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Holiday movies bring messages of hope and joy

January 7, 2014

I've been a movie buff since little girlhood. Growing up in Cotton Plant, I saw every offering at James Theatre and occasionally films shown at other venues that were a part of my life during that period.
It was at this time that I developed admiration for so many actors who graced the screen for most of my life. Some are still around, though most have taken their places on the heavenly stage.
Highlighting the movie moments for me from an early age are a lot of the films that are shown during the Thanksgiving-Christmas season. For me, these film classics hold a hallowed spot at this time of year.
Everyone has a favorite or two. I asked a friend to name his choice for the No. 1 holiday movie and the answer was "It's a Wonderful Life."
Can't argue with that one. Lots of people would vote for that one. It has all the elements of a good movie, including a happy ending, which pushes it high up the list for me.
However, as much as I like the Jimmy Stewart masterpiece, it's not my absolute pick of the litter. Probably "The Bishop's Wife" is my all-time choice because it has everything that makes a movie pretty nearly perfect, not the least of which is its stellar cast.
How could you top a grouping of Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young, Monty Wooley, Elsa Lanchester, Gladys Cooper, James Gleason and a few others?
As far as grades go, I give this one an A-plus.
But coming in a close second is "Christmas In Connecticut." Like "Bishop's Wife," its cast is amazing.
Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan are featured, but added to the mix are Reginald Gardner, Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall, Una O'Connor, Dick Elliott (as Judge Crothers) and others whose faces are familiar though their names aren't.
What really made these films work were the wonderful character actors. You might not be able to identify them easily, but you would immediately recognize them for their believable portrayals.
"Meet Me In St. Louis" is another favorite. Though not a Christmas film per se, it makes the holiday list because it has a Christmas scene and includes Judy Garland's unforgettable version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
Another one shown during the holiday season every year is "The Man Who Came to Dinner." It's based on a classic Kauffman and Hart play and features such greats as Bette Davis, Billie Burke, Monty Wooley, Ann Sheridan, Mary Wickes, Reginald Gardner, Grant Mitchell and George Barbier. Like many movies, some of the names mean little, but seeing their faces brings instant recognition. All were dripping with talent.
Another one way up on my favorites list is "Tenth Avenue Angel" featuring Margaret O'Brien, one of my heroines growing up. She's still around, but never made it big as an adult actor.
I love the story about her ability to cry on cue. When Cecil B. DeMille told her to cry for a particular scene, she reportedly replied, "Mr. DeMille, do you want the tears to run all the way or shall I stop halfway down?"
(Don't you know the older actresses wanted to jerk a knot in her neck?)
The top-of-the-line list for me also includes "White Christmas" and its forerunner, "Holiday Inn," which was one of my spouse's favorites. However, he also liked "Bishop's Wife" and some of the others that are on most people's top films list.
The first time I saw "White Christmas" is part of a special family memory. My cousins and I went to Memphis to see it at Lowe's State Theatre. We had been eagerly awaiting its engagement and saw it the week after Christmas.
Now when I see it, I still remember that special time.
The movie includes the Rosemary Clooney-Vera Ellen duet of "Sisters," which Carol Rushing and I emulated in a Royal Players dinner-theater show. We didn't get the big bucks for our performance, but it went over pretty well with the Saline County audience.
The only modern film to make my holiday favorites list is "Eloise at Christmas Time." Though it's a modern film, it has all the markings of 1950s film fare. It has a great cast (including Julie Andrews as Nanny); the plot is wonderful; it's upbeat and funny; and it, too, ends happily. Put all of that together and it spells entertainment for me.

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