The best Christmas films of the silent era

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Christmas movies didn’t start with It’s A Wonderful Life – here’s a smattering of silent seasonal treats you can roast a chestnut to.

‘Tis the season once more. Yes Christmas is fast approaching, and we are divulging in all sorts of traditions. From roasting chestnuts on an open fire, to sipping eggnog, to large Christmas dinners with the whole family, Christmas is a time of caring, sharing, and being together with love and kindness.

And, of course, for us cinephiles, it means watching our favourite festive films. It’s A Wonderful Life, Home Alone, The Shop Around the Corner, and The Muppets Christmas Carol are all winners to get us in a Christmassy mood.

But I want to add a couple more to you roster – some that put the ‘silent’ in ‘silent night’. I’ve already covered festive flicks from the Victorian era, but here are some films from the 1910s and 1920s! Yes, we’re going back over a century to find some vintage Yuletide Christmas outings.

A Christmas Accident (1912)

A lot of Christmas stories can be boiled down to this: there is a grumpy person who has little belief in the festivities at hand, and there is a happier person who believes in the spirit of Christmas. The two are at loggerheads, until the grumpus becomes imbued with festive cheer.

It’s a popular narrative dating all the way back Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In Harold M Shaw’s movie, A Christmas Accident, the warring spirits are two neighbours. The Biltons are a big family with lots of children who struggle to make ends meet but have oodles of love, whilst the more affluent Giltons are a bunch of angry so-and-sos, especially Mr Gilton, whose children seem to annoy him somewhat.

Mr Gilton is played by William Wadsworth, an actor famed for starring in many silent films during the 1910s and 1920s, and nothing says Christmas quite like turning the truly mean old man next door into a kind-hearted one through the art of gift-giving!

The Night Before Christmas (1913)

Horrifying. That’s usually a word you can associate with Christmas, right?

Well, yes. If you are anything like me, then you’ll know that there are some genuinely brilliant horror stories set around the holidays, so a bit of ho-ho-horror is about as Christmassy as a mince pie in a bucket of egg-nog. But for those looking for some more unusual winter chills, this adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s 1832 seasonal story is unique in many different ways.

Set in a Ukrainian village, The Night Before Christmas revolves around a demon who meets a local witch Solokha to steal the moon. Through a series of inebriated Cossacks and a lovelorn man, Christmas Eve hijinks ensue.

The character design of the demon, played by Ivan Mozzhukhin is perhaps the scariest aspect of this, but this short silent movie is a brilliant, enjoyable, and ultimately hilarious depiction of Gogol’s story, brought vividly to life on the big screen by director Ladislas Starevich.

The Adventure Of The Wrong Santa Claus (1914)

From Home Alone to Bad Santa, there have been a whole host of Christmas movies which have centred around crime. After all, with all those expensive decorations and presents lurking under the tree, Christmas is a prime time for people to take advantage.

This tradition goes back to 1914 with The Adventure of the Wrong Santa Claus. Directed by Charles M Seay, it is affectionately one of the capers of Octavius the Amateur Detective. It sees Octavius caught in a fiendish Santa scheme when a criminal decides to dress up as Father Christmas in order to steal gifts.

The fourteenth adventure of Octavius, this is a fourteen-minute-long film with a lot of merit, and it is a rather enjoyable festive movie.

Santa Claus (1925)

There is no fictional figure that truly captures the Christmas spirit more than Father Christmas (or Santa Claus, if you are that way inclined). It’s integral to the magic of the season that children believe in this mythical being who, on that special night, traipses across the globe chucking gifts down chimneys. Especially good chimneys.

Here in this fun little cinematic ditty, two children sneak away on Christmas Eve to ask Santa Claus what he does on the rest of the year. Cue a whole journey to follow St Nick on his year-round adventures in the North Pole as he preps for the busiest night of his life.

According to the internet, some of the scenes were genuinely filmed in snowy Northern Alaska. As part of a series of Christmas films released by Worldview Entertainment and the Killiam Collective, this is a charming half-an-hour movie that will fill your kids, and perhaps you, with some much needed festive cheer.

Honorable Mentions

Little Rascals have their own short film Good Cheer (1926) which is a really good fun silent episode of their antics.
There are also four different versions of A Christmas Carol between 1910 and 1929, including Rupert Julian’s 1916 adaptation The Right to be Happy. But I’ve also done an extensive look at Dickens adaptations which you can find on this column!

Happy holidays everyone!

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