Warm cider, hot toddies, crackling fires, and cozy kitchens with the smells of gingerbread cookies and other fattening goodies. These are a few of my favorite things, as the song says. And along with all that, don’t forget to watch some wonderful, old good feeling movies this season. Make yourself a hot cup of cocoa, pop some corn, throw another log onto the fire and gather ‘round the 50-inch plasma with a pile of DVDs guaranteed to warm every single cockle in even the meanest Scrooge’s heart.
Everyone is familiar with holiday films like “Miracle on 34th Street,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Little Women” and Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” The old seasonal standbys are fine, however, I have some other pictures that you might not know anything about, or maybe have forgotten, but possess that same ability to strike at the heart, bring a tear to the eye, a lump to the throat and just make you feel good all over. So here, in no special order, are a few of my favorites.
“Our Vines Have Tender Grapes.” Roy Royland directed Dalton Trumbo’s screenplay of George Victor Martin’s story of life in a small Wisconsin farm town, focusing on the hard working Jacobson family. Edward G. Robinson plays the father, Agnes Moorhead the mother, and Margaret O’Brien the daughter. The cast also includes Butch Jenkins, James Craig, and Frances Gifford. Good old fashioned virtues and family love are the hallmarks of this forgotten film.
“How Green Was My Valley” John Ford’s classic story of a family in a small Welsh mining town is told through the eyes of a boy. Starring Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Donald Crisp and Roddy McDowall. This picture won five Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. A beautiful inspiring story that requires a full box of tissues per viewing.
“Since You Went Away” David O Selznick wrote the screenplay and John Cromwell directed this warm, human story of one home front family during World War II. A great cast made up with the likes of Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones, Shirley Temple, Monty Woollie, and Joseph Cotton.
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” The sensitive story of a young girl attempting to rise above the hardships of living in a Brooklyn tenement at the turn of the 20th Century. Elia Kazan’s Hollywood directorial debut. Dorothy McGuire, James Dunn, Joan Blondell, Lloyd Nolan, and Peggy Ann Garner star. Again, keep the Kleenex nearby.
“I’ll be Seeing You” A real gem. Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotton are the two stars with Spring Byington, Shirley Temple, and Tom Tully providing strong support. I won’t tell you anything else about this one. See it for yourself.
“The Holly and the Ivy” Based on an English play by Wynyard Browne, this is a rich nostalgic story of a family reuniting for the Christmas holidays. Filled with some wonderful British actors such as Ralph Richardson, Celia Johnson, Denholm Elliott, and Margaret Leighton, the personal problems of each family member soon become apparent. This movie has gotten surprising little air play on American television over the years, but it certainly deserves its rightful place among holiday classics.
“I Remember Mama” The touching story of a Norwegian immigrant family in San Francisco. Irene Dunn heads a cast that includes Barbara Bel Geddes, Oscar Homolka, Philip Dorn, Cedric Hardwicke, and Edgar Bergen. Magnificently detailed picture directed by George Stevens, based on John Van Douten’s play on Kathryn Forbes’ memoirs of growing up with her family. Great performances by all.
“The Cheaters” Maybe not exactly a tear-jerking, heart-wrenching picture in the vein of “I Remember Mama,” or “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” but a fun, feel good movie none the less. Joseph Schildkraut, Eugene Paulette, Billie Burke, and Ona Munson keep things lively in this unusual all but forgotten Republic picture. A bit on the screwball side, still its heart is in the right place.
“Lady for a Day” Frank Capra made this depression era heart-warmer starring May Robson back in 1933 and he would remake it in 1961 with Bette Davis, but in my opinion, the original is the best. Based on a Damon Runyon short story, Robson plays Apple Annie, the sidewalk apple peddler, who has a daughter (her only family) who has been living abroad and is totally unaware of her mother’s situation. Annie writes letters to her daughter embellishing her life as one of affluence, but when the daughter gets engaged things get complicated. Enter gangster, Dave the Dude played by Warren Williams, to save the day. It’s a charming early Capra fairytale that has more heart and emotion packed in it then any 100 modern films made today.
If warm cookies are comfort food, then these movies are like comfort food for the soul. Enjoy.