Mindy Newell: Every Time A Bell Rings
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). Directed by Frank Capra, who declared it his favorite of all his films and showed it every Christmas at his home, it stars James Stewart as “everyman” George Bailey, Donna Reed as his wife Mary Hatch Bailey, Lionel Barrymore as the banker Mr. Potter, and a veritable Who’s Who of notable character actors, including Beulah Bondi as Ma Bailey, Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy, Ward Bond as Bert the cop, Frank Faylen as Ernie the cab driver, Gloria Grahame as Violet the “bad” girl, Sheldon Leonard as Nick the bartender, and Harry Travers in the pivotal role of the angel Clarence Odbody. The story of an ordinary man who lives an ordinary life, driven to despair of having his dreams crushed once and for all as he faces bankruptcy and prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and who discovers that after all he has lived a wonderful life – “Dear George: Remember no man is a failure who has friends. P.S. Thanks for the wings! Love, Clarence.” – leaves me weepy every time I see it.
Miracle On 34th Street (1947) “Do you believe in Santa?” Doris Walker is a divorcee who is the events director at Macy’s, and a woman, hurt by a marriage that ended in divorce instead of happily-ever-after, is raising her daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), in a no-nonsense, there are no such things are Santa Claus manner. Stuck when the Santa she hired for the Thanksgiving Day parade is found stinkin’ drunk below his float, Doris hires Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) as the store’s Santa. Kris is the most successful Santa the store has ever had, and Doris is basking in the shadow of his success, until it is discovered that there is just one small problem – Mr. Kringle actually believes he is Santa. The old man is taken to Bellevue’s psychiatric ward, and is in danger of being committed, but Doris’s earnest suitor, Fred Payne, is a lawyer, and defends Kris in court. The judge decides (for political expediency) that Kris is the real Santa. Everyone celebrates at a party on Christmas Eve, except for Susan, who doesn’t believe Kris is Santa (“you’re just a nice old man with a beard.”) because he could not give her what she wanted for Christmas. Driving home from the party with her mother and Fred on a route given to them by Kris in order to avoid holiday traffic, Susan suddenly yells for Fred to stop the car. She jumps out and runs into a house with a “For Sale” sign in the yard – the home she asked Kris for. While Susan is exploring the house, Fred discovers that Doris told Susan that she must believe in Kris, that she must have faith. His own faith in Doris renewed, he proposes, Doris accepts, and they decide to buy the house. Then Fred declares himself a great lawyer for having done the impossible, “proving” that Kris is Santa Claus. But then he and Doris discover a cane that looks just like the one belonging to Kris, leaning up against the fireplace…
The film was condemned and placed on the banned list by the Catholic Legion of Decency because the character, Doris Walker, was divorced. This fact adds to my love of the movie.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947). Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young star in this romantic comedy from Samuel Goldwyn and directed by Henry Koster about a angel named Dudley (Grant) come to earth to help Bishop Henry Brougham (Niven) in his obsessive quest to build a new cathedral to the glory of God. Dudley reveals his true identity to Henry (who doesn’t really believe him), but not his true purpose, which is to heal the rift between the bishop and his wife, Julie (Young) and young daughter. There’s just one fly in the ointment – Dudley finds he is falling in love with Julia. Though Julia remains oblivious, Henry senses the truth, and, jealous, tells Dudley that as an angel, he’s no angel, and demands to know why Dudley hasn’t delivered on the cathedral. Dudley tells him that he didn’t pray for a cathedral, but for guidance.
Mr. Magoo’s “Christmas Carol” (1962). This has disappeared off of television, probably because Mr. Magoo’s near-blindness as something funny is no longer politically correct, but when I was a kid, this animated musical was something that glued me to the set. The original songs are by Broadway maestros Julie Styne and Robert Merrill, who started their collaboration on Funny Girl after finishing “Christmas Carol,” and I can still sing parts of many of them: “Ringle-ringle, coins when they jingle make such a lovely sound”
And “Alone in the World” is a melody whose lyrics reflect the loneliness of young Ebeneezer, left behind at boarding school at Christmas holiday, as Magoo, as the elder Scrooge brought back to his youth by the Spirit of Christmas Past, sings poignantly with his younger self: A hand for each hand was planned for the world, Why don’t my fingers reach? Millions of grains of sand in the world, Why such a lonely beach?”
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). The tree that nobody wanted. And the music by the Vince Guarldi Trio. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
TUESDAY MORNING: Jen Krueger
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis