And yes it’s a fine movie…kind of dark along the way (Stewart’s George Bailey is seconds away from committing suicide at one point after all) and a bit saccharine at the end but fine…but for my money there are two Christmas themed motion pictures that are much better. One is the 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street (filmed in glorious black and white) with the incomparable Edmund Gwenn in his Oscar winning turn as Kris Kringle and the young Natalie Wood as Susan, a girl who rediscovers the wonders of childhood (the 1994 color version…with Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson…is okay I guess but it pales by comparison to the original.)
But for my money the most engaging Christmas movie is 1983’s A Christmas Story…the whimsical (and sweetly comical), sardonic (but not snarky), nostalgic (but not overly sentimental) tale of Ralphie (played with guileless spunk by Peter Billingsley), his earnest quest to get a bb gun for Christmas (the story is set in the 40’s when bb guns were an uncontroversial present for a boy), and his interaction with his somewhat dysfunctional parents (his blustery father played with manic aplomb by Darren McGavin and his fluttery mother played with ditzy grace by Melinda Dillon.) The story is tied together and moved along by the breathlessly arch narration by Jean Shepard, the author of the semi-autobiographical story.
It’s not a deep or complicated story but it is charming and funny and touching (with just enough slapstick to keep things lively) and it never fails to make me smile. What more could you want from a Christmas movie? :-)
(The original theatrical trailer is below.)