Old movies: classic Christmas films from 1901 to 1951

The Shop Around The Corner
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In our latest old movie piece, Sarah goes through some of the finest Christmas movies from the early years of cinema.

Tis the season for merriment
and Christmassy joy.
Where we gather with loved ones,
swapping presents and toys.


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As we guzzle our drinks,
and chomp down our meals
we celebrate love,
and festive film feels.

Shout ‘huzzah’ avid reader,
for I have been tasked,
in giving you great movies
from Christmas’s past.

Dive into the celluloid,
a world before technicolour
Yet not without magic
and still brimming with wonder.

For here are festive films,
from a black and white time.
Enjoy my list, reader,
(I swear, it doesn’t all rhyme.)

Scrooge Or Marley’s Ghost (1901)

Charles Dickens’ novel about a curmudgeonly old miser who gets taught about the values of love and Christmas has been adapted many, many times. From cartoons to CGI, by way of Muppets, it is the most famous Christmas tale. However, the first time it was ever adapted was in 1901. It’s just six minutes but captures the spirit(s) of the story magnificently.

It is also worth a watch to see how spectacular the visuals and special effects were for a Victorian silent film.

The Thin Man (1933)

I love pre-Hays Code movies above everything but there are very few Christmas features amongst them. There are lot of New Year’s Eve parties, which we’ll talk about later, and scenes that feature the yuletide day but very few that centre around the main festivities

In fact, there is only one: The Thin Man, a comedy-mystery caper which spawned many sequels. It revolves around Private Detective Nick, his wealthy wife Nora, and their dog Asta as they try to solve a murder…Merry Christmas! Actually, it’s a very fun movie with terrific performances by William Powell and Myrna Loy!

Babes In Toyland (1934)Babes In Toyland, with Laurel and Hardy

Otherwise known as Laurel And Hardy in Toyland, Revenge Is Sweet, and March Of The Wooden Soldiers, Babes In Toyland is based on a 1903 operetta by Victor Herbert.

A fantastic family-fuelled festive fiesta, this sees the most famous comedy duo venture into the world of fairy-tale and nursery rhymes.  The Disney remake in 1961 is a bit more of a farcical affair and very much derided. After all, you cannot beat the hilarious hi-jinks of Laurel and Hardy. This musical merriment is a brilliant way to bring a smile to your face!

The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Though many know James Stewart’s most iconic Christmas role as George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life, six years before, he starred in romantic festive gift The Shop Around the Corner. Directed by the best – Ernst Lubitsch – the film revolves around a little leathers good store in Budapest where two employees who hate one another have been secretly sending love letters, unknowingly, to each other.

It would later become the basis for You’ve Got Mail, but this is a great romantic comedy boasts tender touches and fine flourishes that only Lubitsch can do.

Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

In this delightful romantic movie, Queen Barbara Stanwyck stars as Elizabeth Lane, a single, New York food writer. However, in her articles, she says she’s a married mother, living in a farm in Connecticut.  When her recipes attract a war veteran, her boss suggests hosting a Christmas dinner for the solider in Elizabeth’s imaginary home. Cue the hijinks, the masquerades, and a runaway sleighride.  “What a Christmas” chuckles Sydney Greenstreet. What a Christmas indeed!

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

The best Christmas movie of all-time. The most iconic James Stewart film and a must-watch movie during the holidays. Frank Capra’s tale of a man who tries to take his own life at Christmas, only to be shown by an angel how great he truly is a marvel. A succinct, emotional story that touches your heart and soul, leaving you weeping for joy. It’s A Wonderful Life is an absolute gem of a film.

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

Imagine if you were a struggling bishop and Cary Grant waltz in, claiming to be an angel but he also seduces your wife. What would you do? That’s the plot of Henry Koster’s Christmas comedy. Okay, there’s a lot more to it, especially as it deals with faith and fortune. Grant stars alongside David Niven and Loretta Young, so you know that the acting is top notch.

The film was remade in 1994 with Penny Marshall’s The Preacher’s Wife, starring Denzel Washington, Courtney B. Vance, and Whitney Houston.

Miracle On 34th Street (1947)Miracle On 34th Street (the original version)

Most millennials (I hate that throwing that term around, but it certainly applies here) grew up with the Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson-led adaptation, including myself. I’m fully aware that it can now be technically classed as a classic Christmas film.

However, in 1947, Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, and a young Natalie Wood first told the story of a shop-store Father Christmas who may actually be the real deal. A heart-warming treasure that will make even the biggest Grinches smile and believe in Santa Claus once more.

The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)

There are plenty of films about cynical criminals at Christmas times such as Home Alone and Bad Santa. However, that doesn’t mean the yuletide spirit isn’t alive and well!

Back in 1951, Bob Hope starred as a conman who has until Christmas to come up with $10,000. The film is gaudy and boisterous, but also a lot of fun too. Serves perfectly for those who want an alternative festive fare to add a bit of humbug to the holidays.

Speaking of humbug…

Scrooge (1951)Scrooge (1951)

We start with Scrooge, and we shall end with it. Although the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, visited by several ghosts to show him the true meaning of Christmas has many magnificent movies, this Alastair Sim lead adaptation is one of the most faithful interpretations of the Dickens’ text.

The spooky film can be terrifying in places but Sim’s absolutely perfect performance as Scrooge makes this an unmissable Christmas treat.

Merry Christmas, you filthy animals!

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