlin songs. It celebrates multiple holidays, most bizarrely Lincoln’s birthday.

It’s the movie in which Der Bingle introduces White Christmas. We won’t be having one of those in New Orleans. I’m just hoping we can tun off the AC.

Grading Time: 3 stars and an Adrastos grade of B-. It’s definitely better than the technicolor movie from 1953, White Christmas.

Christmas In Connecticut is my favorite film on this list. It’s such a good movie that TCM shows it out of season. It contains Barbara Stanwyck’s finest comic performance as the magazine writer who has been conning her boss, Sydney Greenstreet.

In the immortal words of SZ Sakall as Chef Felix, the movie is “hunky dunky.”

Grading Time: 4 stars and an Adrastos grade of A. A stone cold classic and one of Stanwyck’s best movies. That’s saying a lot.

I have mixed feelings about It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s something of a mishmash of Capracorn and noir darkness. I like the hammy performances best: Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter and Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy.

Jimmy Stewart always thought it would have been a better movie without Donna Reed. They did not like one another. Stewart thought it showed onscreen. I’m less certain. So it goes.

Grading Time: 3 1/2 stars and an Adrastos grade of B+. In a word: Overrated. But there are too many good things about it to downgrade it.

We watched Miracle On 34th Street last year for the first time in many years. I liked it more than expected. Some of the plot turns are preposterous BUT the performances by Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, and Natalie Wood are stellar.

Grading Time: 3 stars and an Adrastos grade of B. Solid holiday fare.

What’s not to like about a movie starring Cary Grant and the Golden Age’s finest memoirist, David Niven. I’m not usually big on movies involving angels but The Bishop’s Wife is a slight delight.

Grading Time: 3 stars and an Adrastos grade of B. If one must have an angel in a movie, they should always have a silly name like Dudley or Clarence.

It Happened On Fifth Avenue is a movie I’d never seen until last year. It’s a solid class conflict comedy that has the feel of a Thirties screwball comedy.

Grading Time: 3 stars and an Adrastos grade of B.

Holiday Affair is the most underrated film of the dozen. It stars two of my favorite stars of the period, Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. They form a holiday love triangle with solid and sensible Wendell Corey. The rule of the best-looking people in a movie wins out: Mitchum gets the girl, much to her son’s relief.

Grading Time: 4 stars and an Adrastos grade of A-.

The story that started it all was A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This 1951 version was called Scrooge in the UK and A Christmas Carol in the US. It features the ultimate Ebenezer Scrooge, Alistair Sim. He’s simply delicious in the role.

Grading Time: 3 stars and an Adrastos grade of B. Bah, humbug.

1952’s, The Holly and the Ivy is the most serious movie of the dozen. Those were somber times in the UK as it recovered from World War II.

This is not a fun romp but a film about a dysfunctional family assembling for the holidays. It features fine performances by Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson, Margaret Leighton, and a young Denholm Elliott.

Grading Time: 3 stars and an Adrastos grade of B. This movie isn’t everybody’s cup of tree. Try mulling it over with mulled wine.

I have no lagniappe for y’all this week. The holidays are fattening enough.

The last word goes to Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan in Christmas In Connecticut.

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